montana photograph Favorite Things Revisited

A batch of favorite things from a good friend with agricultural roots and an urban present:





And this acorn I found last fall but can’t throw away:


You can see more from this project at

montana photograph Cinderella’s Stash


“You should be Cinderella at least once in your life,” says The N’ Thing’s owner, Bonnie Poser. “And that happens in high school.” Poser stocks more than 1,000 prom dresses at her store in Conrad for customers from all over Montana and into Canada and beyond. Prices are usually around $500, Poser says.


Sixty miles north of Great Falls, Montana, surrounded by grain fields, the ribbon of Interstate 15 passes by Conrad on the plains of northern Montana. Conrad is the unlikely home of a dress shop frequented by people from hundreds of miles away.


Conrad’s agricultural roots aren’t easy to miss. It is the headquarters for Frontline Ag Solutions, one of the largest John Deere dealerships in the region.



“Dresses take on a personality,” Bonnie Poser says. “And that’s how it’s supposed to be.” Poser, 70, opened The N’ Thing, a dress shop in Conrad specializing in prom wear, in 1975.


You won’t find a single computer in the store, Poser says. So to honor the promise not to sell two similar dresses for the same prom, records must be kept on paper.


Styles change and Poser must be current, so new dresses arrive frequently. Yet, the buying process is a skill not easily mastered, Poser says. Dress styles come and go and Poser must choose age-appropriate attire that will appeal to her customers and their parents and chaperones.


An extensive supply of spare jewels is on hand so that in the event a dress loses a sparkle or two, an exact match can be found and sewn into place.

montana photograph Pollinator Patrol

Pollinators, like bees, are important part of the lives of innumerable plants and animals. Without them, many food crops would not exist. And pollinator numbers are declining, according to an article in the current issue of Montana Quarterly.20160420133318-2

Laura Burkle is an ecology professor at Montana State University. She and U.S. Forest Service entomologist Kevin Runyon are leading a study of pollinators near Bozeman. They’re trying to determine the effects of global warming on pollinator numbers.


On a hillside south of Bozeman on a sunny April afternoon, the team sets up equipment to measure the scent of small yellow flowers called glacier lilies. While the machines work, the pollinators feeding on the flowers will be caught and then brought back to the lab to be identified, Burkle says. The idea is to gather data over time that may help map the effects of global warming on the plants and the pollinators.


Graduate student Will Glenny sets up to measure the scent of one of the glacier lilies.
20160420142610From left, Laura Burkle, Justin Runyon and Will Glenny.

montana photograph Jason DeShaw


It’s not much of a concert poster, but it filled the room at the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs for Jason DeShaw last summer.


DeShaw is a country singer from Plentywood who is open about his own struggles with mental illness. He tells the crowd at the hospital that he was first diagnosed in 2010 after a breakdown while he was on tour in Saskatchewan. After a 400-mile dash to Billings, Shaw tells the crowd, he was asked if he heard voices.

“Yes I do.” Whose?

“Johnny Cash.”

“And into the psych ward I went,” DeShaw says.


Four years later, DeShaw is on tour as a performer, speaker and listener, visiting Montana small towns and large cities, advocating for mental illness awareness.


He speaks from the heart, he says, and sings from it too. And his honesty, courage and eloquence have impressed and affected lives. He tells Montana Quarterly writer Brian D’Ambrosio of a performance an an eastern Montana high school that inspired several students to seek counseling for depression that many of their friends and family did not know existed.


“Mental illness has made me a better human being,” DeShaw says. That’s a hell of a thing.


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montana photograph Colstrip

Times are tough in Colstrip, Montana, where most of the town’s economy is dependent on coal, mined nearby and burned to create electricity at the power plant in town.


“It’s steam,” residents assure a visitor photographing the vapors emanating from the Colstrip power plant. Many in Colstrip are sensitive to the perception people may be getting from the town’s strip mine and power plant. They’re afraid visitors on a cold day will see plumes of smoke over the power plant and think it is all pollution. They worry that no one talks about all of the landscape restoration the mine does after it removes coal from a seam. They worry that pictures of dozens of tons of dirt being moved at once will make the mine look too dusty, despite the water trucks in evidence spraying the ground on a January morning.


Ninety tons at a time, one of the drag lines at Colstrip’s Rosebud Mine removes overburden dirt to uncover a coal seam. Coal is the central economic force behind Colstrip and its history. Colstrip supplied the coal used in Northern Pacific locomotives in the 1920s, then the town nearly died when trains began running on diesel. In the 1970s, construction began on the power plant and once again, Colstrip bustles with life — for now.


Rex Rogers manages the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Colstrip. Colstrip is a company town and that company mines coal and then burns it to make electricity. Efforts to curb the use of fossil-fueled electricity are threatening the livelihoods of Rogers and the workers he represents.


Mary Ann and Bob Whitehead are both retired from the Colstrip power plant. They live in the mobile home they’ve had since 1980, where Mary Ann has converted the dining room into a quilting studio for her new hobby. They tout Colstrip’s many parks and the local golf course, recreation center and gun club which cost residents little or nothing to use. All thanks to financial support from the mine and power plant.


In addition to free membership at a local nine-hole golf course and a park for every 100 people in Colstrip, residents can freely use the well-equipped recreation center, where 49-year-old Tammy Robinson teaches a fitness class. Robinson’s husband and oldest son both work at the power plant. “I’m nervous about the whole thing,” she says. “I’m nervous about where Colstrip is headed.”


Engineer Bill MacFarlane, 72, says he worked at the Rosebud coal mine for 30 years, assembling the giant drag lines that can weigh 6 million pounds and more. But his roots are in Havre, he says, where his grandparents were farmers. “The land meant a lot to us,” he says.

Electricity prices are being driving down by the availability of cheap natural gas, and both Washington and Oregon have passed legislation that will gradually phase out the purchase of coal-fired electricity. And the federal Clean Power Plan threatens to impose more stringent regulations on what — besides the steam — comes out of the Colstrip smokestacks .

montana photograph Joe Medicine Crow


This week marks the passing of Joe Medicine Crow, who died in Billings on Sunday at 102. I photographed him in 2008 at his home in Lodge Grass for a story about the American Indian Institute.

Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, Medicine Crow was a hero in World War II, where he became the last member of the Crow tribe to accomplish the four traditional deeds that earn one the status of “war chief.” One of these deeds was to steal 50 horses from the Nazi army.

A renowned anthropologist and historian, he knew personally four scouts who had been with Gen. George Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where Custer’s army was decimated by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors in 1876.

I remember him as the embodiment of dignity, strength and resilience. I was honored to have met him.


montana photograph Billings Best Barbers


Montana isn’t exactly a melting pot. About 90 percent of the population identifies as white, according to the 2014 census. If you’re a Montanan of another race, finding a someone who will do a good job cutting your hair can be a problem.

That’s why people drive 100 miles and more to Billings to have their hair cut at Billings Best Barbers, owned by Rafael Rivera and his older brother Eric Rosas.


“We’re super multi-cultural,” says Rivera. “We cut all types of hair.”

The brothers grew up in Puerto Rico, but Rosas was stationed in Great Falls during his stint in the Air Force. He married a Billings woman and moved there when he was discharged. Rivera came to visit and never left.

“We grew up in a barber shop environment,” Rosas says. “We knew there was a need for something like this.”


The brothers say a barber shop should provide an experience, develop relationships with clientele. A barber shop should not only provide a good haircut, but also be a place to get up to speed on sports, talk music, parenting, everyday life.

“Any topic of conversation is open for discussion here, ” says Rosas. “Nobody ever gets out of hand. Everybody understands we’re just talking.”


The shop specializes in short hair. Fades are a specialty. They take pride in clean lines, cool designs, razor work, and uniform, consistent blending.




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