About Cynthia Doll

Living in the woods of Northwest Montana I have plenty of inspiration for my stories. When I'm not writing I'm hiking with my four-legged kids, Cooper and Sara. Or I might be kayaking one of the many small lakes, or the big lake, the Flathead. And there's always yard work living in the trees. And I have a job, of course, but I'm lucky and get to work at home. It's taken me a long time to get to "my place" here in the woods, and I'm grateful for every needle I have to rake, every weed that needs pulled, and every deck that needs shoveled through the long winters - all of those chores giving me thinking time for my next story!

Undecided

They slide back and forth, not based on the calendar at all. Seasons, in Montana as probably everywhere, can’t make up their minds and keep us guessing. We try to be tolerant, knowing how this game is played, but we are OVER WINTER. We were led to believe it was gone. It’s supposed to be spring! Silly us for trusting Mother Nature.

Two weeks ago I took a break and headed to Glacier Park. It was a glorious sunny day. Roads were clear in the Park though lined with icy berms and slippery trails. Coop and I had a hard time finding a place to walk that wasn’t slick or too deep with slush. The scenery was exquisite though, per usual. Spring was definitely teasing us visitors.

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The ice on Lake McDonald was melting and leaving pretty ripples and fuzzy ridges as it shifted and shoved against the shoreline.

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Back home Flathead Lake was breaking up.  It froze over this year, the first time since 1993.

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Flocks of swans are stopping over in the open bay, heading north to nest – to Canada or Alaska? Eagles ate their lunch on the edge of the ice. The last week of March I played tennis three times!  It makes me laugh when I can snow shoe and play tennis in the same week 🙂Snow tennis

Then the rain started. My driveway is clear. The dirty snow in town is almost gone. Gravelly trenches drain away the melt off. The grass is greening up. Yellow daffodils heads hang drowsily before they will finally, in a week or so, look up and brighten the season.

Here’s my woodpile, sans snow.  Since I had to climb up on top of it and dig through snow and cut the tarp six week ago, I now have a mess 🙂

 

Spring woodpile

It warmed enough to use the BBQ. I’m kind of a fair weather BBQer and I waited until it reached 45 again before firing it up 😉  Someone gave me a butchered rabbit so on the grill it went. I made it stand up for a few minutes to get its belly well roasted. Nice way to start BBQ season.

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Then today it snowed, dropping into the low 30s – are you kidding!!!?? Our patience is wearing thin! I moved potted plants back in the garage and got my boots back out. Mother Nature is laughing, the joke is on us!

There is one predictable certainty, one of few in life, though there is no solace in this – mud season will be next!

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Buried Treasure and…

The continuing challenge to keep Cooper happy!
The forecast has been bleak in Montana, cold winds, wind chills and hazardous driving warnings. Time to come up with some more firewood! I had to be serious this time. As before, the search was the hard part – where the heck is the wood pile?20190228_125829

I shoveled and shoveled. I ended up with steps in the snow, eventually coming out on top of the wood pile. Eureka! Lots of fat, dry chunks of fur waiting under a tarp to be split and roasted.

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The wheelbarrow still had it’s nose out of the snow bank, minus a bolt, but I fixed that and moved on quickly. I split wood a couple of sessions (yep, it heats twice) and ended up with fir and maple to last us through this arctic blast.
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Coop is happy.  Mom is happy.

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After a visit outside today, in a brisk 17 degrees, he actually came in and warmed his chocolate butt on the hearth, standing as close as he could to the stove.  Aahhh, life is good!

How to Keep Your Dog Warm and Happy

DON’T RUN OUT OF FIREWOOD!  He will sulk and pout!

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I feel a little like Aesop’s grasshopper but I shouldn’t, I worked hard all summer in my woods.  Never the less, I had no choice but cut some wood this week.  😉

First I had to find the wheelbarrow  – –

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That was half the battle!  I sawed up a couple of days’ worth of logs and delivered them to the front door – –

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And now all is well!  Phew!!!  Nothing better than a warm, happy dog!

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Trade Offs

Way up here in Montana we were blessed clear through Christmas with almost no winter – no snow, no ice, only a little chilly. And we were grateful. At least those of us who don’t ski 🙂  It was chilly enough to keep the wood stove going, though, and Coop enjoys every minute of that.

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Clear horizons, warm skies and sunny beaches all beckon to me over the winter, and my family and friends down in the southwest wonder why I’m up here. Here’s why:

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These trees are in my yard. I take pictures every year after ice fog has come through – I can’t help it! It looks good enough to eat!

I’ve bussed kids up to our ski resort twice since Christmas, after winter finally arrived in all it’s beauty.

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Yep, it’s a nuisance in many ways, but it’s worth it – winter wonderland every day. On my last trip to the ski resort I took my snow shoes and ventured less than 300 feet from the lodge before feeling miles from anywhere.

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Way out in the snowy woods I did hear a front-end loader plowing snow up by the resort 🙂  but still the solitude was palpable.

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A creek cleared a way for itself through heavy snow, a pond froze over, and stumps have fallen victim to snow piling up on their heads.

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This was the view from my house before the sun set tonight:

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The sun and warmth will be back soon enough. The trade offs are worth it. Perspective counts for everything – in life, health, prosperity, and weather! Happy New Year!

Before the Snow Flies

We got a taste of winter around the first of the month. We kept working outside, enjoyed the wildlife, and, in the chillier hours, Coop luxuriated with his first fire of the season while I enjoyed tea, apple/blueberry pie and a good book.

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Now we have spring again and there’s still so much to do in these last few days before the snow flies – yard work, wood splitting, playing! For the playing part I made two escapes this week, feeling like we’d been given a treat and I had better take advantage of it.

First I headed down to the bison range. I don’t know where all the buffalo were hiding, I only saw two, but both were magnificent.

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Elk are doing their bugling thing this time of year and I hoped to hear it. By the time I came across the elk herd (first picture below) it was noon so they were probably done with their longing calls for the day. It was certainly a big herd, maybe 100? There were five or six bulls mixed in that were amazing.   Coop waited patiently in the truck, enjoying the sun, when I stopped to get pictures 🙂

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The switchbacks down the back side of the preserve are always interesting.   Hard to watch the road while you’re enjoying the view!  I’ve driven down this in a school bus twice – like a Disneyland ride!

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And all the antelope that are always over there weren’t. No clue where they could have been either.

I walked Coop for a bit before we headed home. In the picnic area we saw a bull elk lying down by a bathroom. Odd.

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He moved his head now and then. Maybe he was overwhelmed by the size of his rack? I know I was!

Then yesterday I headed up the north fork of the Flathead River just west of Glacier Park. I haven’t been up there in years and it was as pretty as I remember. All the gold is from larch, a deciduous conifer.  There were quite a few “needle peepers” up and down this remote dirt road but Coop and I still managed to find peace and quiet.

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There are a lot of river access areas and places to enjoy the view toward Glacier. This area was part of my “stomping grounds” when I first moved to Montana. Lots of reminiscing went on, some good, some bad. I’ve had a couple of flat tires up there but have also seen moose, camped in a forest service lookout, and eaten at the restaurant at the far end of the road that has no electricity!

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I always take a picture of my trusty truck – me and that truck have had some great times, most of them in Montana!  It’s been a good week – warm days, painted landscapes, memories old and new and, for me, the end of another year as we wait for the snow to fly!

We’ve Got Each Other’s Backs

Since March I have spent almost every free moment with my trees – I’m blessed to have several acres of woods, and in the fourteen years that I’ve lived here I’ve learned a lot from them. They need tending and protection. They’ve cared for me, as well, nourishing my soul, inspiring words, and teaching me how to be calm, slow down and enjoy what nature has to offer on its time. They’ve provided shelter for birds and deer and bears, and, from my telling them, they know this is also for my pleasure and entertainment. These majestic trees inspired my first paid prose (Blue Whispers, see below, published in Big Sky Journal).

In this give and take, sacrifices have to be made, on both sides. Two projects took trees down on my hillside this spring, a sad thing but leaving my Montana sky bigger and safer.  Some of these trees had to go to protect my home – ponderosas like to wave around in the wind and snap off in big chunks.

I miss them now along the path down the back of the house, throwing shade across the driveway and my bench in the woods. The cleanup was daunting.

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It snowed at some point, softening the havoc. I burned for weeks making all the debris go away. Friends came and took the big pieces and I’m still hauling up the smaller chunks. Their sacrifice will be remembered in the coming winter months when several families will enjoy the warmth of their donation, and the winds won’t keep me awake at night in fear.

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Before and after near the house:

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In the second project my hillside was restored to its “intended state,” a cleaner ponderosa forest as it should be naturally, thinned by fires. This not only protects my home from a fire, but also spaces the larger trees to withstand a fire if it comes.

Collage 3The forester who came out, courtesy of a state grant, did an awesome job (he also had a great dog, Huck, who had a hard hat for a water bowl). Josh left all the firs, as well as clumps of juniper, serviceberry, a few dead snags and some rotting logs for the critters and birds. This is an ongoing project with the same free workouts and recycling. This time Josh will take care of the burning and clean up, which leaves me time to salvage firewood.

I plan to spend many more years with my trees, sharing time, thoughts, and appreciation for where we get to reside. We’ll continue looking out for each other through wind, snow, fire seasons and those moonlit nights.

 

Blue Whispers

Whispers soft and blue stir the branches, pine needles brushing my face like an ethereal veil. Moonlight filters through a quilted overcast. The woods are cloaked in predawn darkness and I find my way in the tinted shadows by trillium lining the path, like luminous stars dropped from heaven. My feet kindle the fragrance that is the forest floor. There are no sounds save my muffled steps, perhaps the rustle of wings, and the breath of the trees. My heart knows this place. Like the trees, it guards its secrets, knows cold, shadows, and spring light, and finds comfort in warm, sheltered crevices under the canopy of protective arms.
An early morning zephyr stirs itself into a wind that scatters the patchwork of clouds, and the forest is sheeted in metallic light. Dark in their own shadows, like sentinels standing at attention, the trees are never caught unaware when the moon splashes silver over their crowns. Sharp-edged shadows now fall across my path, but I am safe in this place. Like the trees, I have learned what to fear and what to welcome, when to be watchful and still, when to grow and spread. They have taught me well when to stand firm in self-preservation, and when bending builds strength against expected storms.
As the moon winks out over the edge of the sky, silver points of light appear overhead, scattered in story-telling patterns across the black canvas. The trees are reabsorbed by inky blueness. There are few contrasts in the night woods, only the dark and the translucent light, nothing to distract me from the peace in this place. Like the trees, I find respite in the night forest and contentment in our shared solitude, with time to reflect on the essence of our alliance, the strength of our intransigence. The coming of dawn is whispered from tree to tree, and we wait together. When the colors of daylight come shafting through the shadows, there will be nothing to distort the clarity of the night, and my ideals will not be lost in the distractions of life, its harshness or its radiance.

Fruits of My Labor

I miscalculated my firewood needs this year so, in the dead of winter, I’m out of split wood. I had some nice chunks of fir ready to split that, of course, were buried deep in snow, as was some ready-to-burn maple, so digging that out was my first chore. The upside was some good exercise and the calories I burned!

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I got everything set up in the garage out of the wind and sometimes horizontally blowing snow. In this solitary chore the fruits included time to anticipate the next week, contemplate life, and think about holding in stomach muscles 😀  Lots of bending, lifting, and throwing – my nice pile warming now, warming again later!

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IMG_9920Splitting up the pile of sixteen or so rounds didn’t take that long, six wheelbarrows full, leaving me with a very satisfied feeling and enough wood to keep me warm and snug through more of our doggone cold.

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The best fruit of my labor is a warm, happy Cooper!

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