Thursday, October 14, 2010

How I Got to Drumheller

The Wild Swan Chase
In Oregon I got a phone call from my friend Larry who lives in Butte. He said the trumpeter swan migration was at the end of September, early October. He is a native Montana boy so he must know about such things. On his advice I drove to Mon-Ida, a partial ghost town, then 31 miles up a bad dirt road to the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (Anything with six words in the title is over-named.) I spent a weekend there waiting for the swan migration to no avail. When the visitor center opened on Monday I learned from Ranger Rick that the swan migration, involving literally thousands of swans, is at the end of October, early November. Larry had been mistaken by a month.

But instead of the migrating swans I had seen herds of pronghorn, a startling tan-and-white, wonderful beasts. And groves of golden aspen in brilliant fall colors, and the mountains, and the lakes, and the solitude, and a single pair of trumpeter swans on a pond. In the end I was not sorry of the excursion, however mistaken.

My visit to Butte
The town is the descendants of Irish miners and they know how to drink. Larry and I went on a pub crawl. I don’t remember much of what happened, just that we drank a lot and I spent a lot of money. It was Friday night but instead of the candles it was I who got lit.

The following day was the celebration of the new brewery having been open a year so we had to celebrate that by drinking as well. During the celebration, I saw a young couple playing Frisbee in the street. And they could, because there was exactly no traffic at all. Butte, particularly the “historic” upper town, is quiet on Saturday.

I saw a flyer on the corkboard in the brewpub for a performance of the Butte Symphony Orchestra that evening. My guess was that, unlike the San Francisco, they were not sold out months in advance. And they weren’t.

The first piece was Handel’s “Musick for the Royal Fireworks”, written for the Peace of 1749. I was reminded that the way one first hears a piece of music ever after seems the paradigm of how it should be played. Every other way of playing it seems like pointless caviling and dicking around. I remember it with the brass having a sharp, almost hysterical edge. The Butte Symphony’s calmer, more relaxed version sounded lame and soporific.

At intermission, just as at the SF Opera House, there were shows of finery by the symphony-goers, including wonderful displays of cleavage by many of the Butte matrons, which were alone worth the price of admission.

The headline piece was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #4. The pianist was a young Lithuanian named Davidius Something-or-Other. Both Davidius and the Concerto were outstanding. Davidius was simultaneously (expression not coming to me which means something like “expert” or “tour de force”) and liquidly limpid.

It is so overshadowed by Concerto #5, the Emperor Concerto that it is rarely heard and goes unappreciated. Yet it is a wonderful piece of music and the young Lithuanian did it justice. It was well worth the price of admission - with the cleavage included gratis. (Virtuoso! That is the word I could not think of. Virtuoso! It is not that my mind and memory no longer work, they just work slower and upon more prompting than before.)

Misadventure on the Jefferson
The next day we went rafting on the Jefferson, named by Lewis and Clark and one of the headwaters of the Missouri. We got a late start but Larry assured me we would be off the river by dark. We weren’t.

By midnight we concluded that we had invented the sport of night rafting but still had not come upon the bridge that marked where the second car was parked. Finally we decided that the risk of overturning the raft and floating downstream without it outweighed whatever further progress we might make in the dark. So we beached for the night.

Our clothes were wet and the night was turning cold. We would have been in some trouble but we were just able to build a fire. We stayed up until dawn tending it and drying our clothes. Expecting to be on the river only a few hours we had no gear, food, nor warm clothes. But once we got the fire going we were in good spirits and we laughed a lot.

We got to the bridge and the second car at noon the second day, after 13 hours on the river, 21 hours altogether. Along the way we had seen golden eagles, a moose and her calf at dawn, several large beavers, no end of wild geese, and the Milky Way. Given that we were able to build a fire and keep it going with driftwood all night, the expedition was unexpected fun. Without the fire, maybe not so much. :o)

The Great White North
I have been in Canada for three days now, two of them here in Dinosaur Provincial Park. It is part of the Alberta Badlands. They were created when the melting of the great ice sheets created a huge lake. When the dam of ice and rubble that pent in the lake collapsed there was an unimaginable flood. The badlands are the devastation caused by the flood, still there unhealed to this day.

The flood waters cut hundreds of feet into the ground, uncovering troves of fossils from far earlier eras. Which has made the Alberta Badlands the foremost place in all the world for cretaceous dinosaurs. It is a UN World Heritage Site. And the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, a hundred kilometers northeast of Calgary, where the fossils are mounted and displayed, is the Louvre of palaeontology museums. Which is where I am bound next.

Another Country
When I got to Drumheller, it was Canadian Thanksgiving and everything was closed. Canada is not too different than the US but different enough that the country shut down on October 11.



  1. Lolita3:42 AM

    Jackie... you should be a travel writer

    Love it!

  2. Nick Danger9:45 PM

    Lit-up virtuoso though you are, you may be exhibiting the first signs of mental cleavage. I look forward to reading of further adventures.