Mother Nature, not Oprah, knows my favorite things.
When I first moved to Martinsdale in 2008, the reservoir just a few stone skips out of town didn’t impress me much. At the time, the water was low and murky after years and years of drought. For my dog walks, I gravitated towards other natural wonders - the Mussellshell, the Little Belts, the Castles, the Crazies. The giant buggy mud puddle wasn’t much of a draw.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point while I was away, seasons came and went, rains fell, snows melted, and the reservoir seemed to blossom overnight into a healthy, vibrant body of water. For the last year and a half, fishermen, boaters, windsurfers, kiteboarders, bird watchers have taken advantage of the grand gift.
The reservoir-around-the-corner was an unexpected perk to living in Martinsdale. Every single time I walk the banks, I think to myself, “I am so lucky -- my own private ocean in the middle of Montana.”
Meagher County winds make big waves. The water is rarely smooth and calm - except when it’s frozen. Much of the year, waist-high whitecaps give the the rocky coastline a good beating, shifting the flat stone slabs into new formations. The dogs and I walk further and end up at the beach. The sand is pristine, untouched like a layer of freshly-fallen snow, until my dogs make a dash for a dip in the frigid waters, leaving splayed paw prints in their wake.
Unlike most visitors here, our destination isn’t out to sea - although someday I hope to get a boat. Right now, the dogs and I make a B line to our favorite place, the snake-sticks.
Persistent waves sift through rock, wood, bones, trash, nudging it all up onto the banks pieces at a time.
A strikingly simple but beautiful halo of flat rock circles the entire lake, constantly shifting and changing with the water. Farther out nestled along the grasses, a pile of sticks - water-washed and sun-bleached a silver white - follow the shore’s undulating line like a snake.
My husky, Borage; German Jagd Terrier, Jigs; and springer/corgi, Clo attack the snake-sticks like it’s a living beast. And, actually, it is alive. The long stretch of wood gathered in a dense heap is a micro-habitat teeming with life in the dead of winter.
Borage, Jigs, and Clo see it as a rodent smorgasbord - all you can eat, if you can catch ‘em.
Borage takes in the entire picture. He races up and down the snake-sticks. At the perfect moment, he leaps into the mound, smashes brittle branches with his front paws, drops his head into the nest, snags a mouse, and swallows the stunned creature whole - all in one pure, call-of-the-wild motion.
Jigs and Clo’s tag-team hunting style is more like a slap-stick comedy routine. Even though the snake-sticks go on and on, my two obsessive-compulsives pick one place and fixate. With both noses always plastered to the pile, Jigs climbs up on the mound, barking and scratching down into the nest as Clo literally lays on her side, digging from the bottom up.
I watch and roar with laughter; Jigs and Clo are too busy “hunting” to notice mice evacuating the pile like a fire alarm is sounding.
Often times, Borage stands off to the side, scooping up rodents as they flee, crunching them like potato chips - a smile on his face.
Luckily for Jigs and Clo, the insanely high rodent population usually means even the lamest hunters fill at least some of their tags.
Day after day, I love to hike the snake-sticks, winding my way all around the reservoir.
The water, the wind, the sand, the rock, the mountains, the grass, the antelope, the dogs, and a big pile of sticks - these are a few of my favorite things.
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