I grew up on a wheat and barley farm in North Central Montana. My grandmother and grandfather started the farm in the early 20th century and my father later farmed it with his two brothers. My mother and father encouraged my brother and me to work hard and continue through college so we might have plenty of opportunities off the farm. Both of us have since had successful non-farming careers.
The farm is located about 45-miles from the Rocky Mountain front and 70 miles from Glacier National Park in Big Sky Country. America, the Beautiful describes it perfectly.
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grainKatharine Lee Bates (1911)
For purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain
The 12,000-acre farm, which was 75% dry land and 25% irrigated, produced wheat, barley, canola, and other crops. My dad and uncles ran some cattle for a while on another couple thousand acres while I was still a young boy, that is until they decided that none of them were cut out to be cowboys.
Some of the mixed dry land and irrigated ground flanked 400-acres of a coulee with a small reservoir at the lower end. The shallow reservoir perimeter sustained dense cattails. A variety of trees also ran along the sides of the reservoir. I would commonly encounter beavers, badgers, whitetail deer, pronghorn antelope, owls, hawks, golden eagles, and every now and then, a skunk or porcupine.
The most abundant wildlife were gophers. These little crop-wreckers provided my brother and me with the opportunity to ride three-wheelers and four-wheelers around the countryside doing what we could to prevent them from multiplying. With so many gophers, it is no wonder why raptors were in the area!
Next to gophers, the most abundant wildlife seemed to be ring-necked pheasants. Although not native to Montana, this species thrives in the cold, arid upper great plains. Greater numbers of pheasants would appear in some years more than others, depending upon the severity of the winter. In less than a day, the temperature could shift from 40-degrees Fahrenheit below zero to 50-degrees Fahrenheit above zero with 50 mile per hour Chinook winds. Perhaps it was the amount, frequency, or timing of snow that would either help or hinder the population. Whatever the conditions were, as with most North Central Montana residents, these birds are resilient and would magically re-appear each year.
Many people would ask my dad to hunt on the farm. Family members were always welcome and most regulars would be allowed to continue to hunt each year. Over the years, my dad and uncles would turn away more and more people, mostly because they had no easy way to let the general public know when it was okay to be there and when it was not. This was too bad because they liked how the guests admired their property. They didn’t mind sharing the hunting ground with folks who treated the land and the people around them with respect and dignity. They also liked the timelessness of the habitat. They could be outside chasing birds and be ageless. They were not young or old. They simply enjoyed being in the moment and they enjoyed watching others who also appreciated this experience.
I now realize that I had taken my environment – and, to some extent, my dad – for granted. I had no idea how lucky I was to grow up in my home environment and to have a father who would share his experience. Whenever I hear America, the Beautiful, I think of the farm and its wide open spaces, blue skies, and abundant wildlife. I think of my dad and how he enjoyed sharing access to the farm with others. Access to private property benefits communities and individuals economically, socially, and mentally. It can also incentivize landowners to create, maintain, or restore quality wildlife habitat. EntryG8 helps landowners share with those who recognize the value of private land access, all while enabling landowners to retain control. For me, it also honors my dad’s legacy of allowing responsible sportsmen on his property.
(I love you, Dad. Rest-in-Peace.)