Untold Stories

What is it about these old places that causes you to stop and reflect. The questions    “What happened here?” “Who lived here?” “Why did they walk away?” and countless others immediately spring forth to the curious mind. How many stories are untold about those who lived and loved and died here.

The air of desolation around the buildings makes it difficult to see that at one time this must have been a fairly prosperous place. At least for the standards of the time anyway. In the distance are green fields and tree-lined creeks that say there is water nearby, so they could get in a hay crop. That meant they probably had cattle. They needed to enlarge the original building and even if it was an adobe add-on it meant that things were good enough to warrant that.

The old 1938 Chevy in the yard brings more questions. That was a pretty pricey vehicle when it was new. It was one of those huge cars that they called a ‘Camel back’ because of the big trunk lid, kind of like a lady’s bustle, on the rear of the car that gave it an imposing air. Why did they quit driving it? How long were they there before they bought it, or did they drive to this spot in it when they bought the place from the old folks that homesteaded it and couldn’t make a go of it anymore. If they left why didn’t they drive off in it, or did something strange and terrible like the influenza come through and take the whole family out. The neighbors would probably shun the place if that happened. That could account for the leaving of something as valuable as that car behind. Or possibly they couldn’t afford or even get tires for it. There was a war coming on and when it hit there weren’t any tires to get. They were rationed. By the time the war was over the car had fallen into ruin, the engine rusted shut, the mice haven eaten all the wiring, there was so much damage that it didn’t make it, so maybe that beautiful old car just sat and slowly came apart. Like their lives did.

Who ever built the place knew a little something about building. The knee braces that help support the roof rafters were put there by somebody that knew about dead weight loads that the buildup of snow on the roof causes. The winters here could be long and full of peril to the inexperienced. Lots of outbuildings simply collapsed under the weight of a winter full of snow.

The weather played a big part in the lives of these folks. The endless wind blowing across these plains and its ceaseless buffeting of man and beast, has caused the dark side of a few of those imprisoned here by their ties to the land and family, to cross over into that place where insanity rules and do terrible things to their loved ones and themselves. Sometimes whole families were lost. It is true that the wind can make you crazy.

There must have been times though, hopefully many times, where the house was filled with laughter. Light from the newest coal oil lamps direct from Sears and Roebuck spilling gaily out of the windows, the sounds of a Victrola escaping to spread across the darkened yard until it faded away or was swept off to who knows where by the wind. Kids laughing and shrieking while getting stories read to them about faraway places and impossible creatures having exciting adventures. The good smells of cookies being baked and dishes clattering in the sink as mom and the oldest daughter set the kitchen right. All of the sights and sounds of a house loved and well cared for by those who lived there. There had to have a balance between the good stories and  the bad. Otherwise it’s just too depressing to think about.

Now due to events we’ll never know about the place has fallen to rack and ruin. Time has taken its toll and the house has reached a point where it is unlikely to ever be brought back to a livable state. Eventually it will collapse under the winter snows or be blown down in one of the gale force storms that sweep over the plains taking it secrets and it stories and its history with it. Sad as that may be it is part of the daily life out here on the plains of Montana. Just down the road aways there is a new house going up. Life starts afresh and another story is begun. Hopefully they will be good stories.


High Country Magic

There are probably one or two of you out there who don’t believe in magic. Don’t be ashamed. It’s all right. You were most likely dropped on your head when you were very little and that part of your brain, the part that believes in magic, got a little scrambled. This is not your fault. If you want to blame someone, blame your clumsy parents. Or even that monster that lives under your bed who in trying to get you, caused you to fall out of the bed right on to your stubby little noggin. In any event that fall likely caused a serious disturbance in your parietal cortex. Many physicians feel that this is bad. Your parietal cortex is needed for many daily functions and shouldn’t be screwed up if you want to live a happy normal life. Or believe in magic.

There is hope for the afflicted however. They can be brought back to the straight and narrow where they can see, feel and believe in magic again. Sometimes this is occasioned by another blow to the head and the bent and/or twisted part of that old parietal cortex is slammed back into its rightful place again. This could allow for the acceptance of magic to be reestablished.

Another possibility is seeing your sister Agnes’s kid Alfie turned into a toad by an irritable wizard and left to hang around in the garden eating flies and other disgusting things for the rest of his life. He was a miserable little buttock anyway, so that might be an improvement. That might do it. That might be just the shock you needed to get that old magic rolling again.

Another possibility is you’re just a late bloomer. For most of your life you didn’t have time for magic. You were working too hard. You watched a lot of daytime TV. You didn’t get out much. Your Mom and Dad, perhaps the ones who dropped  you on your head in the first place, told you there was no such thing as magic so just shut up. They probably had things to say about Santa, The Easter bunny, and honest politicians too. This has the result of hardening your parietal cortex and creating a no magic zone in your outlook on life. However listen up as this is a big however, as you age your brain softens, it gets the consistency of a blueberry pudding or even in some cases cottage cheese. This has been well documented by real Doctors and the occasional serial killer actually looking into your brain cavity with special tools to see what’s going on in there. This brain softening has both good and bad results. The good is you are now free to see and observe magic again, like you did when you were a kid. Common place things take on a new life, a beauty you had forgotten exists. Such as the beauty seen in the photo above. Tell me it doesn’t take magic to create something as beautiful as that.

The bad of course is you begin to lose all motor functions and are well on your way to becoming a total vegetable. You’ve seen this, your brother’s wife’s father has all the cognitive responses of an overcooked cauliflower, he was never much brighter than a four slot toaster anyway but even if he was like a major brainiac before, he’s a mental dribbling idiot now. This is too bad and often unfair but since when has life been all that fair.

Remember magic comes in all forms, from great big events, like getting the tax code straightened out, to smaller but no less magical events than finding beauty in the middle of the gently falling snow. For now I’m gratefully accepting the small events in the magical world such as this High Country Magic seen while walking in the woods one day. Here’s hoping you still see magic in your life.


Merry Christmas

All of us here at BigShotsNow the blog, The Director, all of the interns even the ones to whom Christmas is just a time to work harder, The Institute itself under its unofficial recognition as the greatest Institute in the world, our faithful animal employees such as Pepper Blue our resident snow taster shown here hard at work checking the taste of the snow for granular consistency, all of us, even Dwight Lutsey the author and the one responsible for the blog want to take this time to say a heartfelt Merry Christmas to all of you. May this time be filled with family, friends and loved ones, not necessarily in that order and that each of you got that pony with the red saddle that you’ve been waiting on all these years. If not keep the faith there’s always next year. May you be blessed with the goodwill of the season and that it lasts all through the coming year. Merry Christmas and come back and visit often.

Badgers and Christmas

Christmas time. It’s that one time of year when everyone becomes a different person. They become the person they want to be all year-long but never quite pull it off. They’re full of good cheer and fellowship with love for family and friends, and even to their fellow-man however much they can’t stand them the rest of the year. A time of togetherness and gift giving and feeling good. All of their problems and sorrows, anger and frustrations, are swept away by the joyous feelings of the Christmas spirit. It is a time of peace.

Unless you’re a  badger.

Badgers don’t care about no stinking Christmas. They’re badgers. They may put up wreaths at the door of their sett and install those laser lights to light up the mound around their homes but that’s only because they think that Christmas is a good time to take advantage of those ground squirrels they favor, and play on their fondness for the Holiday season. Ground squirrels are notorious for loving Christmas. They dress up in little Christmas outfits, they give gifts of gaily wrapped tufts of grass to each other. They decorate their burrows with home made decorations. They hang mistletoe over every doorway. They make a slightly alcoholic beverage that resembles eggnog and get hammered. They sing ground squirrel carols and go door to door wearing little scarfs and ear muffs with reindeer on them. They make a big deal about Christmas.

That’s why the badgers look forward to the Christmas season. They wait patiently for the ground squirrels to ring the front doorbell then invite the slightly inebriated rodents in for a hot toddy or two. Completely taken in by the Christmas spirits and a quart or two of those everclear infused eggnog drinks they love, and of course totally forgetting that they are the badgers primary food source, they enter into the badgers den.

We’d like to tell you that in the spirit of the holidays that they all sat down, both badgers and ground squirrels, and celebrated this time of peace and joy together but we’re talking about badgers here. Badgers don’t change their spots. Badgers don’t care about peace and joy. Behind those festive grins and hale and hearty expressions of brotherhood they’re still badgers. So they shut and locked the door behind the last tipsy ground squirrel and celebrated with the ground squirrels in their own typically badger way. Suffice it to say that the badgers larder was well stocked for the next few weeks.

When the badger above was asked about this unusual but unseemly behavior in a time of peace and understanding, he got a faraway look on his face and appeared to reach back into his memories and said “You know, that was a good Christmas. We invited the rest of the family over for a big meal. We ate until we were stuffed, watched It’s A Wonderful Life on the box and the cubs played with the bones. We all felt thankful for the season. It was a good Christmas.”

May all your Christmas’s be good.

In The Spirit Of Giving

Give the gift that keeps on giving! Unique and exclusively available at *The Institute’s own Gift Shop. 

It’s that time of year again. You know, when you wrack your brain trying to find that perfect gift for those folks on your indigenous people’s list. We’ve all been through it. You’ve got those eight or nine people that are always so difficult to buy for. They’re in the jungles and backwaters of Guyana or Brazil or even the Amazon. They already have iPhone’s, large screen TV’s, Sam’s club gift cards. You’ve given those Nike T-shirts and matching flip-flops so many times the recipients look at you with that “Is this best you could do.” look and you’re ashamed to add one more set to their collection. What to give them that they’ll love and make a difference in their lives? We have the answer!

This year give them something they can really use. Poison Dart Frogs! That’s right, choose from our great selection of Poison Dart frogs grown in our own highly restricted zoology labs here at *The Institute. We have a fantastic color selection and each frog has been force-fed specially formulated Poison Dart frog chow developed with our friends at Purina. These frogs are as deadly as they come. Those Howler monkeys will never know what hit them, but our friends down there in their snake-infested homes will. See the joy on their faces as it “Rains Howlers!” That’s right “Monkeys from the sky!” See the special glow on their faces as they use blowdarts dipped in their very own Poison Dart poison made from the sweat and other gooey secretions on these little frogs bodies. Watch as they build and customize their very own collection of Poison Dart frogs that you sent them. Remember, Give a man a dead Howler monkey and he will eat and perhaps become ill, but teach him how to make his own poison tipped blowgun darts and you will feed him forever.

Choose from the individuals pictured below. Buy just one or get the 3 pack so your gift-tee’s can mix and match their own specially customized toxic brew. They won’t be able to thank you enough.

Item #8887PDF11-0-6 Dyeing Poison Dart Frog. Known as “Kill Dat Monkey”. Yellow and black with Prussian blue feet. Native to northern South America. Toxicity rating 8.9 on the *HMM scale wgt: 1.73 troy ounces $2300.00 each. Limit 100 to each mailing address.

Item #3359PDF27-0-72 Orange Banded Poison Dart frog, Known as “Drop Them Loggers” Black with orange bands. Native to Guyana, South America.  Toxicity rating 11.4 on the HMM scale wgt. 96 troy ounces. This is our largest Poison Dart frog so we can only fit four in a box. $19.00 each limit 60 to each mailing address.

Item #5916PDF03-0-19 Purple black white Poison Dart frog, native to West Hollywood, California, known as Lavender Lovelace for its deep-throated roar it produces right before expelling its poison. Toxicity rating 4.81 on the HMM scale wgt. .062 troy ounces. This is one of our smallest but easiest to use frogs. Due to its low toxicity it is perfect for children just starting out or feeble folks who tend to not know what they’re doing most of the time. Will burn the skin severely but it will not cause death if treated promptly. Must be used with adult supervision if purchased for minors. $81.00 each no limit

Note: These Poison Dart frogs are dangerous. Use at your own risk. We at The Institute accept no responsibility for misuse of this product. Children under 16 should have adult supervision. May cause skin cancer if applied to the body. May cause agony and death if ingested. Do not suck on the frogs attempting to “get high”, they are not hallucinogenic. Keeps frogs away from food preparation areas. Rinse dead Howler monkeys thoroughly before handling or consuming. Do not store poison in open containers or near fires. Do not rub poison on any part of body to enhance desire. It will have the opposite effect. Keep and read thoroughly all packing and care and feeding instructions for your Poison Dart Frogs. If accidentally swallowed immediately find a clear space to lie down in free of any obstructions so your spasms and contortions will not cause property damage. Do not burn bodies of those killed by Poison Dart frog poison as ingesting the smoke may cause additional fatalities. Enjoy your new Poison Dart Frogs and Happy Holidays.

* HMM (Holy Moley Maynard) a scale developed here at The Institute to measure how fast something dangerous will affect you.

* Note: For those of you unfamiliar with The Institute and what it does, please see the page labeled The Institute on the Menu Bar above. That should explain everything. You shouldn’t have one single question remaining regarding The Institute after reading it. None. For those of you favored few who already know about the Institute, Nevermind. Return to your daily activities. Thank you for your support.

Shadow Racers

Yeah, a lot of you have been asking ” Hey! What about the first heavier than air, air race that was held on May 23, 1909 – the Prix de Lagatinerie, at the Port-Aviation airport south of Paris, France? And how does that tie in with this new sport we’re hearing about called Shadow Racing?” In fact so many cards and letters have been coming in that we had to assign a special intern just to steam the stamps off the envelopes so we could use them again. We heard you and have been working feverishly to gather the information to put together this article. There’s a whole crock pot of information about this subject and we intend to dredge up every sordid, exciting, non-essential, nearly factual bit we can find.

Air racing as a sport has often included airplanes, some of them made here at home which would be America, and some made other places like Europe which at one time included Great Britain and France and Germany, all countries that fit inside Europe the continent and have had some success with inventing various stuff and then bragging about it constantly. One of these things was Airplanes and their own proprietary version of air racing.

The heyday of this sport was in the 1930’s and 40’s and even later in which the races were set at different venues and various contestants got airplanes and raced them. Many spectators attended these races and got sore necks from looking up all the time. Some even got all over dizzy of a second and had to lay down for a while. The planes themselves were interesting in that they all were heavier than air and took some skill to fly them. Every one who had a plane was extremely proud of their aircraft, even more so if it didn’t fall out of the sky and crash and these owners would go on and on about the safety of this new mode of transportation called aviation until you were just sick of it and began avoiding them whenever possible. In the early 20’s you had planes with names like the Albatross L 69 from Germany, the de Havilland DH.71 Tiger Moth from England. Even earlier you had the Deprussian 1912 Racing Monoplane from France. Those early planes were special in that they were constructed of things like, wood, wire, paper, canvas and glue and other non-essential materials that were cheap and readily available.

Later in the 40’s you had the Caproni Bergamaschi PL.3 from Italy, and the Condor Shoestring from the U.S. There was even one from The USSR called the Yakolev Yak – 11. However there is no record of it ever winning a race or even flying for that matter which may have something to do with its namesake, as the only time Yaks fly is when they’re tumbling through space after falling off one of the high mountain cliffs in which they’re found. But you know the Russians they got to get their two cents in there. Even if it is to brag about their dumb named plane which supposedly crashed into a tree upon take off and never flew again. It wasn’t even a very tall tree.

All of  this sky racing stuff was not lost on our feathered friends, the birds, who have been flying for years and have gotten highly skilled at it. Birds are great mimickers and saw the fun that people were having racing their planes around and sometimes getting big bucks for doing so and thought “Wait a minute! I’m a bird! I can do that!” and soon were putting on their own airshows and races and pulling in big crowds.

One of the big events they created was the sport of Shadow Racing. This is when a single bird or sometimes many of them, builds up a head of steam way up in the air and comes screaming in, diving as low as they can over the ground, trying to out race their shadows. In the image above you can see this streamlined racing gull, a tried and true model that hasn’t changed its shape for many years, slowly but easily out distancing its shadow. Cool, right? This sport is growing in popularity and gaining big crowds at flyways like Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge both important areas for bird flying. We mustn’t forget Padre Island and those long sandy beaches perfect for this event. Even the lumbering old Pelicans, the C-130’s  of the bird world compete there. There is even some talk of a nationally televised race sponsored by Red Bull and Budweiser, but as yet no dates have been set.

We for one, look forward to this seasons many Shadow Racing events and will be on hand to capture the excitement of it with our cameras. In fact we have been busy designing our own Shadow Racing bird and believe we can do well in the shorter Shadow Racing Sprints. Wish us luck. Hope to see you there.

A Season Of Plenty


It was a cold, cold day in January a year ago. It was snowing, the wind was like a knife as it struck you in the face and the temperature was dropping by the moment. So of course the only thing to do was grab your camera, put on all of your long underwear, every single pair, and go outside and take pictures.

But of what you might ask. Anything even remotely sentient was somewhere warm. Even the scenic always photographical trees were hiding under a mantle of warm snow and had faded from view, camouflaged and vaguely promising to reemerge again when the temperature registered on the thermometer once more, perhaps in the Spring.

But even with conditions like this there are those that must venture forth and do a job of work if they want to get fed. This bird, obviously some species that laughs at the cold and stares certain death in the eye from hypothermia or whatever it is called that freezes normal birds to death, was punched in and working its shift.

Busily harvesting tiny little seeds from a leftover seed pod it cracks them open with an audible pop, or at least it would be audible if there weren’t those gale force winds screaming past. There is just enough locked up energy in those minute seeds to power this small creature through another day of subzero winter conditions. It must eat a lot of those seeds as it appears to be in fine shape, almost portly as it were. For it, this is a season of plenty.

So on a cold blustery winter day when all normal people would be inside, except for wildlife photographers, Nature provides for its own. I’m sure this feathery adventurer has a place to go when it’s done eating. Perhaps a nice warm condo with in-floor heat, or maybe a clubhouse where it can wedge itself in amongst all the other birds of its type and share that body heat not to mention groove on that cool, make that warm, jazz playing in the background. Let’s not worry about it. If it can find something to eat in this weather, you know it has a backup plan.