Weblog of Leland Rucker
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A Snowy Day in Silver Gate, Montana


Monday October 9, 2006
Pine Edge Cabins
Silver Gate, Montana

When we got up, it was white-ish, and I opened the front door of the cabin to horizontal snow blowing straight down from the pass west into the park, so we’re sitting here warming up as it gets light. The heater in the back bedroom keeps the whole cabin pretty toasty. Billie is frying turkey sausage, and I think we will take a walk after breakfast and see whether we can get into the park or not.

Our Aerostar is not equipped with a windshield scraper – didn’t Avis know where we were going? – so I head down for the general store, where Henry Finkbeiner and a couple of friendly Labs are at the desk. Though I have only met him a couple of times, Finkbeiner is one of the reasons we like Silver Gate.

“That was the early days,” he says as I tell him we are the people from Boulder who first rented a cabin in Whispering Pines in 2001 and to whom he loaned his spotting scope for our first wolf-watching trip.

A successful Atlanta urban developer who refurbished old buildings into lofts before it became fashionable, Finkbeiner bought a bunch of buildings in Silver Gate in 2000. Wearing several hats – he is an excellent wildlife photographer and also guides camping trips into the park and who knows what else — Finkbeiner has been slowly building an eco-tourist business. He has a long ponytail, and he has lost weight since moving up here. “They could have arrested me for the fire I got going last night” in his sweat lodge over by Soda Butte Creek in Whispering Pines, he says, laughing.

He talks about his plans for turning the Range Rider, a two-story barnlike cabin-style building that has served as lodge, tavern and whorehouse, into a non-profit children’s camp. “Course everything here is non-profit,” he adds with a grin.

He says he’s still working on the Pine Edge cabins, now open year round. He’s trying to get the other old motel next door open as well. Through the efforts of Bob, his manager, they are still renting the romantic and evocative Whispering Pines, the old cabins where we stayed the first couple of trips up here. On a walk we see some guy is working on one of the Whispering Pines buildings. Finkbeiner says they will keep it open at least for the foreseeable future.

Billie has joined us, and she thanks Henry for the gift of five free nights at Pine Edge donated for the Sinapu benefit, which brought $1600. Finkbeiner doesn’t seem to know about it, and says that Bob probably set it up.

Finkbeiner still would like to create a wildlife corridor on the other side of the creek, he admits, which might necessitate the demolition of some or all of the Whispering Pines cabins, leaving the conifer forest where it sits as part of the corridor. He knows that you can’t keep animals out of Silver Gate because “it’s right in the middle of where wildlife live.” But he says he would like to at least try and give animals a place to move through without interference. “It’s part of our commitment,” he said.

He says that the growing season in Silver Gate has increased by six weeks in the six years he has been here, which makes me start wondering how much this might have to do with the re-appearance of beaver and willow bushes in Soda Butte Creek. We generally are attributing that to the return of the wolves, but I’m guessing that the climate might have something to do with it, too.

Finkbeiner’s environmental activities have caught the notice of Montana officials, and not always in positive ways. He asks people not to run snowmachines on his property, “nicely,” he adds, which doesn’t endear him to the Cooke City snowmachine culture. He took down the old Whispering Pines neon sign after the state began bugging him about it, and I notice the Range Rider sign is gone, too. “Violence comes in many different forms,” he says of the hassles.

The weather has cleared enough to drive over to Mammoth Springs after finding no charismatic megafauna in the Lamar Valley or Slough Creek. A couple of bull elk, one with an enormous rack, have their harems feeding in Mammoth Springs. A nice, recently revived fountain on the lower side of the springs has taken out the walkway up to the next level. And we strolled through the acidic burn-out fountains that once flowed and whose beauty lured early visitors to this area.

After we get back, I tromp back down to the general store, where Paul, the photographer friend of Henry’s we have met in years past, is behind the desk. As he writes out the wi-fi password on a piece of paper – yes, we have net access in Silver Gate — he describes the service as “somewhere between dial-up and broadband.” In truth, it is closer to the former than the latter.

Paul also shows me the .pdf layout of a book to which he is contributing about Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The photography is just stunning. Should be out in the spring. If the Net gets shaky and I really need it, he says, bring the computer down to the store and it will work better.

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