“Are kids so focused on their handhelds that they miss their surroundings?” asks Lynne Montague, whose recent self-published first book, “Rim Haven,” celebrates the appearances, for almost a decade and a half now, of Billings’ Rimrocks-dwelling creatures that visit, drink, kill, threaten to kill, eat all the blossoms, sleep and migrate in and out of her backyard.
“It feels like we are all just too computer-conscious,” laments Montague.
On the contrary! Dedicated to close and penetrating observation of her surroundings, Montague is a painter. Blue horses, reminiscent of “Blue Rider” by the great Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky - the Father of Abstract Expressionism - amble across the walls of her home and many canvasses there. An entire bookcase strains to hold countless, heavy, coffee table books on art, artists and how exposure to the arts helps people learn.
An expanse of glass windows showcases the backyard, in which she observes, photographs and records every single sighting of the seven-point buck, his does and fawns, a red fox, a ferocious bobcat and her small litter, red and gray squirrels, several types of hawks, nuthatches, warblers, blue jays, wild turkeys, chickadees, screech owls, sparrows, hummingbirds, waxwings, buntings, wrens, finches, one pheasant and numerous types of butterflies and dragonflies. Through the glass windows, Lynne and her husband, Jay, create a microclimate that invites the fauna of the rims to descend and rest a while. Water is the key.
Two birdbaths, several sprinklers, and shade trees with about five comfortably spaced birdhouses anchored with suet offer sustenance and shelter to the birds and other Rim-inhabitants otherwise sweltering in the heat high above her studio.
In her book, Montague provides quotations that aptly reflect her own fears about the future of the animals and the rims. Here is the most apt: “What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.” Chief Seattle of the Dwamish Tribe in the state of Washington, 1780-1866, said those words in response to then-President Franklin Pierce’s request to buy his tribal land.
Ms. Montague says she created Rim Haven because she fears that someday all the animals may depart forever. She says she could not exist without passing on to her three grandchildren her knowledge and love for the beauty of the animal life that populates Rim Haven. Ms. Montague says she and her grandchildren, like many Billings residents, look out over Zimmerman Park and quake with fear at the reality down below: all the beautiful farmland swallowed up by homes, strip malls, businesses and other residue of suburban sprawl. Disappearing land is a prominent concern of virtually all Montanans, both human and non.
How did all these animals come to prefer the Montague home? Ms. Montague thinks that in the 1930s, when the city of Billings dynamited the Rimrocks to put in a road to get to the airport, the city’s repositioning of that rim face may have pushed some animals out of the road-construction area and onto other parts of the Rims.
Perhaps ongoing construction, city-county zoning efforts and the ever-increasing drought that smites Western states contribute to the delightful, dangerous and surprising interaction between wildlife and humans. But it was not until the last 15 years or so, she and her husband say, that the animals began to more actively hunt and forage on the game trail behind her house.
And they actively travel it at night too. The Montagues have emplaced a night camera with motion detection sensors that might invite a book on the nocturnal activity at Rim Haven. Perhaps they can show us the mountain lion, other powerful predators and sharp-clawed scavengers that inhabit the night.