“The Tree of Lights,” by Curt Layman. Tate Publishing and Enterprises, LLC. $9.99
Curt Layman sits in front of a couple of hundred kids and asks them what they think of the opening line of his new book, “The Tree of Lights”: “Once upon a time … .”
Before he can continue the gym at the Bridger Elementary School erupts in laughter and jeers. Curt muses, “I think they’ve heard this one before.”
The allotted time passes quickly, the Billings author and carpentry contractor clearly entertaining the young audience while thoroughly enjoying the wide-ranging discussion, as the students keenly question him about book writing, the publishing business, how much money he makes from writing and profit margins.
Mr. Layman doesn’t do a reading, per se, as the whole hour is spent answering questions and exploring ideas. He says, “I could write another book on just their great questions and unique ideas; and the younger they are the more voluble and the more imaginative their comments.”
The eighth-graders toward the back of the room tend to be more aloof. He tries another opening: “Once upon a most frightful night … .” This one gets some applause, and he can tell it hooks a lot of them.
This is Mr. Layman’s second book. His first, “The Christmas Cheese,” was published last year. It introduced the thimble-size world of a mouse family and the main character, Junior Mouse, and what happens in a typical human home when the ‘tall ones’ leave at Christmas.
With his core characters now known, Mr. Layman is free with this second book to move Junior Mouse into unlimited opportunities of adventure (and probably further books).
The blue-black of the book’s cover with its dark shadow of an old sailing ship on a foaming, ghostly sea leads the young reader directly into “a most frightful night.”
From there it is nonstop action in a world where — not only do animals communicate with people — but a forgotten clan of leering trees can plot in silence, their twisted branches forming spindly arms and gnarly hands to snatch the unaware.
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 July 2013 15:02
In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed the discovery of an acre-sized group of genetically modified wheat plants growing on an eastern Oregon farm. The farmer notified the agency after becoming alarmed when an application of the herbicide Roundup failed to kill them.
Investigators identified the plants as Roundup Ready wheat, which was engineered by Monsanto to withstand application of its signature herbicide. This strain of wheat had never been approved by USDA, and was last grown experimentally in 2004, when the project was scrapped.
How this stubborn wheat patch ended up in an Oregon field years after it had ostensibly been removed from circulation is a mystery that scientists from USDA and Monsanto have been scrambling to solve. However it came to be, this incident has serious implications for the idea of “coexistence,” a scenario wherein GM and non-GM crops are grown and sold, separately and simultaneously, by U.S. farmers. Coexistence is the policy embraced by USDA chief Tom Vilsack, and his agency.
A big risk posed by coexistence is that GM and non-GM plants will mix, jeopardizing markets for non-GM crops. Immediately after the Oregon GM wheat discovery Japan, one of the U.S.’s largest export markets for wheat, slapped on restrictions on U.S. wheat imports, and South Korea quickly followed suit.
Even if the Oregon wheat turns out to be some kind of well-contained and neatly explained anomaly, American wheat farmers will still have lost market share, to Russia, Australia and others, that may prove difficult to recover.
This was not the first instance of economic fallout from GM contamination of non-GM foods. In 2006, Bayer’s LibertyLink rice contaminated the U.S. rice supply, which tanked export demand for U.S. rice. And in 2000, contamination of non-GM corn by StarLink’s GM corn caused significant economic blowback.
But rather than a red flag, USDA appears to consider events like this as the price of coexistence, as the agency expects such events to be the new normal.
A Feb. 21 USDA report summarizes recommendations made by its Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture. This committee was convened to address coexistence, and its mandate implies more escapes like Oregon’s Roundup Ready wheat are expected.
The committee’s central task is to address the question, “What types of compensation mechanisms, if any, would be appropriate to address economic losses by farmers in which the value of their crops is reduced by unintended presence of genetically engineered (GE) material.”
American wheat farmers might have some questions about this proposed compensation, given what’s transpiring in Oregon. Chicago Attorney Adam Levitt litigated cases against Bayer and StarLink corn, winning judgments of $920 million and $110 million respectively.
He told NutraIngredients-USA.com that his phones have been “very busy” since the Oregon discovery.
Neither StarLink, LibertyLink, nor Monsanto’s un-named Roundup Ready wheat have been shown harmful to humans (though some people believe that StarLink triggered allergic responses). In fact, there is no rock-solid evidence of any human health problems created by (approved) GM foods. But in the marketplace, perception is reality, and if the Japanese aren’t buying GM wheat, that’s the reality that matters.
One of the many unknowns about the Oregon GM wheat situation is whether the plants are a direct descendent from the decade-old trials or the result of GM pollen passing along the resistance to wheat. Monsanto, unsurprisingly, claims this is unlikely, as wheat typically pollinates itself rather than crossing. But it’s not impossible, as some crossing does occur. In fact, there have been several instances of GM plants passing their engineered constructs to other, related species, including weeds, via pollen.
“There has always been a worry with wheat, being in the grass family,” David Ervin, environmental management professor at Portland State University in Oregon, told the New York Times. If there was a transfer of the gene into grasses, he said, “There’s going to be difficulty in controlling those grasses, and you might have to resort to stronger herbicide treatments, some of which have more environmental consequences.”
While instances like the wheat found in Oregon have resulted from supposedly unforeseeable events, USDA’s 2011 approval of GM alfalfa almost dares such escapes to happen. Alfalfa is the main forage crop for dairy cows and one of the principal foods for beef cows, including grass-fed cattle. Alfalfa is bee-pollinated, which means that wherever GM alfalfa is planted, every other alfalfa plant within about five miles will be subject to contamination with GM pollen. Alfalfa is a perennial, commonly living 10 to 25 years. A single plant can produce 16,000 seeds per year, which makes it seem inevitable that organic and grass-fed cattle will eat some GM alfalfa. What happens next isn’t clear. Organic standards prohibit any quantity of GM material in certified-organic products. If GM alfalfa genes travel as far as seems likely, it could mean a change in the definition of organic, or the end of organic meat and dairy entirely.
But instead of concern about this possibility, it appears USDA plans on watching it happen. A Feb. 21 document discusses the need to “Develop monitoring procedures for transgenic alfalfa pollen load and for assessing transgenic presence; this effort will be an important building block for field-based tools.” This isn’t the language of an agency committed to strict separation of GM and non-GM food.
Coexistence, it’s becoming increasingly clear, doesn’t mean two systems, existing side by side in peace. It means that practitioners of one system, non-GM farming, will have to learn to exist with the economic and ecological problems created by its GM counterparts. Given how difficult this counterpart is to control, “accommodation” seems like a more appropriate word than coexistence.
Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 11:12
BOZEMAN – Montana State University Extension honored 22 recipients with Ecostar Pollution Prevention awards in a ceremony held in Helena in April.
The Ecostar awards are coordinated by MSU Extension’s Housing and Environmental Health Program and funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
There were 22 EcoStar award winners representing 17 communities from across the state. The Ecostar award program recognizes small businesses, institutions and non-profits that are leading efforts in Montana to voluntarily focus on pollution prevention and create a more environmentally sustainable model.
The award focuses on those taking environmentally responsible steps to reduce solid and hazardous waste, maximize efficiencies, conserve energy and water and improve air quality.
The 2012 EcoStar Award winners by area include (* indicates repeat winner):
Multiple locations: Mackenzie River Pizza Co. * in Billings, Bozeman, Belgrade, Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Missoula, Whitefish and Kalispell
Billings: St. Vincent Healthcare *, Sage Spa Living *
Hinsdale: Hinsdale FFA & Hinsdale Public School
Lewistown: High Plains Horse Blanket Repair
Livingston: Gadanke/Katie Clemons Inc. *, Livingston Healthcare Farm to Cafeteria Program
Missoula: Bayern Brewing, Jackson Contracting
Red Lodge: Red Lodge Mountain
West Glacier: Glacier Guides & Montana Rafting
Yellowstone National Park: Delaware North Co. Parks and Resorts *
Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 11:10
MISSOULA – The Fourth of July holiday means many Montanans will head for the hills. Those hitting the trails for biking, hiking, horseback riding or motorized recreation in the National Forests may notice some repair work that needs to be done. In fact, the cost to get trails across the country up to basic standards will run to more than $500 million, according to a new GAO report.
Paul Spitler, Montana-based director of wilderness campaigns for The Wilderness Society, said it may be difficult in these difficult budget times to seek more funding, so creative solutions are needed to maintain public access.
“We know that use is increasing on our trails,” he said. “This is really something that touches Americans of all stripes. Virtually everyone loves the great outdoors and trails are the conduit to the great outdoors.”
Spitler said collaborations and volunteer programs can help leverage repair funding. Trail maintenance projects include clearing trees and brush, improving stream crossings, and preventing erosion. He adds that about $80 million is dedicated to trail maintenance each year, and it’s estimated that that those trails contribute more than $80 billion a year to the recreation industry.
Acording to Mark Himmel, chairman of Back Country Horsemen of Montana, his group’s chapters are among the largest volunteer-based trail organizations in the country. He said volunteer time is a great resource to help get trails on track, but relying only on volunteers isn’t realistic because of money and time.
“With diesel at $3.81 a gallon, it’s always a $40 to $50 day, you know, when you volunteer, and we only get about eight weekends to volunteer,” he said.
The GAO report also found that only about one-quarter of all trails are kept up to standard. The Wilderness Society and Back Country Horsemen requested the report.
The GAO report is at GAO.gov.
Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 11:09
A 3-year-old male grizzly bear was euthanized at the Fish, Wildlife and Parks state wildlife lab in Bozeman on June 25, a news release said.
The bear was captured June 24 on private land north of Red Lodge after two separate incidents of depredation occurring Thursday, June 20, and Saturday, June 22.
On Thursday, the bear killed one sheep, then returned on Saturday and killed seven more and wounded two others. Both USDA-Wildlife Services and FWP investigated the incidents and found the bear had been within the confines of corrals and close to buildings.
This was the third time this bear had been captured. The bear was in overall good condition for its age and time of year and weighed 200 pounds.
Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 11:09
The Montana Stockgrowers Association has announced that the LaSalle Ranch of Havre has been selected winner of the 2013-2014 Montana Environmental Stewardship Award, sponsored by MSGA’s Research, Education and Endowment Foundation and funded by Montana Beef Producers with Checkoff Dollars.
LaSalle Ranch is a cow/calf and yearling operation mostly located within the boundaries of the Rocky Boys Indian Reservation. The LaSalles are members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe and the first Native American winners of this award.
Each year, MSGA honors a Montana ranch that exemplifies environmental stewardship and demonstrates a commitment toward improved sustainability within the beef industry. This award recognizes Montana ranchers who are at the forefront in conservation and stewardship and are willing to serve as examples for other ranchers. LaSalle Ranch was selected for this award by a committee that included two past national Environmental Stewardship Award winners from Montana.
“The whole LaSalle family is very proud to have been selected for this award,” said Leon LaSalle, president of LaSalle Ranch. “We understand that if we take care of the land it will take care of us. Our ancestors lived in harmony with their environment and we try to do the same. This award means a lot to me personally, not for myself, but for my father who has spent a lifetime improving the environment—not only for us, but for numerous other farmers and ranchers throughout North Central Montana.”
LaSalle Ranch is operated by the LaSalle family: Leon and his wife Shannon, his father Robert L. and mother Jenny, and brother Robert W. and his wife Susan are all involved in the operation. Leon and Robert W. represent the third generation to ranch in the area. Their grandfather, Frank Billy, was one of the first Chippewa Cree Tribal members to enter the livestock industry after World War II.
LaSalle Ranch has partnered with the Montana Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Chippewa Cree Tribe’s Natural Resource Department, and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to implement conservation practices and a planned grazing system to protect environmentally sensitive areas on the ranch. They have installed over seven miles of stock water pipelines, 25 wildlife-friendly watering facilities, and 10 miles of cross fences.
A major focus of the LaSalle family’s efforts has been Beaver Creek, which flows into Beaver Creek County Park, the largest county park in the U.S. This park is a very popular summer recreation area for Hill County and surrounding county residents who enjoy camping, swimming, fishing, and picnicking. The park is located on the downstream border of the LaSalle’s grazing allotment. The LaSalles have worked to keep cattle off the sensitive riparian areas of the creek by developing eight off-stream water developments, utilizing solar energy to pump livestock water to higher elevations to take grazing pressure off riparian areas and allow even grazing use of the pastures, and installing 3.5 miles of riparian area protection fences. These efforts have resulted in improved water quality in the headwaters of this watershed.
and a more pleasant environment for recreationalists.
MSGA will work with the LaSalle Ranch to prepare its application for the regional and national award competition. Since 1992, MSGA has honored 20 state winners, nine of whom went on to win the regional award and two named national award winners. To learn more, visit www.mtbeef.org/mesap.
Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 11:08
By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost
Like author Kay Moore, I first learned of the Black Bicycle Corps when a documentary of its mission was on PBS. I recorded it on my VCR, but never got around to watching it.
As I am lax about writing what is actually on each VHS tape, it is probably in a pile of other intriguing programs I’ve yet to see.
So I was pleased to learn of “The Great Bicycle Experiment: The Army’s Historic Black Bicycle Corps, 1896-97,” by Mountain Press Publishing. It is short (just 86 pages) and is filled with historic photographs on almost every page.
Written for a juvenile audience, it is a quick but fascinating read. Thoroughly researched by Ms. Moore, it has a complete index, bibliography and information of further avenues of research for young readers.
While I was aware of this unique venture by African Americans in the post-Civil War era, I was unaware of its importance to Montana history.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, a certain Lt. James Moss, second lieutenant at Fort Missoula in Montana, had a revolutionary idea in 1896. He was convinced that bicycles, relatively new on the scene, could be employed by the U.S. Army in place of horses for certain operations.
Horses are self-powered as well as powerful, so why bikes? Bicycles did not need to eat, drink or sleep; they would not die (although they could break); they would never disobey; and they were nearly noiseless (compared to the shoed hooves of cavalry horses). Lt. Moss was determined to test this idea and prove the worth of the bicycle in Army campaigns.
The all-black 25th Infantry was a regiment stationed at Fort Missoula at the time. Lt. Moss chose an elite group from its ranks to form the Bicycle Corps and attempt a historic 2,000-mile journey from Missoula to St. Louis.
Ms. Moore chronicles this seemingly insurmountable (to the modern reader) journey, highlighting both the challenges and the triumphs of these remarkable soldiers as they pedaled, pushed - and at times carried - their bikes across the mountains and plains and into the history books.
Not to be stuck in the distant past, the last of the 10 chapters addresses the legacy of the Bicycle Corps, following the 25th Infantry after the experiment ended, visiting historical monuments, and discussing a modern day 2,000-mile reenactment of sorts (the cyclists had to worry more about traffic than the dangers of the Wild West).
“The Great Bicycle Experiment” is both a valuable historical resource and an entertaining adventure story for readers young and old. It is a highly recommended book for both the classroom and the home (or for the homeschooled family), as it packs a lot of incredible information into a tight package.
Priced at $12, it can be purchased online or in stores.
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 June 2013 10:10
“Justice at Cardwell Ranch,” by BJ. Daniels. Harlequin Enterprises Limited, Ontario, Canada. Paperback, 216 pages. $5.25.
By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost
No matter how many books you read, whole genres can pass you by. My wife used to read a lot of romance novels and occasionally I would dip my nose into one just to see what was going on. They might as well have been written in Sanskrit. Nothing much there penetrated my brain.
So it came as a total surprise to me to learn that Montana has a bestselling romance writer right here in Malta. I am not even certain that “romance” is the right word because the genre seems to contain genres within the genre.
Anyway, her name is B.J. Daniels, and she has written 26 novels in the Harlequin Intrigue series, plus ebooks. According to press materials, her first book set on the Cardwell Ranch in the Gallatin Canyon was read by more than 2 million people, as opposed, apparently, to selling more than 2 million copies.
I don’t know how many people have read the sequel, “Justice at Cardwell Ranch,” but I am one of them – just another Outpost service to its readers.
Presumably, what goes on here will be familiar ground for Ms. Daniels’ fans. Jordan Cardwell is a hunk with a past who returns to Montana for, among more mysterious purposes, his 20-year high school reunion. When he is found standing over the fresh corpse of a high school classmate, he becomes a murder suspect. Investigating the case is an attractive deputy, who feels her heartstrings tug at the sight of him.
Meanwhile, his sister, who is holding on to the family ranch, is married to the marshal, who has the irresistible name of Hud Savage. She is profoundly pregnant when another sister shows up unexpectedly, fresh baby in hand.
Let’s see, what else? There are stuck-up old high school classmates, a car crash, ancient vandalism, a possible kidnapping, yet another family member who shows up, another new baby and so on.
Having made it to the end of the book, I’m still not quite sure what to make of all this. Ms. Daniels, who started as a newspaper journalist, certainly has the skills.
The novel trips along without a hitch. And perhaps it isn’t giving too much away to note that things turn out mostly OK for the principals at the end.
But what does it all mean? Guess I will have to wait for the Sanskrit version to come out.
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 June 2013 10:09
“Edward Adrift,” by Craig Lancaster. Amazon Publishing, Las Vegas, Nev. Paperback, 320 pages. $9.99 digital.
By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost
I must confess that I wasn’t too excited about picking up Craig Lancaster’s third novel, “Edward Adrift.” His first novel, “600 Hours of Edward,” was an unexpected delight, a humorous but poignant look into the mind of a most unusual character.
His second novel, “The Summer Son,” seemed to me a step back, one that replowed much of the same emotional ground with a plot that was at once too predictable and too farfetched, a deadly combination.
That novel was followed by an excellent collection of short fiction, “Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure.” So a return to the main character of his first novel seemed to me like another step backward.
But, dang it, Edward sucked me in again. He is, for those unfamiliar with the first novel, a middle-aged Billings man with Asperger’s syndrome who is socially inept and a creature of strict habits, including keeping a daily weather log and watching old TV episodes on a strict schedule.
The first novel pulled Edward out of his solitary life with a series of unexpected events, including friendly new neighbors and the death of his father. In this novel, Edward is further extracted from the careful shell he has constructed.
His old neighbors, it turns out, have moved to Idaho, and the boy, now in seventh grade, has been expelled from school. Edward had struck up an odd friendship with the boy, and he is called upon to see if can help get the boy through troubled times.
The call comes at a fortuitous time. Edward is, as the title suggests, adrift. He has lost his job at The Billings Gazette. He has a new therapist. His friends have moved away.
Although his inheritance from his father has left him wealthy, his constricted lifestyle leaves him with little use for money.
His Idaho visit turns into a much longer trip, the result of a desire to revisit the town in Colorado where his father keeps appearing in his dreams. Along the way, Edward achieves further measures of human empathy, greater independence from his controlling mother and even the stirrings of romance.
This is all high ground for such a limited hero, and both the character and author put themselves at considerable risk. A slow journey to human development involves danger at every step, of excess sentimentality, of strained credibility, of false redemption.
Mr. Lancaster avoids each of these traps, handling Edward’s growing independence with skill and humor. While some of the character’s quirks can annoy even the most loyal reader, it’s difficult to avoid being pulled in by Edward’s candor, his intelligence and even his weaknesses.
Mr. Lancaster’s years as a newspaper copy editor also show through. Although the copy I read was an uncorrected proof, I found scarcely even a single typo, certainly something one cannot take for granted in today’s wide-open publishing world.
Mr. Lancaster has triumphed again. With remarkable speed, he has made himself into one of Montana’s most important writers.
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 June 2013 10:03
“Breaking Point,” by C.J. Box. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. Hardcover, 370 pages. $26.95.
By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost
Fans of C.J. Box’s 13 mysteries about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett know that Joe has been pushing his limits for some time now. Increasingly, the warden has been taking on crazed environmentalists, wacky laws and boneheaded bureaucrats.
He has found himself sympathizing more with this who break the law than with those the law is supposed to protect. He has taken on wind-power advocates and anti-hunting fanatics while finding himself sympathizing with survivalists who ignore game laws – and other laws, too.
In “Breaking Point,” as the book’s title indicates, Joe finally goes over the edge. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that Joe seems to become something other than the game warden readers have come to know.
Mr. Box plots his books with intricate care, and this one is no exception. It’s based on an actual case involving an Idaho couple who successfully battled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Mr. Box’s fictionalized account, corrupt EPA officials conspire to deprive a Wyoming couple of use of their land. Shots are fired, agents die, and most of the book revolves around efforts to track the purported killer, who is on the run in the Bighorn Mountains.
This is familiar turf for both Mr. Pickett and Mr. Box, who is a master at depicting chase scenes through the wilderness. This time, he throws a forest fire into the mix, compounding violence with sheer terror.
There’s a fine twist at the end, one that left at least this reader thinking that he ought to have seen it coming but didn’t. And the final pages are meant to raise doubts that Joe Pickett will ever work as a game warden again.
Mr. Box says he wrote “Breaking Point” in a “red-tinged fury” after hearing of the Idaho case. That may not be his best writing mode. He is compulsively readable, far too disciplined a writer to let his emotions get the best of him, but the same doesn’t necessarily hold for his characters.
Joe Pickett is the straightest of arrows, a dedicated family man, a reliable hand in a crisis, unswerving in his dedication to justice. If he decides that government service is too corrupt to deserve his talents, then what hope is there for real reform?
Let’s face it, Joe: Bad guys don’t just work for the government. They show up everywhere. No matter where you turn, you may find yourself working under some of them.
In a fistful of his recent books, Mr. Box has made villains of those who are supposed to be protecting the environment. Let’s hope he remembers that sometimes the bad guys are those who are out to despoil it.
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 June 2013 09:51