By SUZANNE MILLER
Our senses record all the sounds of every place we call home. A favorite “oldie” quickly transports us to our college days with friends and first romances. A bird’s song brings back memories of childhood camping trips. A church bell reignites grief as we remember the departed.
We do not consciously make these recordings. We do not focus our attention to be sure that we retain every detail, every nuance. Rather, these strong audio ties are not even recognized until they sneak up on us–arise out of nowhere—and command our full attention.
For reasons beyond my understanding, during the last few months I have become acutely aware of some of the sounds that speak to me of spring and summer at Dunrovin.
It’s the loud chatter of the red winged black birds that causes me to first lift my head from my late winter chores and know that spring must indeed be on its way, in spite of the blustery weather. Their boisterous arrival is always sudden – one day it is quiet at the bird feeders and the next day, chaos reigns. Scores of them crowd around in all the trees surrounding the feeders and impatiently wait for their turn. Seeds fly and drop to the ground where clutches of more birds and red squirrels eagerly clean them up.
The red winged black birds puts me on alert and I begin the annual vigil of scanning the sky; carefully listening for the distinctively loud chip chip chip that heralds the ospreys’ return to their nest above our arena. During our first year at Dunrovin, the osprey raised two chicks and the family was affectionately dubbed Ozzie and Harriet. They are an integral part of Dunrovin’s annual cycle of life – our summer season is defined by their arrival in early April and their departure mid-September.
This year, our vigil for Ozzie and Harriet was particularly full of anticipation and tension because this year, you see, we tricked them. Northwestern Energy and the University of Montana came out to Dunrovin in early March to erect a new, higher pole away from the electrical lines and to install a camera that monitors their every move.
I was like a kid in a candy store! First, the Northwestern Energy crew lifted me up to the nest so I could remove baling twine and get my very first view of the nest from above. Then, Heiko Langer of the University of Montana’s Department of Geosciences worked with our ranch manager, Daniel Birlut, to install a web camera donated by the Raptors of the Rockies, that links our website to a live feed, so all can watch.
What fun! But what if Ozzie and Harriet catch us in our trick? What if they don’t like their new, higher, cleaner, but less private digs? Will they shun the nest, thinking that the camera provides an ideal perch for an owl? Yes, we spent several days in a tizzy worrying about their arrival.
Happily, the worry ended when the pair safely arrived in early April. After checking things out and hesitating a little, they set up housekeeping. All the activity caught the attention of the media and landed us on the front page of the Missoulian, while KECI television came out to record both the moving of the nest and the return of the osprey.
The web camera brings an entirely new dimension to our summer relationship with the osprey. Generally, we all keep our eyes up on the nest anticipating the first glimpses of little heads. For several weeks, we compare notes: Did you see two heads? Do you think there might be three (as there were two years ago)? Is there only one chick this year? The guessing goes on until the chicks are old enough to be clearly visible from below.
This year, our guessing game is about eggs, not chicks. Now that we can see the nest from on high, we still have to ponder how many eggs the female has hidden under her skirt of feathers. We know there’s one; but could there be two, or possibly three?
No sooner have my ears become accustomed to the ospreys’ ever present chirping, than another familiar sound takes its place in the background of our summer days – the hiss, hiss, hissing of summer sprinklers. I am not just talking about the garden variety of lawn sprinklers that water our landscaping and lawns, but the BIG squirts we use to irrigate our pastures and ensure that our equines enjoy fresh grass. The rhythmic turning of the nozzle as it shoots gallons of water across our fields can be heard throughout the ranch and it creates a calm, peaceful atmosphere.
Finally, our mornings and evenings are punctuated by the braying of our donkey friends, the whinnying of the horses, and the clanging of stall doors and gate chains as we feed our herd. Impatient to receive their hay and grain, the donkeys call out to us to get the show on the road while the horses stomp their feet.
At the first signs of waking on the ranch and promptly at dinnertime, the equine chorus reminds us of their emptystomachs. This entire racket is immediately followed by the contented sounds of teeth munching and soft snorting as they enjoy their meals. It is a beautiful way to begin and end a summer day.
SuzAnne Miller is the owner of Dunrovin Ranch, a small guest ranch nestled against the Bitterroot River and the Sapphire Mountains, south of Missoula. She shares her home with her husband of 42 years, 2 sons, 20 equines, 2 or 3 dogs, the resident wildlife, and anyone looking for high adventure.