Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Of Spacious Skies--and Bathtub Races

On the return from Roscoe to Billings (MT), the first words of "America the Beautiful" kept running through my mind: "O beautiful for spacious skies."

The drive was marked by many scenes similar the one shown here. As the minutes passed, I became silent, just marveling at the beauty of the short grass prairie.

I later learned that Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929), a professor of English literature at Wellesley College, wrote the lyrics after an inspiring trip to the top of Pikes Peak, Colorado in 1893.

While focusing on the skies, I was intrigued by the thin bands of dark clouds (left and below). I couldn't recall ever having noticed clouds with this shape.

Cousin Mike identified them as "lenticular" clouds. Strato-cumulus clouds are low clouds that mostly develop in wind streams and generally move faster than cumulus. They also can develop into the form of lenticulars, which are more well-defined than stratocumulus clouds.

On one of the days we spent walking around downtown Billings, we came uupon these colorful sculptures in front of the Alberta Bair Theater For The Performing Arts. This painted horse is entitled Modernist Milt, a statue by the artist Phoeby Toland,

On the right is PostmoderRam, a painted ram statue by the artist James Baken.

And this brings us to the work of another local artist, Mike. An alumnus of the University of Montana, Mike took pride in recounting the story of tracing this logo projected onto his utility shed one night. Equaling his satisfaction with the finished product was his joy at having a neighbor, a graduate of arch-rival Montana State U., know that the Grizzly logo is looming over their yard.

We were equally impressed with the orderliness and productivity of Joan's garden.

Passing through Mike's back yard, we were led to a trailer containing a racing vehicle, all tuned-up and ready for a race the upcoming weekend.

The bathtub was beautifully painted and seemed extremely well-equipped, complete with a steering mechanism, a hand brake (with a Pantene bottle on its handle), and a bear in an inner tube in one corner of the tub.

In an exclusive interview with her neighbor, Terri, our stringer correspondent, Joan, reported that Terri's nieces and nephew raced the claw foot tub in Outlook, Montana (pop. 108), The total number of competitors was 14.

Participants were required to wear helmets; they raced two at a time, with a pusher of the tub to a specific point at which time the racers coast to the finish line.

Unfortunately, Terri’s nieces did not win the race--but did finish with no mishaps.

Our next outing with Mike and Joan took us to more "spacious skies" places. We headed to Molt (MT), less than 20 miles west of Billings.

We are beginning to understand the attraction that this part of the country has on its long-time residents.