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Articles written by Dick Geary


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  • One last look

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Feb 25, 2020

    Editor's note: As some of our readers may know, Dick Geary passed away early last week. Dick's recollections of Helmville and the Blackfoot Valley he knew growing up, as well as his accounts of his time Brazil, provided a perspective on both the culture of our area and his own personal foibles. Dick's columns have been a popular feature in several Montana newspapers over the years, and we began running them in 2016. A look through our rather limited archive of his articles...

  • Cow/calf operation

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Feb 4, 2020

    Ranchers get a bad rap. Agriculture is portrayed as a destructive industry, composed of corporate-owned operations that practice aggressive farming techniques, abuse their livestock, plant genetically modified crops and operate with a contempt for the land, the animals and the consumer. We hear about human health issues attributed to antibiotics fed to animals in their daily rations. We also hear that the animals are tightly confined, and that the ground is saturated with...

  • Chickens, a fox and a lie

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Jan 28, 2020

    My father was 91 years old the last time I lied to him. He wasn't a demanding father, so there were never many falsehoods necessary in our lives – usually just the teenage ones, such as, "No, we weren't drinking beer when the car went into the ditch" - the common lies of youth. He died last June, and I was lucky to have enjoyed a year of morning visits with him before his death. I think we parted as friends. He was active up until the end, and that last year he had a few c...

  • The corner gate

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Jan 21, 2020

    "It is impossible to please all the world and one's father." Jean de La Fontaine Fables (1668) Family owned ranches and farms demand a familial unity not found in most professions and trades. The quantity of work requires help from everyone, and hired labor is expensive. Decades back it was always the father/son who performed most of the jobs, but over time, women assumed a larger role in the operations. They still held themselves responsible for domestic work, they just...

  • High-headed creatures

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Jan 14, 2020

    My father and two of his brothers spent their entire lives on the ranch. Two served in WWII, but the other never left the property. They were adequate when working cattle, but never had any experience on other ranches to see how they handled cows. And they never had any decent horses. In the 1930's, I think, my grandfather owned a big Shire stallion, and used his offspring on the ranch. His practice was to ride them until they got too big, then put them in a harness. Every...

  • A choice of suffering

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Jan 7, 2020

    Unearned suffering is redemptive. - Martin Luther King I had been in Barra do Bugres for about six months when a stranger knocked at my door. I could tell he was American by the sensible shoes he wore. The man lived in Paraguay but owned a tract of land about 40 miles from town. With his wife and son, he had come to take a look at it and to see what he had for squatters. My Brazilian counterpart had told him that I would go along. So the next morning we left, knowing only the...

  • Circling the ranch

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Jan 1, 2020

    While in Barra do Bugres during my third year in the Peace Corps, Sr. René stopped by my house and asked me to attend a churrasco at his place on the upcoming Jan. 1st. René was the biggest rancher in the area, running about 20,000 cows. He said that his son-in-law was going to make a circle of the ranch that day, and if I wanted, I should arrive in the early morning and go along. I accepted. I got there about 7 a.m., and we caught our horses. As I finished saddling my h...

  • Brazilian Christmas

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Dec 23, 2019

    The Brazilians don't trade many presents during Christmas, preferring to have family/friends gatherings centered around "churrascos," or meat roasted on a spit. Some will offer huge churrascos, like Sr. Joaquim Miranda, one of the old coronels who took possession of thousands of acres of land around Barra do Bugres back in the late 1940's and early 50's. Sr. Joaquim had two churrascos a year – Christmas and Easter. At one of his Easter parties, his help came to him to say that...

  • Haying in winter

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Dec 17, 2019

    Work and pray, live on hay, You'll get a pie in the sky when you die. - Joe Hill (Joseph Hillstrom) The Preacher and the Slave I've written a number of times about the changes in ranching that I've seen. The most dramatic is the sophistication of the mechanics involved in putting up the hay. The introduction of the round and big square balers, plus the swathers changed the summer ritual of haying from 30 – 60 days of frenetic activity by eight men or more to just a few w...

  • A Bear Story

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Dec 11, 2019

    I had been back in Helmville about six months when the bear showed up. A number of people in and around town had mentioned that he had been on their decks or in their garages, but did no damage. He went into the basement at my dad's house, hauled the dog food out onto the lawn, ate his fill and left – without tearing the bag. A week or so later he sneaked into my back porch, hauled the dog food outside and ate what he wanted, leaving the bag in perfect shape. He was a t...

  • Churrasco

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Dec 4, 2019

    God never send'th mouth but he sendeth meat. John Heywood c.1497 - c.1580 Via cell video calling I visited with some friends in Brazil this week. They were at a churrasco (shur-has'-ko), the ubiquitous weekend pastime of American picnics with roasted meat and drinks. They often include rice and beans with the meal, and it's not rare to see boiled mandioca. But it's just the meat, roasted on a spit over an open hardwood fire, that is the mandatory fare. And cold beer - there...

  • Ranching Defined

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Dec 4, 2019

    A man said to the Universe: "Sir, I exist!" "However," replied the Universe, "the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation." (Steven Crane, WAR IS KIND) COW A digestive tract, pierced at both ends. Rarely gives birth or milk. BULL 1,800 pounds of dubious genetic potential. $6,000 of sterility and lameness. CALF 80 pounds of hope when born; 500 pounds of disappointment when sold. DOG, (yours) An intelligent and loyal marvel, worth more than three people when working...

  • Trapped

    Dick Geary, Featured columnist|Updated Nov 13, 2019

    The best of men That e'er wore earth about him, was a sufferer, A soft, meek, patient, humble, tranquil spirit, The first true gentleman that ever breathed. Thomas Dekker Growing up in a hunting household gave me a scale to judge how I was doing on my chronological path to adulthood. The scale was composed of regional animals, and the older I got, the bigger the animals I could hunt. I started with magpies when they were pests, then the next year I could hunt gophers on my...

  • A hard hunt, a ne'er do well & a missed bull

    Dick Geary, Featured columnist|Updated Oct 29, 2019

    "Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed" - Alexander Pope. It was during the mid 1960's. I was 17 or 18, and Dan, my hunting partner, was a couple years younger. There weren't many elk in those days. I had killed one or two, but Dan had never gotten lucky. He was getting desperate. The way we hunted when elk were scarce was to pick up a fresh track in the snow, then follow it out until we caught up with the elk. Sometimes we killed the elk,...

  • The pistoleiros of Mato Grosso

    Dick Geary, Featured Columnist|Updated Oct 22, 2019

    I had been in Barra do Bugres, Mato Grosso for six months when they had to kill Pedrão. He was one of the four professional assassins, or pistoleiros I got to know during my six years in Brazil. I was never formally introduced to Pedrão, but saw him often in our small town. Over the years, I got to know three other shooters. They were all soft-spoken gentlemen, but Pedrão was different. He drank and could be a bully. He was always armed, as were a lot of people during th...

  • A serious and sophisticated game

    Dick Geary, Featured columnist|Updated Oct 16, 2019

    I watch a lot of baseball during the season, which runs from April to the end of November. I enjoy the other televised sports, but with the disinterest of a cat looking out a window; they're just figures moving around behind a pane of glass. But I take baseball seriously. As chess is to board games and bridge is to cards, baseball is the most sophisticated version of field sports. The other major sports are quite simplistic and unsophisticated, and in almost all of the other s...

  • The poor old cow's not just to blame

    Dick Geary|Updated Oct 9, 2019

    Brazil is burning the Amazon again. Their new president has declared an open season on both the environment and indigenous people. I liked his rhetoric as a candidate, but that was just a politically moderate costume he used in order to win the voters. He's bad. But all the deforestation is blamed on the poor old cow. She's a horribly inefficient food source, so bad, in fact, that she hardly produces enough for the people who take care of her, much less a meat hungry public....

  • A measure of sense

    Dick Geary|Updated Oct 1, 2019

    Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul. Mark Twain Inscribed under his bust in The Hall of Fame The U.S. owes the world an apology and a lot of money. Because of our insistence that we're the brightest and the strongest nation that ever existed, our country refuses to change from the archaic method of measuring mass and distance to a more logical way of calculation. Although the U.S. approved the change in 1866, it was never instituted, and...

  • Pragmatic Matt

    Dick Geary|Updated Sep 24, 2019

    Matt announced to his family that he was finally going to clean out the horse barn. With the passing of the work teams and the introduction of ATVs, horse barns are little used any more and tend to become storage sheds, full of quasi-junk - a long fall from when barns were the proud center of activity on every ranch or farm. His two teenage children didn't even try to hide their cynical smiles when they heard Matt's plans, and his wife started closing cupboard doors a little...

  • Parsimonious behavior

    Dick Geary|Updated Sep 18, 2019

    As post-war baby boomers, most of us had parents who had suffered through the Great Depression, and then WWII. They faced the poverty of the 1930s and then the scarcity caused by rationing during the war. Both doing without and making do were part of our childhood culture. The 1950s were relatively affluent times, but the habits of constant economizing were so inculcated in the new parents of the day that we kids thought starvation was imminent. This philosophy elicited a lot...

  • The soft nature of Southern climates

    Dick Geary|Updated Sep 11, 2019

    The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind. The paired butterflies are already yellow with August. Over the grass in the West garden; They hurt me. I grow older. - Ezra Pound The River Merchant's Wife; A Lette (After Rihaku) I've been asked hundreds of times what attracted me to Brazil. I wonder myself. The easy going culture was important, certainly, but the main factor was the climate, which I think contributes to the relaxed ambiance of the entire nation. Those of us who...

  • Bull Trout in the Blackfoot

    Dick Geary|Updated Sep 4, 2019

    I spent a large part of my youth fishing: the Blackfoot River, Nevada Creek, Brown's Lake, the small creeks near Helmville, plus the pond behind our house. We fished for a large variety: natives, browns, rainbows, brooks, and bull trout, depending on which water we were on. A small creek about three miles from us produced buckets of small natives, so hungry even the smaller kids could catch them. The fish that we hooked lightly were put in water and hauled to our pond to be...

  • A very good run of friendship

    Dick Geary|Updated Aug 28, 2019

    I have an old Peace Corps friend visiting for a few days. In 1972 we met in New Orleans, along with a group of 160 other new volunteers. The orientation took five days, then they put us on a chartered plane for Brazil. I don't remember how we picked each other out of the bunch of bright-eyed, naive, innocent others, but it didn't take long. Bruce and I were older than the horde of recent Purdue graduates, and the only ones who had military service in their background. The mili...

  • A Sense of Absence

    Dick Geary|Updated Aug 21, 2019

    I knew my father was dead when the helicopter flew low over my house. The ambulance had gone past with lights and siren a few minutes before. I didn't look to see where it went, but I had a feeling. I stepped out my back door and watched the aircraft. When it settled at my father's house, I got my hat and my dog and drove the mile to the house where I was raised. There was no distress or panic. He was 92, and we knew he had a faulty valve in his heart. That morning, an MD...

  • An unexpected compliment

    Dick Geary|Updated Aug 14, 2019

    It was in Summer School where we Catholic kids learned catechism in preparation for our first communions and confirmations. Two nuns would come to Helmville each summer and teach for two weeks after regular school had been dismissed. One afternoon the nun read us the parable of Abraham and Isaac. According to the story, a voice from a burning bush told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. As the nun read the story, I anticipated an ending in which Abraham would refuse to kill his...

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