Every year, the Independent hands over one of its last issues of the year to the photo editor in hopes that he or she can put the year that was into focus. This year, that proved especially tough considering our longtime award-winning shooter, Chad Harder, suffered a severe hand injury over the summer and continues intense rehabilitation. But with Chad's gallant guidance, we've compiled the best images from contributors Cathrine L. Walters, Anne Medley and Ashley Sears, staff writer Alex Sakariassen and Harder himself.

click to enlarge JUMP ON IN: In an effort to beat record-high summer temperatures, Brad Bahner leaps into the Clark Fork River from the Madison Street Bridge. “I used to jump from lower,” says the self-proclaimed “tramp who sleeps outside.” “But you gotta go higher to keep having fun.” - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • JUMP ON IN: In an effort to beat record-high summer temperatures, Brad Bahner leaps into the Clark Fork River from the Madison Street Bridge. “I used to jump from lower,” says the self-proclaimed “tramp who sleeps outside.” “But you gotta go higher to keep having fun.”

click to enlarge HIGH TIMES: Bozeman-based caregiver Chris Williams, right, shows Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, the flowers on his ready-to-harvest “Capitol Granddad Purple” marijuana plant at the Montana Capitol during “Cannabis at the Capitol Day” Feb. 20. More than 100 patients, caregivers, legislators and onlookers assembled to witness the first-of-its-kind event aimed at promoting pro-medical marijuana legislation in the state. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • HIGH TIMES: Bozeman-based caregiver Chris Williams, right, shows Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, the flowers on his ready-to-harvest “Capitol Granddad Purple” marijuana plant at the Montana Capitol during “Cannabis at the Capitol Day” Feb. 20. More than 100 patients, caregivers, legislators and onlookers assembled to witness the first-of-its-kind event aimed at promoting pro-medical marijuana legislation in the state.

click to enlarge STILL FIGHTING: Chase Weston, a veteran of the Iraq War, continues to struggle with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Montana, which per capita has the second-most veterans in the country, is among the few states that support vet-to-vet group therapy meetings, and boasts the Yellow Ribbon Program, which the Montana National Guard says does more than any other state to screen for and treat PTSD. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • STILL FIGHTING: Chase Weston, a veteran of the Iraq War, continues to struggle with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Montana, which per capita has the second-most veterans in the country, is among the few states that support vet-to-vet group therapy meetings, and boasts the Yellow Ribbon Program, which the Montana National Guard says does more than any other state to screen for and treat PTSD.

click to enlarge BOLD STROKES: Lisa Autio works on one of her signature dish paintings at her home in Missoula. “I think about his influence all the time,” she says about her father, Rudy, the legendary artist who died in 2007. “One of the things he talked about—and it’s an extremely liberating idea—is that there really aren’t any rules in art.” - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • BOLD STROKES: Lisa Autio works on one of her signature dish paintings at her home in Missoula. “I think about his influence all the time,” she says about her father, Rudy, the legendary artist who died in 2007. “One of the things he talked about—and it’s an extremely liberating idea—is that there really aren’t any rules in art.”

click to enlarge SECRET FOREST: Remnants of a forest dot the floodplain known for the past century as Milltown Reservoir. Crews removed more than 3 million tons of contaminated sediment from the valley bottom in order to clean up the local drinking water supply, bring back the native and sport fishery, and restore the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • SECRET FOREST: Remnants of a forest dot the floodplain known for the past century as Milltown Reservoir. Crews removed more than 3 million tons of contaminated sediment from the valley bottom in order to clean up the local drinking water supply, bring back the native and sport fishery, and restore the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers.
click to enlarge STUMP SPEECH: State legislators greeted U.S. Sen. Jon Tester with a standing ovation during a special joint session Jan. 9 after he claimed to be the only Senate Democrat to vote against both the Wall Street and automaker bailouts. Tester received a decidedly more mixed reaction from Montana residents when he announced his controversial and potentially precedent-setting Forest Jobs and Recreation Act later in the year. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • STUMP SPEECH: State legislators greeted U.S. Sen. Jon Tester with a standing ovation during a special joint session Jan. 9 after he claimed to be the only Senate Democrat to vote against both the Wall Street and automaker bailouts. Tester received a decidedly more mixed reaction from Montana residents when he announced his controversial and potentially precedent-setting Forest Jobs and Recreation Act later in the year.

click to enlarge LOOK OUT BELOW: The 2009 Montana Snowbowl Gelande Championship drew dozens of jumpers from across the nation to compete for an $8,000 purse. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • LOOK OUT BELOW: The 2009 Montana Snowbowl Gelande Championship drew dozens of jumpers from across the nation to compete for an $8,000 purse.

click to enlarge MEDIA CIRCUS: Billed as the largest environmental crimes trial in U.S. history (for the potential fines and jail time involved), the W.R. Grace case attracted media from across the country. At different times, reporters from Bloomberg, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times rubbed elbows in the courtroom with local journalists. Here, W.R. Grace lead attorney and courtroom showman David Bernick takes questions from the press corps after the jury exonerated his clients. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • MEDIA CIRCUS: Billed as the largest environmental crimes trial in U.S. history (for the potential fines and jail time involved), the W.R. Grace case attracted media from across the country. At different times, reporters from Bloomberg, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times rubbed elbows in the courtroom with local journalists. Here, W.R. Grace lead attorney and courtroom showman David Bernick takes questions from the press corps after the jury exonerated his clients.

click to enlarge BODY BLOW: Twenty-two fighters from throughout the Northwest went toe-to-toe at Missoula Mayhem on March 21, the first Mixed Martial Arts competition ever held at the University of Montana’s Adams Center. Scott Brown, inverted, turned things around to defeat Nike Emry in the event’s fourth bout. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY SEARS
  • Photo by Ashley Sears
  • BODY BLOW: Twenty-two fighters from throughout the Northwest went toe-to-toe at Missoula Mayhem on March 21, the first Mixed Martial Arts competition ever held at the University of Montana’s Adams Center. Scott Brown, inverted, turned things around to defeat Nike Emry in the event’s fourth bout.

click to enlarge NAKED RUN: Neither cold, nor wind, nor snow, nor darkness could diminish the Missoula Telemark Challenge race series at Snowbowl on March 7. Racers arrived in various costumes, including camouflage, a giant fish suit and no costume whatsoever. After celebrating its 25th year, the series became the second-longest running telemark race in the country. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • NAKED RUN: Neither cold, nor wind, nor snow, nor darkness could diminish the Missoula Telemark Challenge race series at Snowbowl on March 7. Racers arrived in various costumes, including camouflage, a giant fish suit and no costume whatsoever. After celebrating its 25th year, the series became the second-longest running telemark race in the country.
click to enlarge IN HEAVY ROTATION: Local cover band The Fidgets—from left, Tyson Roth, Travis Yost and Ricky Drake—are known for performing ridiculously fun songs with non-ironic earnestness. “We play ‘Ghostbusters’ as if this song kicks so much ass,” explains Yost. “Like, ‘The first time I listened to that song I cried, I got my period, we have to play that song now!’” - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • IN HEAVY ROTATION: Local cover band The Fidgets—from left, Tyson Roth, Travis Yost and Ricky Drake—are known for performing ridiculously fun songs with non-ironic earnestness. “We play ‘Ghostbusters’ as if this song kicks so much ass,” explains Yost. “Like, ‘The first time I listened to that song I cried, I got my period, we have to play that song now!’”

click to enlarge A STONE’S THROW: Kerri Rosenstein’s homage to her father consisted of 23,024 stones colored with biodegradable red milk paint—one for each day of her father’s life. Rosenstein designed the installation, which was on display at the Missoula Art Museum in June, July and August, in hopes that people would remove a stone and return it to nature. The Missoula artist continues to track where the stones have ended up (see rosestones.blogspot.com), and the exhibit—or what remains of it—is currently on display in Miami, Fla. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • A STONE’S THROW: Kerri Rosenstein’s homage to her father consisted of 23,024 stones colored with biodegradable red milk paint—one for each day of her father’s life. Rosenstein designed the installation, which was on display at the Missoula Art Museum in June, July and August, in hopes that people would remove a stone and return it to nature. The Missoula artist continues to track where the stones have ended up (see rosestones.blogspot.com), and the exhibit—or what remains of it—is currently on display in Miami, Fla.

click to enlarge SUMMER SWIM: A mature billy with a broken horn splashes through the soggy bottoms beneath Bearhat Mountain in Glacier National Park. Technically not a true goat, mountain goats are more closely related to cattle and antelope. They live in rugged alpine areas in an effort to avoid predators. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • SUMMER SWIM: A mature billy with a broken horn splashes through the soggy bottoms beneath Bearhat Mountain in Glacier National Park. Technically not a true goat, mountain goats are more closely related to cattle and antelope. They live in rugged alpine areas in an effort to avoid predators.

click to enlarge CUT OFF AT THE PASS: Two ambitious adventurers have an early-season bid to ski in Glacier National Park thwarted by a swollen, impassable McDonald Creek. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • CUT OFF AT THE PASS: Two ambitious adventurers have an early-season bid to ski in Glacier National Park thwarted by a swollen, impassable McDonald Creek.

click to enlarge IN THE NEWS: Bitterroot resident and pop music icon Huey Lewis earned a bad reputation among some locals for how he manages his land, particularly his unsuccessful efforts to close Mitchell Slough to the public. Lewis told his side of the story to the Independent in June. “I’m just a name on a sign,” he said, referring to the infamous warning that marks his private property. “I represent the rich, out-of-state landowners, and I’m not even out-of-state.” - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • IN THE NEWS: Bitterroot resident and pop music icon Huey Lewis earned a bad reputation among some locals for how he manages his land, particularly his unsuccessful efforts to close Mitchell Slough to the public. Lewis told his side of the story to the Independent in June. “I’m just a name on a sign,” he said, referring to the infamous warning that marks his private property. “I represent the rich, out-of-state landowners, and I’m not even out-of-state.”
click to enlarge IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER: Four heifers pose outside the Hilton Garden Inn on Reserve Street in November for the annual Montana Farm Bureau Federation meeting. The Coleman Limousine heifers from Charlo allowed local 4H and Future Farmers of America members to gain experience in judging cattle. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • IT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER: Four heifers pose outside the Hilton Garden Inn on Reserve Street in November for the annual Montana Farm Bureau Federation meeting. The Coleman Limousine heifers from Charlo allowed local 4H and Future Farmers of America members to gain experience in judging cattle.

click to enlarge UP IN SMOKE: The Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, which was drafted during the 2005 Legislature, allowed bars and casinos to gradually transition to smoke-free over the last four years. But that buffer period officially ended Oct. 1, clearing the air at traditionally smoke-filled establishments, like The Golden Rose, above. - PHOTO BY ANNE MEDLEY
  • Photo by Anne Medley
  • UP IN SMOKE: The Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, which was drafted during the 2005 Legislature, allowed bars and casinos to gradually transition to smoke-free over the last four years. But that buffer period officially ended Oct. 1, clearing the air at traditionally smoke-filled establishments, like The Golden Rose, above.

click to enlarge DEAD MAN’S PARTY: El Zombi Gato rocks out in front of a group of longstanding members of the local rock scene. The all-star collective consists of musicians who’ve long rocked in popular Missoula acts like Secret Powers, Sasshole, Cicada, Thee Hedons and others since the mid-’90s. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • DEAD MAN’S PARTY: El Zombi Gato rocks out in front of a group of longstanding members of the local rock scene. The all-star collective consists of musicians who’ve long rocked in popular Missoula acts like Secret Powers, Sasshole, Cicada, Thee Hedons and others since the mid-’90s.

click to enlarge HOMEGROWN: The medical marijuana movement made huge strides in 2009 as the number of registered patients jumped from 1,577 in December 2008 to 5,935 in December 2009, according to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services. Duke Martin, a registered caregiver in northwestern Montana, was among the first to openly speak about working within state law when the Independent interviewed him in February. By the end of the year, storefront dispensaries and clinics had opened throughout the state. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • HOMEGROWN: The medical marijuana movement made huge strides in 2009 as the number of registered patients jumped from 1,577 in December 2008 to 5,935 in December 2009, according to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services. Duke Martin, a registered caregiver in northwestern Montana, was among the first to openly speak about working within state law when the Independent interviewed him in February. By the end of the year, storefront dispensaries and clinics had opened throughout the state.

click to enlarge IN THE GROOVE: Missoula native and hip-hop statesman James Two, aka Jimi Nasset, returned home for a handful of shows this year, including a spot during the three-day local music extravaganza, Total Fest. Count former Indy calendar editor Jonas Ehudin, background, among Nasset’s local fans. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • IN THE GROOVE: Missoula native and hip-hop statesman James Two, aka Jimi Nasset, returned home for a handful of shows this year, including a spot during the three-day local music extravaganza, Total Fest. Count former Indy calendar editor Jonas Ehudin, background, among Nasset’s local fans.
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