Flash in the Pan 

In praise of the onion—a slice of life

The pre-party salad potluck was an attempt to balance the main event, which we’d been warned would contain no vegetables—unless you counted beer. My shredded carrots and onions, tossed with dehydrated cherries, pumpkin seeds and sesame teriyaki dressing, sat next to a salad of mixed greens and red onions.

The overwhelming dominance of onion did not deter complete consumption of the salad course. Nobody fretted about how the evening’s main event, a crowded party, would require close conversations.

That’s because now, in the dog days of winter, we can eat onions not only with impunity, but also to our advantage. Egyptian pharaohs were buried with onions near their heads because the vital potency of onion stench was strong enough, supposedly, to bring the dead back to life.

Maybe that’s why, at the end of winter, I crave onions deep in my physiology, the way salt will taste like sugar to someone sweating to death in the desert.  I want raw onions, alive with zing, against the eggs in my breakfast burrito. Sliced onion completes my cheeseburger.

Besides, any trace of onion swirling in the hot air at the Hellgate Hunters and Anglers (HHA) annual party would surely only enhance the flavor of the evening. At the party, the only open mouths that weren’t busy talking were busy being plied with booze, plus the contents of a 30-foot buffet table loaded with various preparations of wild game meat.

Never am I so much of a lush as in the presence of red meat and red wine. I gave Sen. Jon Tester a pat on his big shoulder as I sped, glass of Flathead Cherry red in hand, back to the bighorn sheep meatballs and the bacon-wrapped venison steaks. The meaty morsels were soon joined by bowls of stew, plates of barbecue, platters of smoked fish, and more. Good thing onions are known to lower cholesterol.

The HHA members were divided along many fronts, such as political affiliation, National Rifle Association membership, religious preference, and other belief systems. But the values that united us, clearly, were stronger.

Not vegetarian values, mind you, although I did run into a former-vegetarian-cum-hunter, as well as a known bacon-and-wildgametarian. Everyone was chowing down on chili, jerky, and pâté, cracking jokes in between. At one point I laughed so hard I was crying. Through a tear in the corner of my eye I saw the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt by the keg.

Despite this gang’s ability to get rowdy, it’s a group that also knows how to be quiet in the woods, how to go deep, go alone, and come back alive—hopefully with some meat to show for it.

Periodically, the sound of a duck call would focus the crowd’s attention to the podium, whose final occupant, Steve Doherty, chairman of the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Commission, made the mistake of taking questions.

One man asked about the problem of increasing elk numbers holing up on private land, some of which is inaccessible to local hunters.

Doherty pointed out that in many cases, these landowners are the ones complaining about the impact of swelling elk herds—so they’re going to have to start making some voluntary concessions if they want to bring the herd sizes down. Hunters, he reminded us, to cheers, are how we control game populations in Montana.

“Now that we have a buffalo hunt, why aren’t the buffalo managed like game animals?” asked another hunter.

If we want a sensible bison policy in terms of buffalo habitat, Indian treaty rights, and brucellosis control, Doherty responded, then we need to remove bison management from Department of Livestock jurisdiction, and give it to his agency.

When Doherty was asked about Montana’s wolf hunt, the regulations for which have already been printed, the already attentive audience went hunter-silent. Some members find wolf hunting distasteful, ecologically unwise, or otherwise wrong. Others have been waiting all of their lives to hunt wolves.

“Ah, yes,” said Doherty, gripping the podium and bracing himself for the discussion to come. “The woof. Everyone wants to know about when we’re gonna get to hunt the woof,” he said.

While having fun with the backroads pronunciation of “wolf,” Doherty seemed to make eye contact with each of the room’s 200-plus occupants—including, perhaps, the ghost of Aldo Leopold, the transformational hunter/conservationist who, before a change of heart, once earned money by killing wolves. It seems appropriate that the HHA newsletter is called The Leopoldian.

“We fulfilled our mandate,” said Doherty, referring to the fact that Montana’s wolf populations are being deemed healthy enough by the feds for delisting, removing them from protections under the Endangered Species Act.

But wolf hunting in Montana is inextricably tied to recovery efforts in Idaho and Wyoming, he explained, and environmental lawsuits against Montana’s wolf hunt have already been filed. “Realistically, I don’t think we’re looking at a woof hunt in 2008,” he concluded.

The crowd settled back into tall tales, backslapping, booze, and meat. I finished with a bowl of delicate and chunky duck soup—which was perfectly completed by a scoop from the adjoining bowl of chopped spring onions.

Ask Ari: Chickens can roost easy, with care

Q: Dear Ari,

Now that Missoula has finally passed a chicken ordinance, I want some chickens, so I can have fresh eggs all year ’round. Where do I start?


—Spring Chicken

A: First of all, a big shout-out to all the hard work in City Council that got this ordinance passed. Now at long last, Missoula’s urban chicken owners can openly discuss the issues we face, while treading the narrow line between caring for our little flocks, not pissing off our neighbors, and not inadvertently feeding the neighborhood skunks, raccoons, dogs, and—in the case of young chicks—ravens.

In a few weeks, the hardware stores and feed stores will begin stocking baby chicks, which practically beg to be taken home.  Baby chicks are an especially popular impulse-purchase around Easter. But the decision to buy chickens should not be taken lightly. All told, they’re a lot more work than taking care of a cat or any number of other pets.  A coop needs to be built, the chicks need to be kept warm and pampered for months before they can go outside, and systems need to be devised for food storage, waste disposal, and other necessities.

For more info on what’s involved, check out the web page put up by local urban chicken activist Leigh Greenwood (http://www.mudproject.org/chickens).

Another reason why purchasing a chicken should be done with premeditation is that, in general, the breeds available at the local store represent only a narrow slice of what’s out there. If you want to be truly overwhelmed by options, check out the catalog of the Murray McMurray hatchery (http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com). There, you can find chickens that make peacocks look like pigeons, chickens that lay pink and blue eggs, mini chickens with bell-bottom feathered legs, and more. As with life, variety is truly the spice of chickens.
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