Trying to protect a community’s ‘roots’

I’M FEELING a little strange this week. You might say I’m shell-shocked, after returning from a trip to Montana. Landing at the airport in Oakland, Saturday night, I walked into a mob scene with long lines of people pushing carts of oversized luggage. Overworked and understaffed, the security folks could barely handle the rush of travelers.

The scene at the other end of my trip was almost surreal. Helena, the capitol of Montana, has an airport so sweet — you can walk through security and onto the plane 15 minutes before takeoff. You can leave your unlocked rental car in the parking lot next door with the key under the mat. This is post-Sept. 11, Montana style.

So it’s not surprising that all over the Big Sky State, there are California transplants. Helena is such a hip, artistic community now. There’s even a California flag flying next to the Montana flag in one shopping district. And Helena’s baseball stadium has our old bleacher seats, brought over from the Oakland Coliseum after it was remodeled.

At the 320 Guest Ranch outside Yellowstone National Park, Fred Kiemel likes to tell the story of how he moved to Montana. “I was on the Hollywood Freeway, Friday afternoon, six lanes of traffic — bumper to bumper and about 94 degrees, when Willie Nelson came on the radio with the song ‘My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.'” That was all it took. Fred says he sold everything and bought a place on the Gallatin River.

The Gallatin is where Robert Redford filmed “A River Runs Through It.” It’s a gorgeous river that runs so clear, you can see the trout skimming the surface, looking for hoppers.

Fly fishing is a religion here, and it takes just one try to see why. Standing in waders in a rush of tumbling mountain water is a powerful lure. So is shooting the rapids in a raft or kayak, or a good old fashioned inner tube. At 320 Ranch, we even rode horses along the rugged riverbank, much the way wranglers did over a century ago.

It was the promise of adventure that brought me to Montana State University for college some 30 years ago. I formed a band that played at a supper club outside Bozeman, where famed broadcaster Chet Huntley liked to dance with his wife, Tippy.

The couple opened Big Sky Resort in 1974, and we were invited to stay and play. Chet died not long after that, but his dream of a world class retreat outside Yellowstone National Park lives on.

With 400 inches of annual snowfall and 80 miles of runs, Big Sky’s skiing and snow-boarding are legendary. But this resort holds its own in the summertime, too, with hiking and mountain biking and horseback riding and rafting. Arnold Palmer designed the golf course here, and I played every inch of it as I tacked like a sailboat back and forth across the fairway. But that’s a story for another column.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Montana’s a great place to visit, but you’d be bored to tears living here. Not enough excitement. Not enough culture.

Well, Montana’s changing. The whole state may have fewer people than San Francisco, but there’s no shortage of things to do. And the only airport stress is deciding whether to have free beer or wine on your Horizon airline flight over the those big, blue skies.

Tree tiff

Call them tree-huggers, but a group of neighbors in the Glenview is taking action to save their liquid ambars along Wellington Street. You see, the city wants to cut down the trees, and says it never should have planted them in the first place (some 40 or 50 years ago). At a recent town meeting, city staffers showed damning evidence that the ambars are evil — and presented a rather “iffy” plan for replacing them — providing the city has the money.

Ricky Jacobs is spearheading an effort to make sure her neighbors aren’t stuck out on a limb. She’s formed a committee to research which trees can be saved and what kind of replacement trees would be best, if it comes to that.

Jacobs says that while the city is threatening to cut some trees down immediately, the neighbors need more time. “There’s a mourning people have to go through. We’re deeply attached to these trees, living beings that they are.” And like most living beings, she says, they’re both beautiful and highly problematic. She says grief moves through folks more gracefully when they have time to prepare for the loss.

Handling ‘house-atosis’

Larry Hayden with Oakland’s Federal Building Co. had this response to my column on air pollution. “What made me chuckle about your article is that on really bad air days, it’s often safer to be outside the home than inside.”

He says out-gas from vinyl flooring, plastic laminate products, carpets, paints, etc., makes the indoors a toxic place. As a remodeling contractor, he urges clients to avoid using products that release toxins in the home and office, and says for information on the concept of “green building,” you can contact Alameda Waste Management (

E-mail bag

Reader R. Riess makes this observation about Montclair: “I have been reading your column about our Village, and was delighted to eat lunch on a bench near the Malt Shop and see that the sidewalk around the base of the garbage can on that corner had been cleaned. What a relief! Until I saw it clean, I hadn’t fully realized how awful and depressing it was to pass by that sticky mess daily.”

Mr. Riess, thanks for your letter. The owner of the Malt Shop does steam clean the sidewalk (you can imagine the mess, compounded by the coffee shops nearby) and is lobbying to get regular steam cleanings for all the sidewalks in Montclair Village.

Remembering a legend

A while back, I wrote about an Emeryville luncheon honoring legendary KSFO disc jockey Don Sherwood. Since then, readers have been sharing their memories of the man they woke up with, morning after morning.

Marilyn Parsons writes, ” As an only child growing up and getting ready for school, it would have been very lonely were it not for Don and Carter B. and Aaron (Edwards). Are there any films on video of them? Or even recordings of those old shows? I would love to hear Don’s laugh again.” Marilyn, you can find some old audio clips of Don Sherwood on Hap Harper’s Web site. Remember, he was Don’s airborne traffic reporter — the first in the world. Just log on to


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