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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Valley News at a Glance

Joan Zen cuts Number Two: CD Release Party on Friday by Gretchen L. Langton

Birding Festival Art Show

State Destination ImagiNation winners announced

Bitterroot TU receives grant to restore Upper Wheelbarrow Creek

Growth Through Agriculture grants announced

Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to meet

School Point prescribed fire

St. Mary's Mission Opening Day celebration scheduled


Joan Zen cuts Number Two: CD Release Party on Friday

By Gretchen L. Langton

It’s a pun—a jones for zen—the deepest kind of desire for that peace which eludes us until things align in a way to sufficiently sustain our needs, physical and emotional. In speaking with the band Joan Zen, I find that these four have strived to arrive at a place of balance in their lives as well as on their latest CD. But much has transpired on the way to the making of this band’s second album: rearrangements, religious epiphanies, and reductions. But we’ll get to all that…

Joan Zen’s been together for four years. Their relationship began when husband and wife team, Jason and Deborah Hicks, met Don Maus, long-time Bitterroot bass man. Deborah’s Uncle Rob Kunkel is responsible for this fated match-up. Rob and Don had played numerous venues in the Valley together and Rob told Deb to look up his friend Don when they came to the Bitterroot. As Don says, they "jammed together a few times" and a match was made. When they first began doing gigs, at the Bitter Root Brewery, Deb sang and played some guitar, Jason was the band’s drummer, and Don played the bass. At the Salmon Blues Fest last year, this arrangement took a new turn. Brandon Zimmer, who drums for the Mike Bader Band, met up with Joan Zen and agreed to collaborate with them. This freed Jason up to do what he has done for twenty-one years (since he was in middle school), play the saxophone. He doesn’t just play a traditional sax, he plays the more space age, electronic version too, the kind that could put him in the band in the original Star Wars’ bar scene.

Don calls them "the kids" (in a proud rather than condescending way) with good reason. When he was a music major at the College of Marin in the mid-70’s, learning music theory, his band mates were toddlers or yet to be born. But this age difference (not age discrepancy) has worked in their favor. Don has helped to hone Deb’s guitar skills. Brandon refers to the sheer breadth of musical knowledge Don’s experience brings to their quartet. When he’s not working with Joan Zen, this bassist-for-hire can be seen working with Montana mainstays such as the Big Sky Mudflaps and the Ed Norton Big Band, to name a few of his various collaberations. Deborah calls him "one of my greatest mentors," which is heavy stuff coming from one so steeped in musicality. Deborah’s cousin, Mama Cass, was one of the Mamas and Papas.

She began singing as a child, performing show tunes from "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Greece" in the living room for her family. She was a member of The Legends when she met her soulmate, Jason. Her five-year-old band needed a saxophone player when the young Jason Hicks auditioned and, less than a year after they met, Jason and Deb were married.

"We don’t have discord," as a rule, says Deb about her relationship with Jason, and he concurs that their match is one of mutuality. As a matter of fact, when I ask him if he and Deb suffer the same atrocities of relationship that other husband and wife duos weather, he seems surprised at the very idea of it. His keen blue eyes show genuine shock at the very notion and I know the look means this concept of discord is virtually foreign to he and his wife’s relationship. Part of what is so very beautiful about watching these two perform is their obvious adoration for one another. They share something sacred with each other and the energy their bond works to create pulses over the crowd, like hot fudge on everyone’s sundaes.

But be careful not to equate Joan Zen’s lyrics with such sweetness. Deborah Hicks has the vocal power to do the most belting and the most woeful range, akin to Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald, while sounding off in the sweaty style of Janis Joplin. The power of her voice and the messages in her lyrics combine to echo a new sort of "Strange Fruit." Though this song details a child’s tale of wondering, about the black bodies hanging from trees in the South, Deborah’s songs wail of more contemporary tales. In the spirit of Marley before her, she sings about the heavy hand of humans on our planets’ systems and on each other… and makes it danceable. Her songs work to inform the audience like a grain of sand makes a pearl. Obstructions form beauty. She chooses to perform covers that cause mental pause as well, though much of what she performs is original. There are no covers on either of her albums.

"Go play original music," Deb says when I ask her what her advice is for those who want to get into the music business. She is bound to the sanctity of musical creativity, but this can be a tough sell to fickle bar crowds and unrepentant downloaders who need to recognize a song to get into it and who want their music for free. Deb says the ways to counter such forces are to "always pay for music if you value it" so artists can keep producing music and feed themselves, to "be tenacious as hell," and to "record your own stuff."

Jason Hicks has been recording music since high school. Understanding parents made it possible for him to acquire the gear and have space available at home to record. When I interviewed him, his phone didn’t stop ringing. He works out of their home south of Hamilton; the drum kit and sound foam are fixed living room features. While most musicians in the valley can’t afford to record their music all at once, says Jason, they can afford to record in spurts. Jason charges a reasonable forty bucks an hour and tells me that he feels like Jack Bauer from the TV show "24" sometimes, on and off the phone solving potential musical catastrophes all day long. And he is good enough at it to acquire clients such as Huey Lewis, who can also be heard playing harmonica on Joan Zen’s latest album. Lewis is featured on the track "The Usual Scene," an R&B piece about Joan Zen’s fabulous fans.

"Youniverse", the title of the album to be officially released at the Bitter Root Brewery on Friday, April 20, is an eclectic reflection of the band’s physical and psychological epiphanies over the last several years. Both Deb (who wrote seven songs) and Jason (who wrote the remaining three) embrace Buddhist teachings. Deb says one of the teachings which changed her life was, "If you can be clean, to be dirty is pointless." She interpreted this in a very physical fashion by seeking to completely change her diet. With the help of the PH Miracle, she has lost 95 pounds, and is feeling and looking incredible. Deb purges her mind as well by attending lengthy Vipassana meditation sessions that teach "sensation awareness, silence, and mindfulness training." Jason joined Deb in the PH Miracle plan to his satisfaction, losing weight and cleaning up his life. His Buddhist teachings have reminded him that "All things bend to the forces of nature." This sentiment influences the political nature of Joan Zen’s songs; to "write and sing about anything else is a waste of time" says Jason, who firmly believes that music can be an impetus for change.

Brandon, too, has been influenced to try the PH Miracle, which he claims saved his life. He was suffering from a long-time illness that, to his surprise and joy, went away after he began the program. Brandon is not a Buddhist but he has no problem recognizing the power of being spiritual. He and a friend are collaborating on a Christian hip-hop album together. He has a rare wisdom for one so young as he tells me that religions are "all pathways to God and I want to be a conduit." Brandon’s also unafraid to claim the lyrics of songs such as "Mother Terra," an environmental reggae anthem on the new album. He sees a need to wake up the populace to the perils of devastating the planet that sustains us.

This quartet’s connection to nature doesn’t stop with the set’s end. Don Maus has been instrumental in the restructuring of the Teller Wildlife Refuge. Teller is dedicating its new facility on Quast Lane on Earth Day, April 21, beginning at 9 a.m. They ask that, because of limited parking, people park at Cowpoke’s Ranch Supply just north of the Quast Lane facility. For details of the event, go to

Celebrate with Joan Zen this Friday at Bitter Root Brewery at 6 p.m. and visit both Jason and the band’s websites: or

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Birding Festival Art Show

The 3rd Annual Bitterroot Birding and Nature Festival invites you to participate in its exciting new addition, a Fine Art Show and Auction. The annual festival is hosted at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. The Bitterroot Birding and Nature Festival is a celebration of bird watching and nature offering numerous activities including workshops, tours, bird walks, field trips, booths, entertaining educational programs, the Junior Duck Stamp awards and events designed for visitors to Western Montana as well as residents.

The Bitterroot Birding and Nature Festival Art Show opens June 1 and will culminate in an auction on Saturday, June 23, under the direction of Troy Black of Black and Associates Auctioneers from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The four nationally and internationally recognized jurors will be evaluating works submitted in four categories: Photography and Printmaking; Painting and Drawing; Sculpture and 3-Dimentional objects, and Fiber Arts and Beadwork.

Artwork may be entered for consideration by individual artists, dealers or galleries. Those accepted into the show will be displayed as part of the juried preview exhibition and subsequent auction. Additional information including entry forms, submission criteria and tickets to participate in the auction, either in person, by phone or absentee, can be found at: or by contacting the Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce, 363-2400.

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State Destination ImagiNation winners announced

Over 300 students grades kindergarten through high school from all corners of Montana competed for top creative problem solving honors at the Montana Destination ImagiNation State Championship Tournament on Saturday, March 24.

Destination ImagiNation is the world's largest creativity and problem solving program for people of all ages, offering groups of 5 to 7 participants the opportunity to team up and develop a creative, never-seen-before solution to a DI Team Challenge. Montana teams presented their solutions to appraisers and the rest of the state this past weekend. In addition to their rehearsed presentation, the teams also demonstrated their on-the-spot problem solving skills in the Instant Challenge portion of the competition.

The Montana DI State Championship Tournament hosted 45 teams. Competitive teams solved and presented one of five 2007 challenges. They were scored against teams who solved the same challenge in one the three competitive levels: elementary, middle, and secondary. Highest scoring teams in each challenge/level will compete at the 2007 Destination ImagiNation Global Finals Tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee on May 23-26, 2007.

This year's winners included:

CSI-DI, Elementary Level: 6th Place, Darby Elementary "Spy" Team; 9th Place, Victor School "Brainy-axe" Team

Round About Courage, Elementary Level: 5th Place, Victor School "Sly DIs" Team

Switching Traditions: Elementary Level: 1st Place, Victor "Super Brains" Team.

Make It New: Darby Elementary, Montana Rising Stars medal winner.

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Bitterroot TU receives grant to restore Upper Wheelbarrow Creek

Trout Unlimited, the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization, has awarded a $3,264 Embrace-A-Stream grant to its Bitterroot Chapter. The grant will fund a project to improve conditions for native westslope cutthroat trout in upper Wheelbarrow Creek, a tributary of Threemile Creek. 

Wheelbarrow Creek is one of the largest sources of sediment and nutrients to Threemile Creek, a tributary of the Bitterroot River. The Upper Wheelbarrow Creek Stream Restoration Project focuses on a critical 3,500 foot-long stream reach, which is one of the most degraded areas in the Threemile Creek watershed. 

The Embrace-A-Stream grant will support the improvement of fish habitat and the reduction of sediment inputs to downstream waters. The project will stabilize eroding stream banks, relocate the channel away from unstable sediment sources, restore riparian vegetation and create pools for fish habitat.

The grant will support these goals in partnership with the Tri-State Water Quality Council, Montana FWP Future Fisheries, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Bitterroot Conservation District and Lone Rock School.

“This Embrace-A-Stream grant will make a huge difference for the restoration of one of Montana’s great fishing streams,” said Edward Olwell, president of TU’s Bitterroot Chapter. “Fish habitat will be drastically improved, and we will reduce sediment flows that currently degrade water quality downstream into the Bitterroot.”

Embrace-A-Stream is the flagship grant program for funding TU grassroots conservation efforts. Funding is provided primarily by TU members, with additional support in 2007 provided by Costa del Mar, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the FishAmerica Foundation and the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Fund. An Embrace-A-Stream Committee comprised of TU volunteer representatives and scientific advisors evaluates all proposed projects and makes the awards.

In 2007, the Embrace-A-Stream program will provide over $225,000 for 38 projects that address water and fish habitat quality, native fish restoration, instream flows and fish population research. Since its inception in 1975, Embrace-A-Stream has funded over 800 projects totaling approximately $3 million.

“Grassroots habitat work is an important part of Trout Unlimited’s annual conservation effort,” said Charles Gauvin, TU President and Chief Executive Officer. “Embrace-A-Stream grants fund serious work that makes a difference in protecting and restoring our coldwater resources.”

Trout Unlimited is North America’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization, with more than 160,000 members dedicated to the protection and restoration of trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds.

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Growth Through Agriculture grants announced

The Montana Agriculture Development Council has awarded $381,091 of funding to 14 Growth Through Agriculture projects for agricultural development, according to council Chair John Franklin.

"We had an excellent and diverse group of applicants, including projects using new technology and the expansion of existing businesses through marketing and equipment upgrades," said Nancy K. Peterson, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture.

The Agriculture Development Council oversees the Growth Through Agriculture program, the source of funding the council uses for project investments. The goal of the GTA program is to provide financial assistance to develop new products or innovative ideas that enhance our state's agricultural industry.

In the latest round, the council awarded a $7,921 grant to Bitterroot Gardeners Collective, Corvallis, for the purchase of food growing and harvesting equipment to establish a garden tool library; and $7,600 return-on-investment deferred loan toward the development and enhancement of the hatchery's fresh water system to Brandborg and Associates.

The next deadline for project applications to the Growth Through Agriculture program is April 30, 2007. The council plans to review the next round of project applications in early June.

For more information and application materials, contact Justin Hager, Growth Through Agriculture program manager, at the Montana Department of Agriculture, at (406) 444-2402 or by e-mail at

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Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to meet

Montana's Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission will meet Thursday, April 26 at the FWP Helena Headquarters, 1420 East 6th Ave, beginning at 1 p.m.

The FWP Commission will make final decisions on several 2007 grazing and sharecrop leases; accepting title to 26-acres adjacent to the Fleecer Mountain Wildlife Management Area near Anaconda; granting FWP authority to close waters to fishing due to drought; and stocking tiger muskie in a number of lakes and reservoirs in FWP Regions 1, 6 and 7.

The Commission will make tentative decisions on:

• an administrative rule required to add antelope, bison and mountain lion hunts to the SuperTag lottery;

• 2007 moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat quotas;

• 2007 mountain lion quotas;

• 2008 moose, sheep, goat, deer and elk license auction and lottery rules;

• bighorn sheep management licenses; and

• classification of several exotic wildlife species.

The FWP Commission will also consider moving ahead with the acquisition of a Fishing Access Site on the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River 45 miles south of Laurel and a FAS on the Stillwater River two miles north of Absaroka.

A work session, where no public action is taken, will precede the meeting. It is set to begin at 9 a.m.

The full agenda for the FWP Commission meeting can be found by going to the FWP web page at and clicking on Hot Topics. Following the formal agenda, the public may bring additional items to the FWP Commission's attention. FWP ensures its meetings are fully accessible to those with a disability. Individuals with special needs may request arrangements by contacting FWP at 406-444-3186.

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School Point prescribed fire

This week, fire managers and crews at the West Fork Ranger District are applying prescribed fire to the School Point project located behind the West Fork Ranger station, 13.5 miles up the West Fork road, about 12 air miles south of Darby. The fire will encompass 583 acres. The purpose is to reduce fuels adjacent to private property and affect fire behavior of future wildland fires that may occur in the area.

All burns are weather and air quality dependent. Visibility may be impacted for travelers visiting the Boulder Creek Trailhead, so use caution while driving in this area.

For more information contact Hamilton Dispatch, 363-7133.

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St. Mary's Mission Opening Day celebration scheduled

Is spring coming earlier? When are plants leafing out and blooming around Montana? This spring, the public can help answer these and other questions through a new national science project.

Project BudBurst is designed to document when plants leaf and bloom in North America, and the initial campaign of the project will began April 1.

During the campaign, scientists are asking people throughout Montana and beyond to take walks in nature to gather data for the nationwide research project to study the effects of climate change on native plants.

University of Montana biological sciences Professor Carol Brewer leads the project in conjunction with a group from universities, botanical gardens and research institutes around the country.

The annual field campaign was conceived and developed by the Citizen Science working group of the National Phenology Network.

“Project BudBurst is about phenology – the timing of when plants put out leaves and flowers,” Brewer said. “We like to say that phenology is nature’s clock. Watch it and use it.”

From April through mid-June, Montanans will help collect valuable information that can then be compared to historical records to illustrate the effects of climate change, Brewer said.

“We need data over many years to sort out the influence of year-to-year variation from the influence of a warming earth,” she said. “That’s why programs like Project BudBurst are so important.”

The project is an ideal activity for outdoor family adventures, for gardening and botanical clubs, and for projects in schools or with organizations such as 4-H and scouts. Anyone who enjoys taking walks and observing nature can participate. Brewer said teachers and students from several local schools already have signed on to help out with the project.

Those who choose to participate will be asked to observe when leaves and flowers first start to come out. Between April and June, they will continue to collect data as plants they observe fully leaf out and flower.

“It’s as simple as that,” Brewer said.

Thirty native trees and shrubs, 24 wildflower species, two common exotic weeds and two common exotic ornamentals have been targeted for the initial field campaign of the project during spring 2007. The species were chosen because they are easy to identify and widespread, spanning the continental United States.

The first step to become involved is to log on to the project web site at to get a list of species for your region. The site has specific information about how to document observations, as well as clear descriptions and photos that make it easy to identify the targeted plants.

Data collected will be summarized and mapped at the end of the initial campaign in late June or early July. Participants will be able to go online to see maps depicting the timing of leafing and flowering for all species monitored.

Project BudBurst is funded by the National Science Foundation, the Bureau of Land Management and the Plant Conservation Alliance to bring people interested in the study of the timing of events in the life cycles of plants and animals together to share data and collaborate in future research.

For more information, call Brewer at 243-2632 or e-mail her at

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Births at Marcus Daly Hospital, Hamilton

Boy, 7 lbs., 6 oz., 20 inches, to Fred and Candace Davis, Hamilton

Girl, 6 lbs., 7 oz., 19-1/2 inches, to Brent and Emily Race, Hamilton

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