Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Not me—I’m not superstitious

Not me—I’m not superstitious
I am not a superstitious person. I cheerfully walk under ladders. Never has a black cat crossing my path kept me from my destination. The disasters in my life could not have been prevented by any amount of knocking on wood.

Where do some of our weird beliefs come from? We repeat ideas that have been handed down from generation to generation. We never think to question them. They become common knowledge. We all know that washing a car will bring rain. And it’s true; an apple a day will keep the doctor away.

On one of our warmer-than-summer days in early January, I drove to Chinook. I marveled at the beauty of the sun drenched Milk River Valley. The balmy air smelled like spring. I almost expected ferns and fronds and palm trees to shoot up through the wind scoured soil, like a bald woman donning a frilly Easter bonnet. As distinctly as though he sat in the passenger seat next to me, I heard my Dad say, “It might be pretty today but the raspberries won’t be worth a hill of beans next summer if we don’t get a real winter.”

I glanced over to make sure my father, gone now these six years, was not sitting there. Where did that come from, I wondered—that thought, planted in my head, speaking with my Dad’s voice? I had an inkling that the voice I heard is a common Montana voice; those words are common Montana words, at least in this parched section of the state.

I decided to do some research. Later that day I popped into an eatery to eavesdrop on the local pundits. My wait was not long. The group of men who frequent this place on a regular basis soon arrived, one by one. I sat with my back to them but not so far away that I couldn’t overhear. Sure enough, the conversation turned to our weather.

Real Weather, to a Montanan, is defined as any extreme condition. Our days (and nights) are either brutally cold or blistering hot or hang-on windy and most often two out of three. Real Snow drifts into banks higher than any measured in living memory. Torrential Rain pounds so hard that flash floods are generated in moments. Drought cleaves the hard-baked gumbo clay into cracks and crevices deep and wide enough to be called a canyon and by gosh if it doesn’t rain soon we can advertise it as a scenic wonder and put up neon signs to point directions and bring tourists in by the busload. If I were an outsider I would think all this braggadocio to be exaggeration but I grew up around here. I know it’s all true. We live in a country of extremes.

“We worried all year that this winter we’d get snowfall that would cause spring floods that would make last year’s overflow look like mud puddles,” said one gent. “Now I’m worried about fires. If we don’t get some moisture soon, the whole prairie will likely go up in flames.”

“Well, I suppose that’ll keep the firefighters happy,” offered a slightly brighter voice.

Next spoke a gentleman who farms up north, “If we don’t get moisture, crops won’t come up at all.”

“All I know is we’re supposed to have four seasons and when we don’t it’s no good,” chimed in a gruff-sounding elderly gentleman, a man who looked like he’d lived enough seasons to know the difference. “The way the old-timers tell it, a year just like this brought on the flu epidemic of 1918. Gonna be a lot of sickness this year, just you wait and see."

That was in January. Now February is gone and I still hear the same old negative words. I have come to believe they reflect a simple bit of superstition, a verbal “knock on wood”. We are afraid that if we boast that life is good, that things are going well, then sure enough, the next day all havoc will break loose. It is cheap enough insurance, I suppose, this poor-mouth attitude. If, by our words, we can keep life from going to the dogs, keep the monkey-wrench out of the works, keep the wolf away from the door, then so be it.

Personally, I’m not buying it. But by golly, if we don’t get some real weather soon, I don’t believe I’ll have any kind of garden. Good thing I put up a lot of raspberries last summer. Glad I got my flu shot. Do you smell smoke? Or is that a blizzard on the way? No matter. I’m going to have a terrific year; the Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
March 1, 2012

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