Saturday, February 7, 2015

Real Montana Winter

                                                            Real Montana Winter
Hi John,

I understand the weather is a bit on the rough and tough up there. I’ll not talk about the weather down here.

Hello Sondra,

That’s what a little time in Mexico does to you. You’ve lost your Montana bravado. Don’t you long for the minus five temperatures, the minus twenty wind chills, the eight inches of snow? You’ve become a wimp.

            Well, that sure shut my mouth! And that after I’d been whining about what a cold winter we are experiencing here, what with the dregs of the cold flowing downward along the Pacific coast. Lows of fifty and highs of seventy for days! Brrrrr.  Locals donned layered clothing and winter jackets. I, accustomed to going barefoot, caught a chill and sniffles and thought I had just cause for complaint. Another Montana friend suggested I stuff a wool sock in my mouth. 

            The socks proved fuzzy and uncomfortable so I took them out of my mouth and put them on my icy feet. The truth is I do long for Montana winter. But only little pieces, as if I could choose to keep this bit and to discard that bit.

            Nothing is more beautiful than morning sunrise with an inch of new frost glittering on branches and twigs and power lines. Or, lying in bed listening to pure silence, knowing that when you look out the window the world will be snug, tucked in beneath a blanket of new snow. And, oh, the delight when fat, puffy snowflakes sift down into piles on the rare windless day, snowman material. Or when the night sky dances and hums with aurora magic. Or the melancholy beauty of the overcast day when the tortured frozen limbs of cottonwood trees seem to hang onto the heavy sky.   
            When I envision these wonders, I like to imagine sitting in a well-worn overstuffed chair in front of a crackling wood-stove fire, fleece slippers on my feet, my cat curled in my lap, a steamy mug of hot chocolate in my hand.

            Unfortunately, what I remember most vividly is a different picture. I shudder to think about bundling up to face extreme temperatures and the chilling, killing wind. Of leaving the warmth of home looking like the Pillsbury Doughboy, so bundled I can hardly waddle. Of nose hairs that freeze with my first cautious breath. Of not being able to wear glasses because the frame gets too cold. Of keeping my mouth clamped tightly shut against the wind.

            Of my feet sliding out from under me on a patch of hidden ice, slamming me so hard I cannot catch my breath. Of my eyes making uncontrollable tears, forming icicles on my cheeks. Of fingers that turn numb despite wool liners inside leather mittens. Of wondering if my toes are still attached.

            Of wind that grabs my coat and tries to rip it from my body. Of walking backwards down icy streets, to keep the wind at my back. Of finally reaching shelter, my muffler frozen solid with a sheet of ice from my breath, salty icicles beneath my nose, eyebrows rimed with frost.

            Of plugging in the car. The sluggish sound when the motor will barely turn over. Of tires that freeze flat in extreme cold, turning round-clunk, round-clunk, round-clunk. The heater full blast, unable to penetrate the chill.

            Of driving through a blizzard, or on black ice, or in a white out, guessing, hoping where the road might be, not daring to stop. Of sliding off the road and wondering how long I can leave the motor running before the exhaust pipe plugs with snow and suffocates me, wondering if help will come, wondering if I have enough gas to keep the heater going, of wanting to walk for help knowing that is wrong decision.

            I flatter myself that I’m pretty good at evoking a scene to convey to others. But I’ve tried to explain winter to Mazetlecas only to be faced with a flat look of incomprehension. Finally I quit trying. If one’s not lived a real Montana winter, one cannot imagine it. I will content myself with whining when the nighttime temperature plunges to 52 Farenheit and I can’t go barefoot.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 15, 2015

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