Wednesday, November 24, 2010


In other states I've lived in, winter is a lower case word, not capitalized.  With the temperature outside in Northwest Montana, the word is WINTER.  We are closing in on zero degrees, and it's only 3pm.  If you go out to take pictures, it only takes a few minutes for your face to threaten to fall off, for good.  You find a scarf to breathe through, and it forms ice on it from your breath.

Like many here, I got caught with my non-WINTER tires still on the pickup.  Even the guy who owns the hardware store has his snow tires in his shed.  His wife informed him, "YOU drive to Thompson Falls Les Schwab.  I'M not doing it!"  He and I looked at eachother and felt silly together.

So I checked the weather channel on line, through the first week of December.  It never lifts above freezing.  As a matter of fact, today looks like the safest day to drive the 45 miles to get the tires switched.  Oh, goodie.  If your body knows you were born in California, there is an abundance of genes labeled, "Chicken".  The idea of going all that way is terrifying.  What if I hit black ice on my normal tires, and end up in a tree, or worse yet, a frozen river?  There is no cell phone reception, so I don't even own one.  You're on your own girl.  Guts it out.

Once I get out of the ranch, sure enough, the so-called Highway 200 (two narrowing lanes) is ploughed.  Encouraging.  The black ice hides under the most pure and beautiful powder you have ever seen.  It is surely the envy of every skier anywhere.  So I try to avoid the pretty stuff.  Advice is stay under 45mph, and make NO sudden moves with the steering wheel.  This is way different than the polite snow storms that send you just enough to make donuts in the church parking lot.  This stuff isn't kidding.

Big rigs pass me, kicking up mud and slush.  The windshield wipers have thawed out and work, but the winshield washing stuff is asleep for the winter.  There are people who didn't hear the "under 45mph" advice.  I think to myself an uncharitable thought:  "If you crash into something, you better not take me with you, idiot!"  Hitting the brakes suddenly is unwise. 

All the way down, the biggest, most macho wild Tom Turkeys are crossing the road slowly, like pedestrians on a sunny day.  It's the day before Thanksgiving, and they couldn't care less.  I swear they are bigger than I have seen them all year.  Turkeys are supposed to be exceptionally stupid.  These guys just look arrogant.  I hear they are all dark meat.  Yum.  Maybe I can hit one.

I finally reached Thompson Falls and Les Schwab, with a bursting parking lot.  Most of their jobs are no doubt like mine, switching tires for free, because I bought them all there.  I get some hot coffee and sit down with a magazine about bow hunting.  Guaranteed to cure insomnia.  A whiney two year old wakes me after a while, just as the mechanic tells me my pickup is ready. 

So now I'm feeling pretty feisty, with studded snows on the truck.  I think it will be fun to drive with the right side tires in the snow at road edge.  Which it was, until the rear end decided to fishtail and I had to quit it.  Sheesh, can't a girl have any fun?

Now that I'm a little less nervous heading home, I notice that occasionally the sun finds a hole in the clouds to peek through.  The sudden light on the snow covered fields teaches me about snow blindness.  And snow on the evergreens glitters even better than the fake stuff in the supermarket parking lots.  In places the trees only got sprayed with snow on one side, as if the kid God hired to spray on flocking got bored and went skiing.

Little birds that didn't migrate are scrounging for left over berries.  The black crows seem much larger in white powder snow, more important.  They look like they are about to make an announcement.  A group of them takes flight as the truck approaches, with bits of road kill in their talons.  Did you know that the collective noun for crows is "Murder"?  A murder of crows walking through the snow.   I never understood how they got that name until I saw them in command of a field covered in white.  You don't want to mess with them.  I know I'm bigger, but to THEY know it?

The main occupation in this weather is eternal, 24-hour vigilance of the fire in the stove.  I have walked into the log cabin, and the window in the stove is dark.  Time to get to work before I freeze to death.

WINTER is really here, just in time for Thanksgiving.

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