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Gratitude on Ice: A Montana Lesson (ode to a crampon)

I’m going to bullet-point the last hour of my life, just for shits and giggles. Mostly the former.

• 10:00 Depart house to drive teenaged daughter to bus for state-wide speaking competition. Discuss adrenaline and how you can utilize it when on stage.

• 10:02 Experience how adrenaline can help you if your truck doesn’t want to go right when encountering Zamboni-ready vertical driveway, decides to continue toward cliff, inspires you to consider yelling, “Bail!”

• 10:03 Experience gratitude for icy snow bank.

• 10:05 Console freaking-out daughter who doesn’t want to miss bus, never mind what almost just happened to truck, mother, and said teen.

• 10:06 Call neighbor and beg for ride to town. Begin descent.

• 10:06-10:16 Slide, fall, slide, fall. Decide to take the rest on ass. Hope truck won’t disengage with snow bank and careen down on top of you. Slide to side of driveway. Try to walk in snow bank where there’s traction. Punch through snow and almost knock knee cap off. Go back to ice on ass. Slide. Yell at dogs who think it’s a game. Try to stand up. Fall. Yell at daughter who is yelling “hurry up!” as you’re sitting on ice, crying like a baby. (Daughter has somehow navigated the whole thing in Converse sneakers with a roller bag behind her, all whilst on cell phone.) Rue the fact that you failed to put crampons on your boots.

• 10:16 Arrive at base camp and flat terrain. Decide to pick up pace past .01 miles per hour.

• 10:17 Fall and hurt wrist. Daughter yells, “Hurry up! We’re gonna miss the bus!” (She’s usually a peach, I swear.)

• 10:20 Neighbors within view.

• 10:21 Wave at them and fall. Hurt other wrist. Cry. Get yelled at again.

• 10:22 Scramble to get to neighbor’s van so to give daughter kiss and hug, look her in the eye and say, “You’re going to do great. Just remember, people want you to do well. They’re on your side.” And hear in return, “I know. You’ve told me that about a thousand times.” Reveal soaking wet backside to neighbors. Get looks of pity.

• 10:22 Watch as they drive off on icy roads with your daughter. Cry some more because you will miss her and plus you’re scared for her life because she’ll be on a school bus navigating brutally icy roads for the next five hours. Pray the driver has been screened.

• 10:23 Sigh, let go, and realize that you are totally screwed. There’s no going back up that driveway. There’s no cutting up the ridge—the snow is too punchy and impossible. You’re going to have to walk to the end of the road—at least it’s flat, and hope that your neighbor’s road is better, and that there is hard packed snow up in the woods with decent deer trails to follow home.

• 10:24 Stop and soak up the sun, so rare this time of year. Try to find humor in all this. Wonder why you don’t have Triple A anymore. Berate yourself for being irresponsible.

• 10:27 Road gains altitude. Fall.

• 10:28 Call golden retriever. He comes. Grab his collar and say “Let’s go.” He gets behind you, as if he thinks you’re going to pull him. Curse the fact that you don’t have claws, never mind crampons.

• 10:30 Stop and realize: it might be a long time before you get home. Even though, as the crow flies, you’re only about a hundred yards away from it. Try to be open to the lesson. Ya gotta be honest—you’re not. Realize your back is tweaked and your butt is ice and your left knee is bruised.

• 10:30-10:40 Decide to take it step by step. Get five feet forward, lose traction, slide backward. You look like you are learning how to surf– hands way out in front of you– butt hanging way out behind you. You are glad you live in rural America.

• 10:40 A crow dive bombs and you see a very recent deer kill up ahead—right in the middle of your neighbor’s driveway. There are blood and guts everywhere. And iced paw prints like those ceramic hand prints you did as a kid in art class. They are feline. And big. You realize that this is a mountain lion kill. And now there’s that to think about. Funny though—seems like the least of your worries.

• 10:42 Slip and fall…on top of entrail pile. Now you’re too freaked out to cry. You call your dog who is even freaked out now. You hold on to his collar and get up and make for the snow bank which has flattened out in this section of road and looks like something you could safely navigate.

• 10:42 Take two steps and punch through up to your thigh and grab the wooden fence and feel a bolt of lightning go through you and realize you’ve just grabbed hot wire. “Are you freaking KIDDING ME?” you shout.

• 10:42-11:00 Step, slide, fall, punch your way home. In the woods, you are grateful for packed snow and deer trails and chickadees in the trees and the warm Chinook wind on your face and the sun in your eyes. When you jump across the ice on your front porch step, and your bloody hand wraps itself around the door knob, you want to kiss it you are so grateful to be home. Funny how that door knob will just be a door knob again in a few hours, or however long this gratitude lasts. For now, it’s the loveliest thing you’ve seen in your entire life.

  • 11:01 Call tow truck with smile on face.

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Sweet Home Chicago Pummeled

Play this from iconic weatherman (and one of my personal idols), Tom Skilling while you gasp at these photos of Chicago, my home town.

This is insane even by Montana standards!

I remember the blizzard of 1979– we jumped off our second story roof into the snow!

Tom’s greenboard at WGN studios and me fulfilling a fantasy, pointing to Montana.

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Arizona Healing

Yesterday, I watched the sun rise over the snowy sharp peaks of Glacier National Park from a small airplane window…and followed it as it gave shadows to the Rockies all the way to Denver, and then watched as the mountains turned to mesas and the snow went to red and the sky swirled like this in the end.

It was the pinking of a day.

And now it smells like mesquite smoke and the air is dry in my nose and lungs the way it feels when it’s below zero in Montana.
Only there are bugs and birds and naked toes.
There are times to give.
And times to receive.

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June Hail on the Garden

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Wet Day


There is something fiercely gratifying about hearing a sump pump working below you, every four or five minutes motoring from the basement bowels, and then the spilling waters leaving what could have occupied your house, bound for the filtering of soil and sand and rock.
I have been listening to that sound all day, glad we put in the pump after last spring’s 6 inches of standing water in our basement that took out the whole of what was once the Rec Room. I like rain. I am the daughter of farm people. I know the power of “a good rain.”

“We need the rain” was the solution to many soggy Saturdays in my youth. And the phrase I used to justify my children’s last week. It’s a sales pitch. And in forest fire terrain, it’s something they understand not unlike like the children of corn and soy bean farmers in Illinois.

But I didn’t expect the rain I got just now, in my house, not from a leaking gutter or a high water table, but from my own doing. I ran my bath, water on water, and went outside to photograph the dripping garden. I had on tennis socks and pocketed them into flip flops—very fashionable. Who cares. I live in rural Montana. And there is a world outside to behold.

I love how water plays on flowers.

On the fuzz of poppies,
the palms of lupine,

the folds of ladies mantle.

And when I returned to the warmth and dry of my house, there was the sound of sump pump. Only not where I was used to it motoring away all day. It was somewhere central and wrong. I listened and waited. My son yelled, “Mommy, it’s raining in the kitchen!” And it was. I’d overflown the bathtub!

My socks are very wet now. And my pride too. This is a very wet day.

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Inversion

inversion
Inversion
by Laura A. Munson

It’s lonely in February with just one woodpecker and a few chickadees against the grey. They call it inversion.
Our valley is flanked by the Whitefish Range—foothills to the Rockies– what in summer looks like a towering garden wall. Then winter rolls in from the Pacific Ocean and gets caught along its jagged edges; and we are sequestered here under a low ceiling of grey, from as early as October, to as late as June.
I don’t have the mind for winter much past the end of January. I can’t sleep that long. Day after day of this grey, socking us in, pressing us down, depriving us of vitamin D. I try to work with what is left—with what is not dormant. I become fascinated by paw prints—are those snow hare prints? Mountain Lion? Fox? I go out with a field guide and a ruler. Scat becomes a symbol of communion. Even the deer start to seem exotic. Crows, prophets. The raven, a mystic holy one.
I walk in insomniac circles in the snow to prove that I am alive. Is that the actual dirt of my driveway glinting through the ice? Does the pond look like it’s opening up in the middle—just a bit?
I force bulbs in my kitchen window, missing the wildflowers that
cover the hillsides from June on to the snows—the yellow arnica, the pink roses, the purples of the columbine, wild lupine and geranium, the orange of Indian paintbrush, the blue flax, and on and on until the violet of the asters. The bulbs in my window come up so wan, knowing they are decoys.
I become good with the mawl, splitting kindling, never enough in this undying season. Sometimes I split wood just to hear the echo. Maybe the woodpecker will answer. Maybe it will be a Pileated woodpecker—maybe there will be red in the trees.
It is fashionable to complain. I do not want to complain. I remind myself that it is this precise grey that keeps our valley free from over-development, our hillsides thick with Larch and Fir, Ponderosa and Lodgepole pine– not thick with the “rustic chic” of log-accented condos and private ski chalets. These are not Colorado winters bedazzled with sapphire skies and relentless “champagne powder” days. This is still the great Northwest; fertile and wet and dense. And grey. Perhaps that which is so fertile must sleep deeper. Longer.
I slap skins on my skis and hike to the top of the mountain, above the cloud level, just to see what has been procured for pilots and high-flying birds who’ve had the guts to stay. I strap on skis and climb through the grey to remind myself—my skin, my retina– that there is a color in this world brighter than my orange down parka.
The sheen off Glacier National Park is garish. Like a confection. The sun so sovereign. The sky so blue with infinity. My heart rises then sinks: How could we be so…neglected?
And I remember the gluttony of summer. Dipping hot feet into mountain lakes turquoise with mineral-rich glacial run-off, melting lotion into golden shoulders, waking with the birds at the exact blush of dawn, little bundles of fingers purple from picking huckleberries, emerald green peas in a silver pail.
Maybe I’ve got it wrong.
Maybe we are being protected from something that only the sky knows. Maybe the inversion is a great grey net, preserving us, somehow.
It looks so quiet below. Not sinister.
Yes, I decide. We are being preserved.
I breathe into the blue and slide back down under, and for a moment, as the world vanishes into vertigo, I feel free. Floating in-between acute wakefulness and sleep again; a part of the gentle hand of ozone covering us all these months, year after year.
And then it’s the valley again, cut off at the shins. The lake, a white footprint in the middle of it all. And again, I am on my front porch, chin to the grey, but I am thanking it now.
For however else am I to remember the welcome the wildflowers deserve?

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