west wind 11.26.2010

The terrain shifts on Interstate 90 between Missoula and Garrison. That is where I feel the elastic band between one home and the other gather tension and pull stronger toward Two Dot. This line passes through me someplace just below my chest. I feel each end. Here. There.
Summer is our usual time to make this trip. I have often said I would not want to live in Montana through the winter. But last Sunday on that final bit of I-90 before we turned off onto Highway 12, fresh snow powdered the landscape leaving just enough brush showing through to define the hills like an etched print. The sky met those hills in a thin veil filtering a persistent sun. Cutting through the landscape, the Little Black Foot River was chunked with icy blue and rimmed with red twigs. What would it be to remain through a winter? Would it alter who we are?
In Two Dot, the familiar summer scene had completely changed. A dome of blue exchanged for white, leafy trees now dark silhouettes, and green and gold fields now white with a sheen of yellow stubble. Grey brown deer with snow on their backs searched for something to eat down in the dry grass in Mac Whites field… a herd protected by a few cranky ranchers…certainly not disdainful of hunting, but perhaps contrary to outside hunters.

We arrived in the afternoon. John tinkered with the furnace and turned on the water. I, wrapped in many layers of clothing, swept up dead flies. The schoolhouse was warm enough to crawl into bed at 9pm with three extra blankets, a fleece, a beanie, hoodie and gloves.
Our first full day was mostly quiet. John heard a few gunshots. Three hunters walked by under the kitchen window with a sledded deer, shouldered guns and big grins. I am in favor of hunting for food; respect those who take responsibilities for the meat they eat. And yet, I cannot reconcile the stiff carcasses hanging in trees with the animals that so easily sprint on 4 thin legs bounding over fences in beautiful arcs. But here we are in Two Dot during hunting season, the town taken by another agenda.
Tuesday, the temperature dropped to eight below zero and snow blew lightly from the east. There was little activity: some deer in the field, a few birds and everyone settled into their heated homes. Everything is muffled, not to silence but deep quiet. Richard told us that an east wind never amounts to much, but that the cold would break when a serious wind came from the west. A miserable day he warned…and so we stayed, watching.
On Wednesday the promised wind arrived. I spent the entire day trying to understand wind speed…miles per hour, knots, and the symbols that describe it all. On Thursday the wind still howled through the valley. The snow that covered nearly everything as a white sheet over abandon furniture blew fast and close to the ground. It gathered speed and collected in tall peaks and long rippling waves. This wind swept the sky as well. The stratus veil that hung heavy for days was gone in the night, and when I woke at 3am the stars were visible, the big dipper balancing on the tip of its handle. At 7:45 the sun crested Mac White’s field after a display of mackereled pink. Four grey partridge huddled into a low depression it the yard just as John and I huddled under comforters and quilts, waiting for the furnace to catch up. It is struggling to keep up with the blowing cold.

Wind is everything now. It is like an inside out train. The landscape roaring past us in billows of snow, as we stay still. What is the sound made with? Wind moving invisibly along, can only be seen by its effects on everything around it. And yet, at this speed it has its own sound. It is more the sound you here when you hold a shell to your ear than the ocean ever was. It is a rustling skirt amplified, a tympani roll slowed down. When I sit quiet, listening, it is joined by all the things it affects, the creaking attic, rattling doors and windows, rustling branches. The biggest gusts vibrate through the floor as the whole building shakes.

I looked forward to going to bed and lying still under layers of blankets. They are so heavy; they hold my shape when I get up for a minute to check outside the window. How far across the yard has the snow drift blown? Are there stars? A moon? But, even without getting up, I know if the wind is still blowing because I listen for it even in my dreams. It is a spirit, a ghost, a haint; it carries a presence beyond itself. And so I lay encased in my comfortable shroud wondering what the wind has to tell me, what is it trying to say.
The sun came up in a show on this our last full day at the schoolhouse. A long dark blue cloud above Mac White’s hill with pink underneath, curtains to the drama. We have been here just five days. Five days full of weather. The wind is still a presence, but calmed from yesterday’s 30-40 miles an hour. It fluctuates in intensity, but is still a constant sound. It is more blanket than punctuation and it ties me to this place, location, time, and season. The wind is seductive, luring me into its hold, “Stay…stay all winter…see what might be hollowed out, what drifts might be swept away.”