winter work

The sun broke the horizon at 8:20 offering a little glitter to the still white landscape. The thermometer at our window registered -27°… a new experience to add to so many new experiences in Montana. I remained under a pile of three down comforters, one quilt, and two throws, swathed in heat that I had generated myself, as the furnace had failed again in the middle of the frozen night. From this position I watched the sun rise in the most southeast window of our room, its light shinning in a square onto the north wall. There was work to be done…  we were in Two Dot to continue work on a studio project…but the schoolhouse was struggling to reach 45° with supplemental space heaters attempting to do the work of the furnace. I’d heard the temperature was suppose to rise during the day, but then I had also heard that it was only suppose to drop to -17°.

People who have lived their lives here in central Montana know what to do with predictions and realities. My cousin Richard, recites on queue of any winter forecast, “it will be colder and last longer.” He checks out the wisdom of our winter attire with a bit of his brain and keeps the rest on his livestock and what might need to be done in a long lasting cold.  

John Clay, our neighbor, made his way to our door to offer advise on our ailing furnace. He took care of this oil-burning beast for the school in years past and has always been helpful, perhaps out of loyalty to the old schoolhouse. On leaving, he laughs with preservations humor and says, “It’s never simple when its 0°.” But it was much colder than 0°.

We stayed a little longer under the protection of the covers. The sun moving fast beyond the corner of the last window in our room, making its way across the sky in record time. We have learned a little more about the cold and work with more layers than makes us particularly mobile, but it holds the heat in. Until the furnace is fixed, our two bodies figured large in the list of heat sources: seven space heaters, an open oven door, hot water, a weak winter sun and John & me.

The project, Flat Fall, inches forward and we are warmer when we work. It was the weight of snow and ice combined with a howling winter wind that brought half of our cottonwood to the ground last winter. It seems fitting that the fallen tree would go through its final preparations for exhibition under such freezing conditions and we are willing to do it.