Sunday, March 01, 2009


First day of March. Snow on the ground, but from several days ago. Gray sky, unmoving, no wind. Icicles hanging off the pickiup but they’ll be gone by evening. The normal high now is supposed to be forty. The forecasted high today is near fifty and tomorrow a little bit higher with sun, which is good because I’m supposed to go up to Browning to judge a spelling bee at the Junior High. On the internet, the Montana weather map for highways is showing yellow-dashed (intermittent snow and ice) from Valier west and green-solid (dry) from Valier east, which is often the way it is. We’re at a balance point. No wind, no fog. Tomorrow it will be dry to Browning, easy driving.

I’ve begun to hang my spring curtains: bunches of violets on aqua background (a sheet, actually) in the bedroom replaces the shirt-material quilt. In the front room, pink and cream stripes. Already big red and white stripes on the sofa, red and white ticking on the wicker chair and blue and white ticking on my reading chair. I enjoy fussing around with this stuff, esp. when it’s still too early to do anything outside. I might even mop and vacuum, though that’s not much fun.

Caspar, the big fluffy white cat with gray ears and tail, is over at the Baptist church where she’s “reading” with her nose the information off the cars parked during services. Yesterday she was in my backyard, more or less confronting a spotted cat and a young springer spaniel who’s been cruising the neighborhoods at high speed. He’s too wary for me to nab, which is lucky for our deputy sheriff because I always kid him that I’m going to put any dogs I catch into his patrol car. (He’s a K-9 officer.) Anyway, I charged out yelling, sending animals in all directions and rousing my two big fat cats from their slumber. They spent some time in the old snow decoding what had happened. Then Squibbie carefully dug a hole in the snow, made a deposit, and vigorously buried it, sending snow flying. She seemed perfectly confident that this would work as well as kitty litter. As long as it stays freezing, she’s right.

When I’m outside, I can hear the owl’s soft questioning and a flicker’s shriek and rat-tat-tat, plus the small chatter of little brown birds. When the sun comes out, a song sparrow lets loose a barrage of arpeggios. The geese are quiet now, incubating eggs. When they hatch, they will be just in time for the owl to snatch them, answering the question about “who-who will I feed to MY babies?”

It’s tournament time and small towns whose teams did well have hit the road. Since face-painting has become so popular (Why is that? Rock bands? Indigenization?) it’s easier than usual to tell who went where. There are always jokes about turning out the lights and putting on extra patrols because it would be such a good time for burglars. My theory is that much of this is bravado to pump up courage for being on the road in unstable weather.

The CM Russell Auction is a little late this year, the weekend of March 20-21, and it is usually quite warm by then. In 1992 on this date, it was 68 degrees. In 1996 it was minus eighteen. So you can expect anything in between. I bought this house ten years ago when I came from Portland to attend the auction. I’m a little surprised that it’s stuck together this long.

Towards the end of the week we’re supposed to get more moisture. We’re at a little less than the norm. Are we officially in a drought still? When are we NOT in a drought? Valier is technically using more than its share of water for the town, according to the state algorhythms, but the problem is that the conservation measures that would bring it back in line (water meters, new water lines, new wells or well-rebuilding) would take more money than we have. This is not a unique problem. But newcomers have to be educated about it all over again, every time they come. It’s tempting to consider that closing out newcomers might be a good conservation measure.

When it was so cold, some people let all their faucets run (not trickle -- RUN) to keep them from freezing (their houses are not really insulated for prolonged sub-zero weather) so the sewers were carrying a lot of water to the sewage lagoon which upset the balance of treatment ratios and put us out of compliance with the state laws. Truly draconian fines are possible, but the state generally recognizes reality and, if there is a letter of explanation, doesn’t impose them. Still, it makes us nervous.

I listen to the falling value of housing stock and wonder what that says about my own homestead. (It is a legal “homestead” which means that the first $60,000 of value is protected from being seized for debt.) This house is assessed at $30,000 from an eyeball survey on the street. They don’t know about the asbestos-contaminated insulation from some previous boondoggle for seniors or about the two floods underneath that caved some of the foundation. If they came in, they would see a new sink in the kitchen and a new sink in the bathroom: that would impress them. Because in our culture we value appearance more than function. Even in personal relationships.

In early March, not yet spring, we’re in an era that talks about debt-deserted neighborhoods and failed states, where Mexican drug dealers wage war on BOTH sides of the border, but with the guns from the American side where their ownership and dealership is defended on grounds that no Mexican drug dealers will invade YOUR house, if you’re armed. But if you have a .45 that you don’t keep clean and never shoot, and “they” have an Uzi they fire daily, who wins?

The owl waits for your babies to feed its babies.

Oh, sure, maybe April is the cruelest month if you have high expectations that are dashed by spring storms. But March is often the deadliest month, just before green-up while the calves are on the ground. In the old days the food used to run out about now. Often, even now, it’s a time when old people leave the planet.

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