Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The miraculous effect of this snow has been to make me fifty years younger!

In 1964 there was a storm like this one, except that it was later, in June, and therefore fell as rain instead of snow. That was the year of the flood that went down in history. It took watercourses out of their banks everywhere and breached three dams, sending lethal walls of water down the narrow valleys of the Blackfeet reservation.

These storms are supposed to be related to sun spots, which kick up great storms every eleven years: 1964, 1975, 1986, 1997, 2008. This storm should have hit last year. It’s late.

This is a “warm” blizzard so the snow is sticky and clings not only to the window screens but to the glass itself. The robins have re-aggregated into flocks and are scouting trees and bushes with berries, zooming low back and forth in front of the window beside my computer. Now and then one lands in a narrow place the wind has swept clean, like next to my raised planter for sweetgrass, and then has trouble getting up enough momentum to escape. The cats watch with careful attention, but it would be impossible for them to flounder through two foot drifts to catch a bird.

Although, they’ve been overeating out of boredom and then throwing up on the rugs. I’m tempted to throw them out in the snow -- close to the door, of course -- just to wake them up. And assuming I could get the door open, since there is a two-foot drift against each one, which is a good argument for sliders. Pansy and Wayne have a slider door but they report that it has a three foot drift and I should not come over there to dig them out. They’re not GOING out.

The grader has passed on Montana St. a few times, throwing up the usual berm to make my driveway impassable. I’m not going anywhere anyway. The temps will go back up to fifty in a day or so, and everything will dissolve. What weak sunlight comes through the window as radiant heat is strong. The thing to do is to roll over and sleep some more. Or read. Every highway on the east slope as far east as Chester and Fort Benton and as far south as Great Falls is closed. It’s snow and ice from there to Helena and slush and wet from there to Wyoming.

Last night I went out at midnight to shovel my front walk, partly as a gesture to the paper deliverer and partly just to get outside. It was warmish, too wet to be called balmy, and quite still except for a cow bawling somewhere, probably in a stock trailer where a rancher had managed to capture it in a rescue operation. At least this year the cattle hadn’t been moved into summer range which they just had when a storm a few years ago hit hard. The feds granted the tribe money, not to replace all the dead cows but to remove the carcasses rotting across the landscape. A good year for grizzlies without even waiting for berry season.

The snow digging was easy because when it’s this wet it sticks together in blocks and then slides off the shovel when tossed. Each shovel-full is heavy but that’s easier on the back than a load that twists and shifts. If a person can get a good rhythm going, the path forms quickly. I propped the screen door open so the cats could sit and watch, side-by-side with dilated eyes. When a quick gust took snow-near-water into their faces, they removed to indoors. When I came in, my hair was full of sequins. I read under a lamp for a bit to keep from having a damp pillow.

In the night came the sound of soft bombs as branches dumped their loads on the house. Our leaves are not out yet or we’d hear the sharp crack of breaking boughs. We’re barely to catkins, at least on the south side of my house. Mysteriously, a whole bed of tulips had come to life this spring. In the ten years I’ve lived here, they’ve never come up before. The ants had just been stirring: one ant, two ants, three ants. No more than that.

The doves are quiet in their haven inside my blue spruces. I don’t know what they’re eating, but they have shelter. The path I dig in front gives the cats access to their refuges under the spruces. Sometimes I see the footprints of other cats, but not for the last few days. Just before this storm came in, I left the garage door open and a strange cat found the kitchen cat flap. It stoked up on cat food so that my two fat scairdy cats crept out peering around the corners to try to spot what they could smell. It wasn’t until I stomped around to try to scare out the intruder -- hoping it wasn’t a skunk -- that they got their courage back enough for their fur to lie down.

In the past I’ve told scary stories about getting caught in storms like this, driving alone for long distances with valuable cargo, the wildest story being in 1970 when I took a load of bronzes to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody. But this time I’m safe in my little house. Things are insulated and quieter than usual, with white photographer’s light bouncing everywhere under the gray sky. Maybe in a while I’ll go out to my woodstove in the garage and burn papers and sticks.

No comments: