Thursday, September 04, 2014


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We’re just emerging from a cold spell, though it wasn’t arctic -- not even all that cold except it felt that way after summer and we sort of resented it because there have been only scraps of summer, mild and intermittent.  We kid about our turbulent weather, but it’s at least something to talk about and at best something that keeps a person adapting and planning.  Always carry a jacket.

The real cold was in the middle of last night when the gray woolly blanket of clouds pulled away from the dampened earth and stars like stilettos pierced the sky.  When I was circuit-riding and sleeping in my F-150 van with real bedding instead of a proper sleeping bag, I’d sometimes park for the night in someone's yard up one of the valleys around Bozeman.  On a night like last night, suddenly clearing, I could count on waking at 3AM and having to walk a bit to get my blood moving again.  No regrets.  It was beautiful, sort of exalted.  The family dog always came along, but refused to come into bed with me when we got back to the van.  It would have been warm for me, but confining for the dog, who planned to sleep all day anyhow.

As I write, I can hear Roger out there with the many-times-welded town grader, trying to get some stability out of the graveled dirt streets while it's still damp.  The townsfolk, esp. the men and esp. the ones who are recently moved here, fixate on the state of the streets and incessantly nag about them.  The soil base is unstable, no proper storm drains were ever installed, and everyone screams  when they hear the amount of money that would be necessary to pave the grid. But they’re like that about everything.  Imagine living in the same house with them.

The kittens' fav playground equipment.

The summer was so wet that my yard is well on its way to being a grove of trees and I’m seriously entertaining the idea of letting that happen.  But at the same time, the previous summer was so dry and the winter was so cold (thirty below) that there are a lot of dead limbs up at the tops of all the town trees, sticking out of the leafy boughs below.  

The birds, esp. hawks, appreciate that and perch at the very tips.  The bare limbs fall down in the usual high winds, and I hoard them into a pile.  At first I was going to decorate the house with them -- make archways and woven gates, maybe even some kind of free-standing art project.  But then I thought that it would be better not to attract attention in this town.  They don’t like difference.

When the adults criticize anyone, their children listen carefully because they know that if they perpetrate mischief against THOSE people, they won’t be punished.  I nailed up some sort of Iroquois-looking masks high on the trunks of some of the trees, but no one notices them.  People are not observant about subtleties -- only the major things like mown lawns and the state of the streets.  But I’m fifteen years older than when I moved back to the prairie, and now I don’t have the energy and vision for any major projects except writing.

The pile of limbs, some of which are fairly big, made a good jungle gym for the growing feral kittens, as well as a place to dodge hawks.  I figure if I leave the branches uncut into stove billets, they’re less likely to be dragged off, but there are fewer and fewer of the old fringers who used to have wood stoves.  I’m not dependent on wood -- it’s just a backup.  But the day may come.  Both gas and electric infrastructure are aged.  Not just at my house -- the whole grid.  Every now and then it fails for a few hours.  And they just asked for another price hike.

Squibbie claiming the space under the lawn recliner.

There’s only one feral cat left: the Smudge, who is bereft now that the Skeezix is gone.  I hope that little gold-and-white cat is alive.  It was the only kitten I spared when three female ferals had babies at once.  Skeezix was adopted by the Smudge -- one of the three “mothers” -- to be both her baby and her playmate.  They actually had the same mother.  

Smudge and Skeezix stayed in the yard when all the others disappeared.  Now Smudge sleeps alone and the aging indoor “marmot,” Squibbie, resents even that.  When she has the energy, she chases Smudge.  I would like it if the Smudge joined the house cats.  She’s slender and big-eyed, like a sort of striped trout, and comes meowing softly when I call but won’t let me touch her.  If I trapped her, I could not afford to spay her, or even drive to the free-spay clinic.  So she lives like a bird, on her own, “free.”  Except for food I supply.  Like feeding birds, for the pleasure of watching.

The scientific explanation for the severe winter is paradoxically global warming.  The pattern is that the seas along the Pacific coast of Russia are warmer, which thins the ice and even allows it to melt.  The relationship between air and water is one of energy, as expressed in heat, so that air pulls up energy from open water and carries it across the land just as the water carries it in the huge gyres of the sea.  Normally, there is a steady stream of air, a conveyor belt jet stream, that travels west-to-east across North America roughly at the border between the US and Canada.  We can see it in cloud patterns; we feel it when it comes lower to the ground.  In summer it travels farther north and in winter it comes south, both times passing over us here on the East Slope high prairie.

They say that because of the energy picked up over the open Russian waters, the jet stream gets jags in it that poke down towards the equator.  Normally the stream keeps the arctic air on the north pole side, but when one of the bends -- like a shaken rope -- loops over us, the “polar vortex” forms and brings that air down.  Strangely, there is warmer air north of it so that the true arctic at the same time has atypically warm weather.

We know to stay prepared for blizzards, starting in August.  We've already had one.  I discovered that my pickiup had run completely dry of coolant!  No damage that I can detect.  At least I poured in the new supply through the right hatch.  Once I filled the windshield wiper reservoir with anti-freeze.  The oil change man was horrified, but it worked pretty well.  I have two new tires and new windshield wiper blades.  Before we freeze, I need to remember to hose out the back.  

Living in the cab is a big fat spider, or series of spiders.  This time of year she gets serious about killing flies, which is why I like her.  Somehow she survives my infrequent provisioning runs -- sometimes I see her clinging to the side view mirror with all her legs -- and always replaces herself with an egg sac somewhere.  If I forget to go out and roll up the windows at bedtime, she weaves a pretty web across the opening, so I guess she’s an orb spider.  Soon -- maybe now, because I haven’t gone to look -- the stubble fields will have silky coverlets of spider web, meant to ride the wind, carrying babies to colonize unknown worlds.

This time of year (actually most of the times of the year) this house makes funny little noises: creaks and pops.  I don’t investigate much.  There was a micro-mouse in the house, too small to set off a spring trap, so I got some sticky traps and caught the rodent, but the trap wasn’t fastened down -- I haven’t used them before -- so the mini-mouse was rattling around behind the heaviest furniture for a few days until it either died or broke loose.  Squibbie was fascinated but there were four traps and she stepped on one, doing a screaming tarantella until I caught her and ripped it loose.  We’re both feeling the learning curve.

Sun comes in low and further south now, revealing dust and fur wisps as well as the consequences of my popcorn habit.  Usually by the time I quit writing and get the vacuum cleaner, the floor is in shadow and no one comes to visit anyway, so the chore sinks down the to-do list even farther.  Now we’re due for a week of decent warm weather.  Maybe I’ll work on the yard.  Fall is a falling away, but I’m sure what from.  Or to.  I just know to keep going.

American Prairie Reserve

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