When it's 25 below and dropping

  • Selling a car is harder than ever in Bozeman this winter

    Tom Pascale
 

I was playing poker the other day with a bunch of guys, mostly middle-aged and older, mostly native Montanans like myself. Every so often somebody would put on an extra coat, go outside and start the car, come back to play a few hands, then bundle up and turn the engine off. Nobody found this unusual. The temperature here in Livingston, Mont., was somewhere around 25 below zero and the wind was knocking the wind-chill factor down to about 50 below. This had been going on for a few days, and it made sense to keep your engine warm. The last thing anybody wanted was to be stuck in a poker game until a chinook blew in. God forbid.

Understandably, the weather was a topic of conversation that day. Montana hasn't had a winter like this one in a long time. Snowpack is twice normal in many places, and roofs in the Flathead Valley are collapsing under the weight of it all. In Yellowstone Park, trucks hauling bison to slaughterhouses wouldn't start. Moose have moved to Butte, the world's largest Superfund site, and elk are living among the strip malls of Bozeman. Somebody's trailer house slipped off the road and has been upside down out by the frontage road for about six weeks now.

Earlier that morning, a friend of mine had ventured into the back yard after his unruly beast buried one of his possessions in the snow. The dog wore fur. My friend had only a housecoat and slippers. "My legs felt like I'd stepped in boiling water," he said.

The card-room sages discussed these things and agreed that a bad winter is a good thing; it should help ease toward the border the tire-kickers and dilettantes, the ones clotting up the river in the summer and forcing attendance at things like zoning commission meetings in the winter.

Not that we hadn't all seen worse winters, we agreed.

I recall the winter I was in the eighth grade and started chewing snoose. On the way to school, I would spit and listen for a faint snap as the gob froze before it hit the ground, and watch it bounce when it landed.

There were stories about tire chains and frozen pipes, pulling ice plugs from a cow's nose and the time a Cadillac's leather seat shattered just because somebody sat on it.

In those days - back in the '60s and '70s - newcomers were individuals instead of a category, and they were a welcome diversion, mostly. Winter entertainment was hard to find then.

A friend from the prairies remembers chamber of commerce types in her hometown who filled a barrel with sand every winter, painted it orange and rolled it onto the Poplar River. They took bets on when it would sink beneath the ice and how far downriver it would go before it dropped. It gave people something to talk about, she recalls.

But when a guy started shooting his assault rifle in Cooke City a couple of winters ago, he actually got arrested. A few years back, somebody would have just hog-tied him until he sobered up.

I think most people find bad winters easier to survive these days, if you're not a cow or a bison or a rancher, and that makes us a little less tolerant of those who can't take it. The Internet lets you play Scrabble with people in Australia, and satellite TV brings things like Humphrey Bogart film festivals, which can help a lot when the cabin fever starts to simmer. Polar fleece helps, too.

People here eat a lot better than they used to, as well. I never saw a kiwi or an avocado until I was 20 years old. Portabello mushrooms? Give me a break. Prosciutto? Feta cheese? Ha!

So I'm not too optimistic about a hard winter - or even two or three in a row - thinning out the silly people, the ones who build in aspen groves where the snow piles up deep, who think four-wheel drive means they can't get stuck. And the serious dilettantes, the ones with the million-dollar cabins in the elk calving grounds, don't spend much time here in the winter anyway.

As for me, I'm going to stick with my longtime winter strategy: put on a prophylactic layer of fat and cook big meals for my friends. Good company makes winter a little easier for everybody. And, it'll make it harder for them to say no when my car needs a jump start, so I can get to the zoning commission meeting.

Scott McMillion works for the Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST
    Idaho Walk Bike Alliance seeks a lover of bicycling, walking, and all modes of active transportation who willingly puts the car in the garage and...
  • COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Friends of Inyo - the Communications Director is a full-time permanent position that reports to the Executive Director and utilizes communication strategies and production skills...
  • INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS EDITOR
    High Country News seeks an editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk. This individual will lead a team of passionate journalists...
  • HIKING TO THE EDGE:
    Confronting Cancer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Poetry and photos on survival thinking. E-book and paperback available at Amazon.com.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • IPLC RIGHTS AND EQUITY PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    A LITTLE ABOUT US Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FUTURE WEST
    Future West seeks an executive director to lead this dynamic organization into the future. Based in Bozeman, MT this well-respected nonprofit provides communities in the...
  • PART-TIME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mitchell Museum of the American Indian Location: Evanston, IL Salary Range: $45,000 @ 24 hours per week. send resume: [email protected] www.mitchellmuseum.org
  • COMMUNICATIONS LEAD
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR
    Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska has been doing work you can believe in protecting the lands and waters that all life depends on....
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill the position of Assistant Director in the Outdoor Program. To view the complete position description, including minimum qualifications required,...
  • PUBLIC LANDS DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a dedicated advocate for conservation and public lands Public Lands Director a "make a difference" position Conserve Southwest...
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    The Vice President for Landscape Conservation leads Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing on four program areas: federal public lands management; private lands...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.