Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The dawning realization that I'm a complete pansy

I've written before of my disdain for the notion that flatlanders don't belong in the mountain west, but I'll say one thing: this place has a learning curve. Dress yourself and your dogs in orange during hunting season, or risk getting mistaken for a deer; be careful which roads you travel in the wintertime, because some are snowbound and isolated; be careful with fire in the summer, or you'll start one that destroys hundreds of acres.

Sometimes you learn through advice, other times you attend the school of hard knocks. On the Monday night before Thanksgiving, we were returning from Kalispell where we'd gone to purchase paint for the dining room. I was working on the laptop when we hit a patch of black ice, lost control of the vehicle, and went off the road into a ravine. The truck flipped and we landed, upright, straddling a creek.


Naturally, every time we have to drive in iffy conditions these days, we're a little rattled. And it seems like every time we drive anywhere, we're in iffy conditions.

"I feel like Wile E Coyote every time we get in the car," I remarked to Mr. T as we headed back to Oregon Monday in a snowstorm. But native Montanans and Idahoans seemed oblivious to the snow accumulating rapidly on the roadway. Trucks doing 75 or 80 miles per hour regularly zipped past us in the left lane. Weary and annoyed, we finally stopped at a gas station in Bonners Ferry, Idaho to check the forecast and see how long the snow was expected to last, and how much area the storm covered. Mr. T went in to chat with the attendant.

"Excuse me, do know what the forecast is?" he asked politely. The attendant looked up, peered out the window, and addressed Mr. T. "It's snowing," she observed astutely.

Mr. T blinked. "I understand that," he replied. "What I'd like to know is what it'll be doing later on."

"I expect it'll be cold for the rest of the day," she offered without a hint of levity and looked back down again.

"I'm not asking anymore," protested Mr. T as he flopped down in the driver's seat and started the car.

Back on the road, after the jillionth car zinged past us at an impossibly high speed in the near whiteout conditions, I finally discerned the cultural disconnect: To these folks, snowstorms were the norm, the usual, nothing out of the main. To me, it [used to be, anyway] an event preceded and succeeded by decent weather. But in Montana in January, it's the decent weather that's the event.

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