Outside the window of our downtown Beacon office, it currently looks like the penguin scene from Planet Earth. I’m waiting for David Attenborough’s voice to come booming from the heavens: “They live like this nearly year round, these Montanans, physically ill-equipped for such conditions with their vulnerable human skin, yet logistically prepared for the worst with their large food stashes at nearby hoarding grounds such as Super One.” Ah yes, summer snows in Montana. They happen frequently, but they never cease to amaze us. Not to mention, today’s heavy dump is impressive even for the Big Sky state.
I feel I have no choice. I have to write about the weather. Everywhere I go people point out that it’s snowing, even when we’re both standing in the snow. Then, inevitably, they make me aware of the season: “It’s summer,” they say. I say, “I know.” Weather is always a good conversation starter, or saver, when good topics seem scarce. Such interaction is part of our culture, especially in rural areas.
But in Montana in instances like today, it’s not small talk – people talk with genuine disgust, concern or wide-eyed intrigue. They say mixed things like, “I’m moving” or, “This is why I love Montana.”
Years ago I was standing at the Livingston fairgrounds at dusk waiting for the rodeo to begin on Fourth of July when a snowflake landed on my nose. Within two minutes the sky opened up into a full-fledged snowstorm, with flakes immediately melting on the warm ground. That summer a friend from Florida was staying with me, his first extended stint in Montana.
There were a couple of summer snows during his stay, including the Fourth of July dusting, which surely seemed like the imminent apocalypse to him. When the first snow began he gazed forlornly out the window and wondered if all the good in the world had just ended. He still lives in Montana and is probably slated to do field work today for his archaeology job near Helena.
Though I don’t think the weather is as bad in Helena as it is here in the Flathead, I’m sure he could handle it now even if it was. Montana does that to people. We come to expect summer blizzards. But that doesn’t stop us from staring in wide-eyed wonder each time it happens. Nearly every conversation I have today will involve weather and that’s fine with me. I’ll say, “It’s snowing…and it’s summer.” They’ll look at me and then up at the snowy sky and say, “We know.”
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