Uncommon Ground

Weird Winter

Some snow is welcome while we wait for a long, wet spring and cooler summer

By Mike Jopek

I didn’t make a New Year’s resolutions. Probably should have. Maybe next year, I tell myself. This year seems full and it’s only just begun. Hopefully the surprises of time are kind and there’s room for the joys of friendship.

I drove to Kalispell a couple times last week to buy stuff from several of the national box stores that have overrun the northern strip of town. I tried the local stores first, but they just didn’t stock the specialty item I sought and I’d convinced myself that I needed to do the home-repair project now.

The highways were busy, alive with the new year activity. Hard to tell where everyone is always going. Back on the farm the sound of the highway echoes louder each passing year. On this morning, the ponderosas along the highway were coated white with hoarfrost. It’s been like this for a couple weeks at the farm.

The early morning dew that’s enveloped the valley over the past week congregated on trees and froze in the cold morning. Back on the farm some of the frozen crystals were half inch plus. It’s magical looking. Odd. A Seattle-feeling mist froze the valley.

The weather man did predict a warmer winter, blamed it on ocean cycles. I haven’t missed the chore of snow plowing or shoveling. Maybe the moisture is still in route, falling as spring rains or late winter slush.

There’s a concerning lack of moisture on the ground at the farm and overlooking mountains. Maybe we’ll get the late winter snow of some years. The traditional cycles of the seasons seem off. If 2023 was any indication, we should expect the unexpected from weather. Those ghastly climate predictions arrived.

I’m hoping for a calm year. One that offers few surprises on how local weather or state legislators behave. Both were plenty mean last year. We can’t count on either much anymore. Sad really, some change is needed bigtime.

The weather seems uncontrollable. But with state politicians, we could elect kinder people to run the Legislature in Montana. Sending the same boneheads back to Helena, year after year, only increased homeowner property taxes to historic levels and tragically dumped thousands of local Flathead kids off their public health insurance.

2024 should bring change. I hope that change proves kind to you, your family, loved ones, and the neighbors. We could use more kindness. You know it if you’ve lived Montana over the past few years. The last years proved exhaustingly tough on people, on local families and workers.

2023 was too expensive in Montana. Gas might be under $3 a gallon again but the combined rent, car and home insurance, and property taxes remain out of balance with local wages or retirements.

The drive home from the box stores was quicker. The morning dew, that earlier froze onto the roads, was worn off by thousands of moving tires as drivers had places to go. The traffic moved quicker than just hours earlier and much faster than Montanans drove this same highway a few years back.

No matter how the valley changes, we still call it home. It’s our place to live. It’s where we work and raise families. It’s a part of who we are and how we act.

This year I’m hoping to visit more of the many places the valley offers locals like those lakes, trails, rivers, mountains, and open lands. Places in the north valley like the public lands of Smith Lake or 60 miles south at West Shore on Flathead Lake.

Welcome to the new year, friends. They say last year was the hottest recorded in a hundred plus years. Some snow is welcome while we wait for a long, wet spring and cooler summer.