Whatever. For the past week and a half, Missoula has experienced on-again, off-again Arctic conditions, thanks to an easterly wind off the cold Montana prairie, funnelled through Hellgate Canyon. Night temps have been consistently below zero, with wind chills down to minus 30 or 40 dF.
All fine and dandy if one lives and works cozily indoors (ahem, Bill). But when you have to get up at oh-dark-thirty to be on the road before 6 A.M., with over two hours before the sun comes up, to these aging bones it feels like Dante's sixth circle of hell. Which is to say, not as bad as my growing-up winters on the northern prairie itself, but close enough.
Paradoxically, in one regard the extreme cold makes driving safer. With the passage of car traffic, roads are less likely to turn to ice or slush. Rather, they remain mostly packed snow, making driving more predictable. This part can become fun, as one can drift into a controlled skid around corners (at safe speeds, of course), or plow through a modest snow drift if your vehicle is large enough. Which mine is.
And I have to admit that once cold is controlled for with warm layers of clothing, I find the beauty of valleys and mountainsides clad in white to be far preferable to the drabber tans of summer. Now, if only we could get these Other Drivers off the road (the ones who insist on driving at a snail's pace on roads where it is perfectly safe to go the speed limit -- hey morons, get a clue, this is Montana, learn to drive or park it!!) ... oh well. I grew up here, many of the crawlers didn't, I suppose. I remember coming home for my first Christmas home from college, car-pooling with other WSU Montanans in an old '54 Ford with aging street tires, crossing Rogers Pass and laughing as we outpaced (again, at safe speeds) cars and trucks equipped with chains. It's all about technique, and respect for the true limits of the environment.
And I have to brag a little here. At WSU (Washington State), friends and friends of friends would often seek me out in winter, when their vehicles became stuck in the snow, or they ran off the road into a ditch. I was pretty handy at getting them out. It didn't hurt that it was I behind the wheel, and they who were pushing at my command at the right moment. Let'm sweat.
So, this winter will be real, unlike last year. Not as much snowfall as in the Pacific Northwest or near the Great Lakes, but that's okay. So long as my truck's battery holds out, I'm in fat city.
[Note: in deference to a dear friend's request, I am experimenting with actually using capital letters, in contrast to my usual e.e. cummings approach. Jeanne, I hope you've noticed.]
Cheers, everyone. Only a month until inauguration day, and the beginning of better times for all.