We are approaching the end of a year of challenges we never imagine. Some of what happened this year was under our control, but other things were clearly out of our control. COVID insured that everyone had things happen this year that were not included in their plans. This year we often were asked to stay home when possible and practice “social distancing” when we could not. It was the year of the pandemic which will be the cornerstone of so many memories regarding 2020. For me this resulted in 2020 being the year of the walk.
We live in rural Montana which gave us lots of advantages over those who live in more urban settings when we were asked to avoid close interactions. I imagine lots of people became stir crazy and suffered cabin fever trying to be safe and smart. We had some of that as well. Even the best introvert needs some time with others, or at least not just those folks who are in the same household.
Our first “stay home orders” came in March in Montana. Spring was coming early this year so we were able to bundle up and get out into the sunshine for our first late winter walks. Late spring and early summer brought some relaxing of the Montana standards for COVID protection. We followed what we felt was the science and kept our distance and avoided indoor venues when we could. We became walking crazies. We walked everyday, sometimes twice a day and rarely but it was not unheard of to walk three times a day. We were blessed and fortunate that we could walk out our front door and be assured we would not see another person. If we chose to go somewhere different it too was just a few miles from home with different scenery but no greater risk of running into some one.
Walking outside gave us Vitamin D which I am sure improved not just our bones but also our mood. We were more acutely aware of the changing of the season this year as well. We watched the days lengthen and late evening walks become possible. We felt the warm of the sun intensify as it rose further overhead.
When our first snow came in September we were reminded that we needed to prepare for winter to be more of the same isolation and distancing. The sun no longer warmed us to our core. The sunset was done and dusk set in by 5pm. It was then I talked to RangerSir about our plans for winter.
Our treadmill had died in early 2020 and we had planned on not replacing it until we got to our retirement destination. We like thousands of others put in an order early fall for a new treadmill. It arrived 45 days later just as promised. I’ll admit a treadmill isn’t like walking outside, but it isn’t Montana stinking cold nor is the wind cutting through your outerwear trying to free unnamed parts off. I still get out and take quick little walks outside, but my treadmill is a godsent for me. It allows me to keep active by eliminating the excuse of weather.
So 2020 will be remember for many things for all of us. In some way COVID impacted it all, but I am not going to let it define the year. One of the things 2020 was for me, it was for me was the year of the walk.
Today I looked out the window and saw my first bluebird. Before I could pull out my phone and snap a picture he was gone. Disappointed that I missed the photo-op, but thrilled with the sign that the weather is changing. It is a sign that spring in Montana is starting. I am very much ready this year.
This last month in at our home in Montana we have been hit by more spring snow storms than usual. While we sit in what is usually a valley that is most often missed for most precipitation, this year every time the weather forecast said there was a winter advisory or watch that called for snow we got the maximum amount forecasted and a few extra inches for good measure. We were getting snow at least once a week all of February and so far into March. Now mind you, the snow we were getting was nothing like the Nor’Easter that the folks on the east coast have been getting hammered with, but if you live in a high plains semiarid desert like we do, this much snow is very remarkable.
The late-season snow cycle this year has also had a remarkable impact on our road. We usually have a few problems navigating our road as the frost works its way out of the ground lasting less than a week. This year we have had what can only be called as mud bogs on our road. Each morning when the ground is still frozen it is very easily driven on. By the afternoon when the snow melts, only a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle will allow you to get the last 3/4 of a mile from the frontage road to our house. This has been going on nearly a month and so far there is no end in sight. For me, it has meant that that RangerSir has been taking the truck to work and the commuter car has been sitting in the garage. You can read into that statement that I have been unable to leave home during the week to take care of things in town. I like being alone and don’t generally mind the isolation of living in the country, but when you can NOT leave home it gets a little crazy. We have been attached by the truck/ hip each weekend. You will find RangerSir and I in town doing the weekly chores, that I usually try to get taken care of during the week to allow some fun time on Saturday and Sunday. It has added to the aggravation of the back to back snow storms.
So I know that it is only March and it can and will snow again in April and May, but I am ready for the snow falls to be farther apart and the amount less each time. I know this is Montana and what I signed up for moving here, but a girl can be thrilled by the sight of her first bluebird and all that it means. Welcome spring.
It is still winter in Montana and will be at our house for months to come. We have had some serious early thaws recently as we will here every year about this time. Today it had melted enough of the snow away that it was a perfect day to open the chicken run and let the ladies out today for some free-range time.
Though it doesn’t look like much the chickens were out there eating the shoots of new grass that the melted snow provided. My chickens can be an industriousness bunch when it comes to good fresh food after the snow hiding “good eats” and being on commercial chow for a few months.
Let’s hold onto the memory of this day with sunshine and blue skies as we enter a week that is suppose to be full of show again. The snow is happening less frequently and days like this are happening more often. There is hope for spring, no matter how far away.
Working outside the home and commuting daily allows a person to notice when the days get longer and shorter. There is a consistent time piece of our daily routine when we walk out the door, get on the highway, catch the commuter bus or train by which we are able to measure our days. We noticed day and night relative to that constant migration daily to work and home again.
I feel like I have been living in constant darkness lately. Each day I left home in the dark of night with the stars overhead heading to town and came home in the same darkness. If I was going to get some sunshine it had to be during my lunch hour. This first week of January we had vicious cold snap of subzero temperatures. One day we got all the way down to -30 at our house, and that was before we factored in the wind. I was down right miserable in the cold and darkness. Yet by the end of the week, even with the nasty freezing temps, I had found hope. I was driving home as the sun was setting. In Montana twilight lasts forever, so suddenly I was driving home in the last vests of daylight. The days were still cold, but the afternoon light was giving me hope and encouragement. The hint of days getting longer has gave me optimism and hope that no matter how cold the days were yet to come and no matter how long the nights, spring though months away is slowing making its way to my neck of the woods.
This week we were out and about taking photos for a retirement journal RangerSir has asked me to make for one his employees. Our daytime adventures took us to some of our favorite places in our neck of the Montana. One of those places was an out of the way place on the Wise River. Once we got there I just had to get my feet wet. The river was low as it often is this time of the year. Even though it was low the water was cold, a true mountain river. It made it easy to imagine walking out into the river because there was a log on that someone had placed in the middle of the river. RangerSir was not interested in getting his feet wet so this was a solo adventure for me. My destination was to sit on the log, enjoy the water and sunshine.
I could have laid there for hours listening to the sounds and relaxing. Too bad it is a couple of hours from our house.
I laid out there quite awhile until RangerSir and Zip reminded me we had other places to visit before the day was out and the sun would set. I was totally relaxed listening to the water, the wind and the sounds of nature. I could smell the resins of the evergreens heating up in the afternoon sun. It was a little bit of paradise.
Once I had gotten back in the truck and and we were headed on to the next place we wanted to photograph I realized I think I am more water than mountain. I suppose that is easy to say since I have a mountain front and center in my picture window, and no water near by. As a kid I spent my summers on the lake with my grandparents and spent years living in the land of 10,000 lakes. Until I moved to Montana I was always walking distance to a lake or river. Now as we start to think about where we might move to next, I think water trumps mountain. Not 100% sure but something to think about when picking our destination. Water or mountain? Mountain or water?
Today we were under a red flag warning. What that means is that conditions are right that a wildland fire if started could go wild and easily grow. Today the air is super dry, my phone says the humidity is 13% and the winds are blowing a steady 21 mph in town. The temperature here at the house is 84 degrees in the shade and the winds here are surely as strong as they are in town. Yes I am from the Midwest and know that 84 isn’t hot at all, but at our place in Montana it is darn hot.
We are starting to enter fire season around here. The Red Flag warning is a sign of the coming of the end of summer. Our grasses are all cured and getting drier by the day. The hottest days of the year should be just around the corner. I can’t remember the last time we had any moisture, but we have dry lightening at least a couple times a week. That is how many of the local wildland fires start. RangerSir had spent the last week trimming down grasses around the house and outbuildings because it is the time of the year you do that type of thing if you live here. We had a large grass fire between our house and town last week. If something gets started out here it should burn hot and fast through our property, but we should be ok. There is always the factor of what are the odds of should really means. So you do all that you can do to improve your odds.
I went out today to try and photograph rooster boy thinking I would get some good photos and would blog about the chickens. The weather was not cooperating. He is a handsome blue rooster, instead here with the wind at his back he looks like he is having a terrible hair day. Oh well what is a little wind now that we are in fire season.
Each morning I am now out the door no later than 5:30 to get my morning walk in on the weekdays, before I start the rest of my morning routine to get out the door daily to commute to work. I wish I could take each of you with me on my walk. Not to experience the cold or the see overcast skies we had this week that prevented seeing a sunrise every day this week. Instead I would want to share with you the the sounds of nature waking up. The sound of a meadowlark announcing the morning. It is something I adore, though had never heard before coming to Montana. This year for the first time we have sandhill cranes nesting in the area. Each morning I hear eerily strange sound of cranes. I hope that this is the first of many years for them to be near by. There are the sounds of the robin family and the bluebirds letting the world know they too are awake. There are more than the sounds of birds I am familiar with. There are many birds waking up and calling that I can not identify their song, but I have become familiar with the sound they make as they wake up. It is an amazing peaceful, but energizing way to start your day.