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A Montana Morning


Note: I love to visit my mom at her magical, mountain mansion in Red Lodge, Montana, aka Fox Hall. This is a piece I wrote once, while staying there. 

I wake up this morning when my body tells me. Sometimes I sleep through the night here, when no twisted visions or creepy noises move me from my pillow. When I do sleep soundly, the minute my eyes open and take in the vast landscape though the window by the bed, my body feels an immediate urge to rise and begin doing. Perhaps it’s less the steady hours I’ve slept and more the calling of the open fields that enflame my body’s ambition, but nevertheless there will be no sleeping in.

I rise and step out into the chill of this building. I want to light a fire, but will postpone that until I’ve accomplished a few things, so that I might enjoy a few more minutes of solitary and silence before the spitting new warmth wakes the rest of the house. Gently I walk to the toilet room hoping I won’t have to straddle the giant foil snake my mother uses to vent the automatic dryer. ‘I noticed this funky smell on all the clothes around here and figured that moisture was accumulating in the vents, and this is just a temporary fix until Will gets around to fixing it.’ Okay, ma, but how are we supposed to relieve ourselves in the meantime? ‘Just close the kitchen door, nobody will come in.’ I know nobody will walk down this hallway at a quarter to eight in the morning, but it’s still a relief that the tube of inconvenience is not stretched across the hall when I get to the lavatory.

After I wash my hands in the icy mountain water, brush my stale teeth, and wash yesterday’s mascara from my face, I stroll to the kitchen to make certain I’m the only woken body in the house. Dinner’s leftovers, empty beer bottles, and an inch of cold coffee in the pot assure me I’m the first to the scene. I figure I could tidy it a bit and brew some fresh black stuff before I build a fire so I walk back to the bedroom to wrap myself in warmer clothing. I fix myself with a pair of smart wool socks that feel like my feet have sprouted fleece and surprisingly my thin layers of California winter-wear are sufficient in keeping the Montana chill off my arms and chest.

Back in the kitchen a plan of action unfolds itself. I have a habit of taking a minute or two to figure in which order I should accomplish my chores to make the most out of the time I have. Efficiency is something I highly prize, to a fault, for it often exacerbates my existing procrastinatory affliction. First I’ll engage the coffee pot after which I will consume a small bowl of cereal, for which the inclusion of MSG will make me feel guilty about consuming. Next I will empty the dishwasher, which I’ll complete just in time to pour myself a cup of the black stuff. After a few sips I’ll attack the leftovers and dirty dishes, which will then only leave the counters to be wiped and a fire to be started in the room over. All goes according to plan except that I pour my coffee before emptying the contents of the dishwasher and when I read the ingredients list on the cereal box I find there is no MSG and I pour myself a second helping in celebration. As I attend to the dishes that need hand-washing my eyes search out the window above the sink to the field in front of the house. The sky is white outside; it might snow, which in September is such an odd possibility for me. The red barn sits out there in the property across the street as brilliant and nostalgic as it was the first morning I gazed at it through that window. A swallow swoops down in front of the window at a speed that almost eludes my view, and my mind steps back to when there was a great herd of black cows sharing the pasture with the red barn.

That first month I spent in this house, those cows seemed magical. Every morning I would take my cup of muddy water across the dirt road and stand as near to the fence as I could without wetting my pajama legs in the ditch. I always wished I could get closer but the idea of climbing through the fence of cattails was slightly impossible. So it was that the cows and I would converse over a distance of a few untraversable feet, I looking foolish for the mooing that bellowed from deep in my throat, they looking foolish for being ambitionless cows who answered me for absolutely no other reason than when one thing moos the only response they know is to moo back. Here I learned to appreciate the heavy beauty of them. A black cow is so black that she blends into the shadows of the forest and splatters the yellow greens of the field. Her coat shines in all places but where nature or captivity has muddied her. Her nose is giant like a fist, velvety and wet, and looks like a great piece of onyx shined in a riverbed. Her eyes look straight at you, perplexed but not, content in knowing she doesn’t know you; and lashes that look as though they’ve been greatly magnified flap at flies and accidentally flirt with your stare. Her body is obvious, a hunk of meat under a heavy coat, and suddenly, but briefly, I feel slightly ashamed for my excitement in consuming her kin.

These beasts disappeared after that first summer, and reappeared a couple summers later, but now it’s cold and they’ve been moved, I wish I could say to greener pastures but pastures are mostly not green at this time of year, and I’m guessing they might now be in a pasture that takes a more bloody hue. I think of dinner last night and the night before and the night before that. Plates piled high in delicious flesh, I ponder the irony in flattering the animal’s visage while my mouth waters at the grill.

I’ve already stoked the fire a number of times by now and have spent plenty meditative minutes transfixed by the glow of the embers, rippling in orange. This must be what parts of the sun look like, magnificent. The warmth from the big black box has spread to the whole of the house, except perhaps the kitchen, and it now begins to threaten my comfort indoors. At this point, it seems time to throw on my jeans and red boots with an accompanying sweater, and head out into the crisp chill of the late mountain morning to work the horses in the round pen. Snuggling with my pups, divulging into my laptop, and chattering with my new family, today has begun with a simple and sweet morning and I’m happy to continue it.

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