While Bears Sleep
Both bears and hermits hibernate in winter. I pretty much go inside in November and come out in April. This year winter came early, died down, and then roared back in the monster storm that swept much of the country. Texas suffered bitterly and there were record temps in rare places. Nobody mentions Montana’s stats because, well, it’s just expected here. Mostly what I heard was, “Thank goodness. We really needed the snow.” But this much?
Kathy Schoendoerfer of the Blackfoot Angler is my go-to person for what’s going on in the hinterland and the river. She reported on February 13th that south of Ovando, next to the Blackfoot River, it was 26 below zero. There were wind weather advisories during that period for wind chill temperatures up to -55 in the valley. She posted a brief video clip of the Blackfoot River beneath a quote from a poem by Lillian Smith. (This is just a still photo from that. Visit her website linked above for more.)
But underneath, change is taking place.
~ Lillian Smith
Bears may be asleep but the town is wide awake! Trixi’s Antler Saloon is fully open now (10 to 8) and has been serving up take-and-bake pizzas on the weekends. I’m not sure that’s continuing but you can check at 406-793-5611.
Colleen at the Stray Bullet is doing her take-out casseroles, clam chowders and other goodies. She usually posts a menu at the beginning of the week on the Stray Bullet Facebook page.
The Blackfoot Store has generously stayed open through thick and thin and it’s thicker with folks these days. It has always been a town hub. A warm space to gather for a cup of coffee and the latest local news, while stocking up on everything from Hutterite chickens to fruits and vegetables and most anything else you might need. This is no small task during the pandemic and winter snows. The Ovando Inn has even stayed busy with hardy visitors.
Montana has certainly been luckier than other places, which have experienced many losses during the pandemic. Sadly, in the UK our old friend Capt. Tom has passed away from Covid at 100. But NOT so sad really. You would have to call his life a COVID success story, walking his 100 laps with his walker in his garden to raise money for healthcare workers during the pandemic. At 98 years old, he could never have expected the turn his life would take or that he would be knighted by the Queen and have a Hurricane and Spitfire fly over for his 100th. In the end, he raised several million pounds. I’m sure he died with a smile on his face! If you missed my earlier notes on him, you can find his story to date here. Capt. Tom Moore passes at 100
Here is a Good News check-in on November’s newborn giant panda at the Washington Zoo, who might better have been named the White Worm during his debut appearance. It’s a wonder his mother could find him. Well he has filled out in these months and looks as a panda cub should.
Just to keep your feet a'tapping, here is an offering from a clog dancing event; folks doing what they love at Hillbilly Dirty Dancing by Scotty Bilz National Clogging Convention 2013.
Now here is a considerable variation on that theme—dirty dancing Chinese style by farmers in their fields, who find a way to overcome Pandemic Depression. Pretty amazing.
Even more amazing was the big sky event this month: the landing of Perseverance on Mars. It is like sending your Honda Civic 293 million miles (471 million kilometers) on a seven month voyage into space at 24,600 miles per hour (39,000 kmph). Then it has to decelerate to 12,500 mph (20,000 kmph)—that’s 15 minutes from London to New York—to begin its descent; then to land almost precisely in just the right zone where the rocky surface won’t bring it to an untimely end. Inside your Honda is the helicopter, Ingenuity, that will make the first space flight on another planet. It weighs less than a bag of sugar and has a 4 foot wing-span. My oh my!
Here is a very neat reconstruction from the Imax documentary "Roving Mars" from 2006. The mission is the same but the latest rover is larger with more technical equipment on board to gather scientific data.
This event brought to mind the first cosmic show in which Mars played a leading role and eyes around the world were on the red planet. You have to remember that for centuries Mars was at the center of popular lore, from myth to science fiction. Ray Bradbury became famous for his Martian Chronicles and Arthur C. Clarke became a household name for novels about Mars. In 1971, the unthinkable was about to happen: an actual space vehicle was about to take off to the actual planet. Stop and think what a shocker that was for Earthlings whose minds had been filled with their own stories and imaginings about the planet. I remember eagerly tuning in with my family to a program that aired on November 12, 1971 called "Mars and the Mind of Man," the day before NASA's Mariner 9 mission reached Mars and became the first spacecraft to orbit another planet. Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan and others were gathered to discuss the implications of Mariner's arrival.
To give you a feel for this momentous event, here is Ray Bradbury reading that evening from a poem he had written in honor of the occasion.
Now here is Arthur C. Clarke, 7 years earlier in 1964, making his own predictions about the future. You will be surprised by his prescience.
Closer to Earth, our February skies 60 years later have had some notable moments of their own. There is the American Airlines pilot who was heard asking an air traffic controller, "Do you have any targets up here? We just had something go right over the top of us. I hate to say this but it looked like a long cylindrical object that almost looked like a cruise missile type of thing moving really fast. It went right over the top of us." American Airlines confirmed the transmission but just said "Go talk to the FBI." Have you ever tried to go talk to the FBI? About a UFO?
A United Airlines pilot had a more serious problem when an engine caught fire and the cowling came off. Miraculously, no one on the ground was hurt by the falling debris.
On the lighter side of events in the Friendly (?) Skies, I found an old video of Bob Newhart's skit as an air traffic controller. Seemed a timely moment to share it.
Now home again, home again to our own time and place in 2021. Another of the positive outcomes of the devastating pandemic is that famous and talented people who have been denied their opportunities to perform for huge audiences in packed venues for sizeable fees are performing for us from their homes for free.
One of those is Mary Chapin Carpenter, whose regular Songs from Home offers a nourishing musical treat. Here is her song for the New Year from her farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This one's for my brother Christopher, who first introduced me to her years back.
Now that we have landed back on terra firma, it is good to be reminded of how astonishingly beautiful we are next to the red, bleak and sandy spaces where Perseverance perseveres. Who better to do this for us than Louie Schwartzberg with his eye and lens for exquisite natural things.
As always, I like to end on a quiet note, so here is another extraordinary musical collage of voices--17,572 singers from 129 countries--gathered virtually under the direction of Eric Whitacre to sing his composition Sing Gently. It opens the heart like a flower.
Happy landings and stay well,