01.13.16 It didn’t help that David Bowie died, just days after his birthday, which is the same year as mine. Watching his video of “Lazarus” was enough to send me under my covers until March, maybe April. The endless gray and dirty crusty snow of January can give anyone a case of the willies. I escaped to sunny, cold Helena for the week-end to be with the grandkids while Joy attended a conference. We crunched across the downtown snow to tour the magnificent Helena Cathedral. Bright sunshine illuminated the gorgeous stained glass windows and lit up the gilded architecture. I took abstract photos of the sunlight swirling in the blue waters of the indoor swimming pool they played in for hours and hours. It was a lovely get-away.
Within an hour of my drive back home, I was in one of my favorite places in Montana, the Ovando Valley, and the clouds of Western Montana had already enveloped me. Many times, I won’t see a single truck or car along this 34 mile long road, which is a connecting segment between rural highways that keep taking me further and further west and north. I’ve seen a grizzly bear and have had to wait beside the road while cowboys on horses move their cattle. I’ve seen tundra swans and pelicans at the reservoir and there have been times I could barely see the road because of snow whipping across the surface. Once, nearly ten years ago, Valerie and I pulled over at the entrance to the little cemetery so she could nurse baby Norah on our trip to Billings to see the cousins. There were times, in the early years I moved to Montana, in which I cried during this entire stretch of the journey, either to home or away from home, trying to find home. It’s lonely here. There are abandoned farm houses and barns and remnants of fencing, and there’s no cell service or radio signals. I used to worry about getting a flat tire.
I wish I’d kept a journal to record how many times I’ve traveled across this valley, in various vehicles. The road is paved with twenty-some years of my life and its memories of joy and sadness, excitement and dread. When the road dead-ends into a hillside at Hwy 200, there are two loud rumble strips to warn the driver of the intersection. I’ll join more cars on the next road, and pass the place where there was a highway accident one Thanksgiving, and the snow was littered with children’s toys.
It’s raining this morning, puddling on the dirty crusty snow, as we inch towards the mid-point of January. Billy Collins describes my feelings so well in his poem, “The Willies”.
But the willies are another matter.
Anything can give them to you:
electric chairs, raw meat, manta rays,
public restrooms, a footprint,
and every case of the willies
is a bad one.
Some days flow with them, ride them out,
but this is useless advice
once you are in their grip.
There is no way to get on top
of the willies. Valium
is ineffective. Hospitals
are not the answer.
and emitting thin, evenly spaced
waves of irony
but don’t expect miracles:
the willies are the willies.