“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.” -John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley
It’s been especially cold in the Bitterroot Valley this week. The air is fat with moisture, and below-freezing temperatures are typical. Still, there is clarity in the cold, standing at the center of the Valley’s balding head. The crown of mountains rolling up and down across the horizon like changing statistics are garnished with snow and the torn fabric of clouds. The trees carry tufts of it, the fields and sleepy barns hold sheets of it stretched thin into ice, and the sky lets down more, flake by perfect, God’s-eye flake.
In the middle of the ring of mountains, I stand surrounded by the monumental totality, the jagged white-purple strips draped below a hazy, bitter blue sky, like skin left out in the cold too long. My nose hairs freeze as I breathe in and look at the sunlit snowscape, a territory lost in cold dreams of something to bloom later, something better to come, something beautiful in the future. I find beauty in the waiting, or try to. The snow is a fixation for me. This frigid terrarium of agriculture and forestry is astounding.
Maybe there really is such a thing as timelessness. Maybe there’s a way to stop time, step out of it like out of a beater truck, and frame time within electrical confines. Keep it forever, or send the past into the future untarnished by change. But the snow will melt, and something gorgeous will replace it. Trees will philosophize, flowers will converse, and a listlessness of birdsong will fill the air.
I pull my camera from my bag, take my gloves off, and take a picture of the landscape. The snow is so lovely, and it melts so quickly when touched, so I try to hold it in another way. I can hardly use my fingers when I lower the camera. I didn’t notice how numb they’d gotten in the photographic thrill of momentlessness.
All photos copyrighted material of Lost Compass Photography, 2016. Donations, or else get-well-financially cards, are always welcome.
Have always loved that quotation by John Steinbeck. Your story reinforces the feeling it evokes so beautifully. Thank you.
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I’m glad you enjoyed it! It’s good to be in the state for a bit!
As always, this is some beautiful writing and photography, you mysterious JK figure, but I am confused who this Charley character is, and why he only appears once? What is going on here?
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As always, I thank you, Anonymous, for your compliments. I’m sure that you, Anonymous, must be busy battling evil on the Internet, and I always appreciate the time you take to read my posts. Regarding Charley, I contacted John Steinbeck’s estate to figure out if Charley was still around, and it turns out he’s been busy writing a tell-all memoir about his travels with John Steinbeck, entitled Travels with Steinbark. As it turns out, Charley was not only Steinbeck’s dog, but also his ghost writer, and the bulk of Steinbeck’s work was actually written by his dog. Steinbeck himself spent most of his time putting beer into various milk-based diner beverages. In any case, I’ve organized an interview with Charley, and will have a thorough review of his memoir out come April, because it takes a very long time to decipher the prose of a dog pounding his paws onto a typewriter.