Winter in Montana
Copyright 2012 by
“The lamp is burnin' low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still in the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you
The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon each page
The words of love you sent me”
“‘Song For A Winter’s Night” – Gordon Lightfoot
When I finished the last thought, the last line, that final finishing touch to my story, I knew I’d nailed it. I even typed out those two favorite words, the delicious six letters no writer has ever failed to embrace: ‘THE END’, with more of a flourish than normal, snapping my wrist down on the D, the keyboard emitting a comforting snap.
I sat back with satisfaction, arrogance even, and poured a short glass of good Scotch whisky, neat, and watched peacefully and placidly out of my 2nd floor window as the silent shroud of snow fell. Frozen water never looked so inviting.
The comfort I got from falling snow always, oddly, warmed me. I loved to dash through the snowy fields with my hounds, bundled up in layers of down clothing, my legs churning awkwardly through the two foot drifts, enjoying the enervation of two degree air as it seared my lungs, somehow giving me life.
Yet, at this moment in my warm cabin office a fatuous, well-deserved peace of mind settled in. Chilly runs through the snow could wait. Every writer should deign to indulge himself in this fashion upon completion of a project. It was hardly ostentatious, merely a subtle, even smug recognition of a job well done. It was as much a part of the process as any other aspect, I felt.
Then I thought of Alyssa and her look of appreciation when I would tell her I had finished something. When I would come to her and embrace her without comment. She knew intrinsically I was crawling from one refuge, the written word, to another, her arms.
She even acknowledged this in her farewell letter.
These days, whenever I reach that point of elation, when I know I have written well, the sensation is often muted by her absence. My life, in fact, is muted by her absence.
We’d impulsively moved to Montana from Northern California 16 months ago, two writers yet to become known other than to each other. She’d anticipated poorly the cultural and climate change that we would need to succumb to. Montana and the San Francisco Bay Area had about as much in common as Winston Churchill and Carrot Top. I’d been down that road of major transition before and tried to help her adjust, but to no avail. Then I began to sell stories, received a book deal, and her inherent insecurity, both as a woman and a writer, began to overwhelm her. I hated that any success I was having was detracting from her quality of life, even if she claimed adamantly that it was not doing so. I felt at least partly responsible for her unhappiness. Our impulsive move was not well thought-out and it showed. Had I been unable to find my muse in Montana, I may have gone stir crazy right along with her.
Her inability to write, initially, did not impact our love to any significant degree. I was able to convince her that having her in my life was more important than either one of us succeeding at writing. This assuaged, somewhat, her sinking self-image and we appeared to have righted the ship. Then, as November appeared, we experienced our first Montana winter. Until you do so, you can’t imagine how extreme it can be, especially when compared to the lovely temperate climate of the Bay Area. Unable to write effectively, she basically went crazy, finally deciding on New Year’s Eve that she needed to go back home to San Francisco. She cloaked some of her fear in the noble assessment that her neurotic behavior was detracting from my writing, but she was quite simply a starving fish out of water in the stark sheer, harshness of a Montana winter.
The most eloquent thing she wrote in her four months in this desolate yet achingly beautiful state was her letter to me on that New Year’s Eve.
I must leave. It is with a still full heart that I make this painful decision. I love you as much as ever, probably more, yet I can no longer seem to love myself. This is not good. A writer must write. This writer must leave you so that you may do so. For you, the new year will probably help define this fundamental change in our life, but for me, come what may. Do not despair. I will always love you. The need to re-discover myself has become paramount. When I came here with you this year, all I wanted was to write and to be with you. Apparently, I needed both to do both to be happy.
I will not want to see snow, or buffalo, for a long time. Maybe never.
But I will want to see you again. I’ll miss holding you after you finish a story. I never felt closer to you than at those times.
Lovingly and always, Alyssa
Now it is that awkward stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas, where here in northern Montana, the snow is relentless, the wind cuts to the very marrow of anybody silly enough to venture out into it, and the temperature only occasionally reaches low double figures. Most hearty denizens, lifelong Montanans, relax in their cabins sprawled before enormous hearths, comforted in the knowledge they have chopped and stacked enough firewood during the fall, stored under the roof of the open-air lean-to and then covered securely with a tarp, to get through the hoariest of Montana winters. A fire place was like a womb to a Montanan. It gave ‘life’ in every sense of the word. Succor.
I’d written in locales all over the world, and there was something good to be said about every one of them, even the searing tropics of Key West. But now, as I lit the accompanying cigar to go with the single malt scotch, a sense of satisfaction enveloped me like no other. Staring into the roaring fireplace now, I realized these reflective moments were why I always wanted to be a writer. That feeling of completion, of knowing I got it right, of acknowledging the now suddenly blank canvas that stands before me, unchallenging, whispering, “Where is the next one?”. It was a figurative act of turning the page, again an integral part of the writing process. The transition from one project the next. The resulting sense of satisfaction when completing a story or book was often the single most appealing aspect of being a writer.
All of this is now, of course, less so.
I could begin to create anew, or not. The canvas was not going anywhere. It could and would wait. It was up to me when to engage it, when to tentatively type the next word. With the just-completed story now in place to assuage any puritan work ethic-inspired guilt, to keep such sinister feelings at bay, I knew instinctively it would be weeks before I would even consider picking up a brush and starting again. And that fact was usually exhilarating.
Only now, less so.
Though the next journey will be a solo one as well, I’ve earned a stroll across a snowy landscape that is not fenced in, a long languid swim in a warm, mythical sea that has never been roped off.
Freedom is the word I am struggling to come up with. A simple label, yet when broken down, a word and concept that cuts to the heart and soul of many writers.
Definitely this writer.
My embrace of freedom when I’ve finished a project has always been unencumbered by guilt. The feeling of ‘earned’ freedom is like no other.
When you cash a pay check you have worked hard for, the whole concept just feels right.
I could now fish, hunt, hike, and roam the ten acres I owned with my three dogs. Whatever the hell I wanted to do, each day. My daily docket filled with no responsibility, labeled only with an invitation for self-indulgence, was the reward for writing, and it was an exchange I embraced gratefully, every time. Even when I didn’t feel I’d written well.
That was not the case this time, thus enhancing the lovely visage through my window, making the fragrant cigar smoke smell even better as it wafted up toward the inert ceiling fan. And the scotch?
Almost everywhere I felt warm. Only now, a bit less so.
And Alyssa? She was not there.
“But, of course, when I think about her, she’s everywhere. “
In this latest story, those ten words came right before my favorite six letters.
© Copyright 2016 Bill Rayburn. All rights reserved.
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