Christmas in Montana

It’s Christmas morning. I drag myself out of the warmth of our down comforter and pull on my robe quickly before emerging from the warm room. The air feels cold, well below zero outside. I move quickly down the stairs and hop over the tiled floor meeting the door and turn on the kettle to brew the coffee.

Outside the trees are heavy with snow. The storm this week made a white Christmas a given. Lights twinkle on the houses around and I plug in our Christmas tree lights in solidarity and celebration.

Weeks before we journeyed into National Forest land to hunt for our tree. A light snow fell and blanketed the mountains and the forest. We walked for at least an hour, Luke patient as I sized up every option. The sun came out and the whole forest floor glistened before we found our tree nestled up against another on our walk back in the direction of the car. I held the top and he sawed. Then we carried it back to our little VW bug, opened the hatch, and successfully packed her in for the ride home.

Our decorations are modest this year as 2017 was the year of the great purge of our belongings, a  prerequisite to our cross-country move from Philadelphia to northwest Montana. So, out of necessity and on a quest for simple, we found ourselves jabbing a needle and thread through popcorn and cranberries as we assembled our garland.

This Christmas morning I sip my coffee and am so charmed by our very “us” tree. After reading a few pages of my copy of Magnus Nillson’s Nordic Cookbook I return to my cooking duties. I pull out one of our precious bags of hand picked, wild huckleberries and pour some into my saucepan. I add a bit of sugar and water and turn on the heat. I am thinking of a compote of sort for our pancakes.

Christmas Eve morning started the same: reading and coffee and a hearty breakfast. This has become the routine in this cold, dark climate. We gathered our gear for adventure, snowshoeing at Glacier Park. The process of preparing to leave always makes me laugh at its resemblance to friends’ stories of leaving the house for the first time with a baby; There’s just so much stuff. But before long we’re dressed in our more than three layers and are off.

The snowfall at the park is shocking but so beautiful. There is one other car in the parking lot as we reluctantly get out of the car and emerge into temperatures far below zero. The sun compensates for this, just a bit. We set out on a forest path. Soon any hair that is exposed is seemingly flash frozen. We give ourselves permission to stop at any time but we press on. The forest is silent save the creaking trees as they sway to and fro. I spot animal tracks here and there and wonder how it is they make it through the winter. We make it to Lake McDonald before turning back. By now the sun streams through the trees and I spot in every clearing to soak it up. Sun is precious up here.

In partial honor to Italian tradition, we had an addictive Icelandic fish stew for dinner followed by homemade amaretti cookies. Bliss.

My huckleberry compote bubbles on the stove. Luke wakes up and we exchange gifts and open those sent with care from afar (thanks, mom.). Breakfast is served as I ladle the compote over our pancakes and slice an orange on the side for good measure. Phone calls to loved ones are made before we haul out our winter gear yet again, this time in preparation for skiing. Embracing the cold…the only way to survive here I think.

Negative seven now, as we reach the summit. Christmas music blares from the lift cabins. The panoramic views never get old, though we can’t stand still long for obvious reasons. The lodge is bustling with skiers with cold feet and colder noses. We admit defeat after a while and get home.

I turn on the music while we heat up leftover soups. We spend our Christmas day reading (him) and pouring over recipes for now and later (me). At last it’s time to put the goose in, after scoring the skin per instructions and stuffing it with apples and prunes. Hours later we feast, complete with sweet and sour red cabbage and, of course, potatoes roasted in the bird’s fat. We stuff ourselves like nineteenth century royalty. I think, This is how one does Christmas.

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