Under pressure

I purchased my first pressure cooker right before Christmas this year. I considered it a gift to myself (no longer would I need to plan bean-based dinners 24 hours in advance), and a gift to my husband, who enjoys the tender beans that it flawlessly produces despite our mineral-laden water. We tried it out for the first time shortly after I returned from spending a week in Colorado celebrating the holidays with my family. It took the pot longer than I expected to build up pressure, but once it did, the shiny bell-shaped regulator on top began slowly rocking and spinning in a rhythmic dance. The information booklet, a rather lengthy tome for such a seemingly simple device, cautioned against rapid, frenetic movements that would indicate excessive internal pressure. I adjusted the flame until the regulator smoothly twirled, and the pot hissed occasionally on the stove as it prepared the perfect bean.

On some levels, I’ve been in a pressure cooker for the past month. The holidays require patience and planning, and when they are over it is common to breathe a big sigh of relief as life returns to normalcy. Driving home from Colorado, I inhaled deeply as I navigated the car out of the hectic urban congestion, and exhaled my way back onto the expansive openness of Wyoming. Tension slipped away with the traffic as I returned closer to the familiar stretches of prairie and sky.


I made it home to celebrate New Years Eve with Bart, and took a rest day to restore my inner balance while I helped him split firewood. And then the lid of the pressure cooker tightened down again as I dove into the arduous task of designing a new college course. The ideas for the course had been swimming around my head for months. I had ample first-hand experiences from graduate school to draw upon. I had stacks of books and articles to re-read and recap. And I had two weeks to synthesize all of this information into a cohesive plan for the semester. Luckily, I love the subject matter – natural history and conservation education – and I am eager to teach it. I also thrive under last-minute pressure. Every spare moment of the next three weeks would be devoted to crafting this course.

So as I watched the spinning regulator rise with pressure to twirl on top of the pot, it dawned on me that movement, particularly dancing, is the cure for what ails me. Just one week prior, when my nephew proposed the Hokey Pokey on Christmas Eve, I jumped at the opportunity to get my groove on. Evan cajoled everyone in the room to join a rousing round of moving our body parts in time with our awkward off-key singing. As we jumped in and out of the circle, I wholeheartedly shook it all about… and the tension slipped away. Yup, the hokey pokey IS what it’s all about. Just like my fancy new pot, I come with a warning: excessive internal pressure may lead to frenetic shaking. I’m going to let it all out.

And then there's skiing... which is really dancing with gravity
And then there’s tele-skiing… which is really just dancing with gravity

Here a blog, there a blog

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. There were many moments when I was inspired to write, but just couldn’t find time for it. The holidays bring a flurry of activity – gatherings with friends & family, winter travel and its inherent unpredictabilty, rich & plentiful meals complete with luxurious deserts, hand-crafting gifts & cards – all packed into a couple of weeks during a special time of the year, the winter solstice. Although there is now a thick blanket of snow on the ground, I captured the following in my journal back in mid-December when the ground was mostly brown:

I’ve been taking sunset hikes in the late afternoon up on the high piece of prairie we call the CRP*. I set out from the corrals and head north towards the Snowy Mountains, which are capped in clouds tinted pink with the setting sun’s rays. A flock of ravens flies low overhead en route to their evening roost. One raven breaks off from the group and swoops down over Doc’s head – curious about this odd interloper. He circles once and with a flap, satisfied that there is no meal here, he rises towards the clouds to join the rest of the group on their path south. Doc runs off to the edge of the sky, becoming small as a grain of rice. His creamy white fur catches the suns’ rays, illuminating his outline momentarily in a flash of gold.

We circle south along the edge of the property and soon see the Crazy Mountains, a jagged high range, in the distance. Our friends live at the doorstep of these mountains, a 90-minute drive away, but with much the same view we have from here. Such is the landscape of central Montana, endless sky and long stretches of rolling prairie broken up by mountain ranges and small towns. The corrals – and soon, our home – are located on Belmont Rd. I didn’t think much of this until my mother, who studied French in high school, pointed out that belle mont is French for beautiful mountain. “But of course!” I said with my best French accent. From here we can see five different mountain ranges, which are most certainly beautiful if not occasionally mind-blowing for this easterner accustomed to densely wooded spaces. As I head back on the last leg of my loop hike, the moon launches into the sky over the Bull Mountains and the darkening horizon; now soft blue then deep purple before dimming to the enveloping darkness of a rural night.

Obligatory cute photo: Doc finds a resting place on our chopping block and enjoys a sun bath on the morning of the solstice

* The CRP land was formerly part of the federal crop reserve program