I grew up in Donbass (yes, the current war zone), where practically every year delivered to us four seasons, all just like in the natural history school book and the tale of “The Twelve Months”: spring starts with huge icicles in March, followed by a noisy-damp April, after which come the flowering white cherry trees of May; Summer starts with a cool June, leading into a warm July and hot August; September is balmy with the smell of smoke from burned leaves and the Indian summer; October – sad puddles and the first autumn frosts,; November – cold rains and the first attempts of snow; in December – a white surprise in the morning (that one single morning in the whole year when you want to go to school), in January – thaws and snowfalls, and in February – ferocious frosts, blizzards and giant ridge-roofed snowdrifts by the high-rise building walls. And in a little while the first spring streams start to purr under the friable march snow. And then all over again.
I liked every season, and even the fall rains and spring slush had their own charm. And then everything ended, because we moved to Walla Walla, WA. There, summer starts in May and ends in October, and sometimes it’s so intense that it’s best not to go outside in July and August. And instead of winter, there’s always a very lengthy fall and spring, with maybe a couple of weeks allocated for real winter.
Eight years after that, I moved to Seattle, where everything continued pretty much in the same way, but without summer – spring slowly became fall and fall slowly became spring again. There were two days for winter with some wet snow, and two-three weeks of a hot and sunny summer. In the remaining time – spring-fall, fall-spring.
Then there was Hawaii. There, obviously, it was pure summer with short breaks for a gentle fall and spring. That is when instead of the typical 82 degrees you et 68, or, god forbid, 62! Though the latter would be considered an extreme. That’s when it’s so bad that you have to wear a sweater, pants and socks. This usually happens for a couple of weeks a year, in December and March. Or in July, which is also like an in-between-the-seasons month.
Long story short, for twenty years I haven’t seen a real winter (occasional skiing outings into the mountains and a short trip to Novosibirsk don’t count). For twenty years I have missed the plowed sidewalks, the huge icicles, the winter’s silence, and the white beauty of the forest. I’ve even missed my fogging-up glasses, for crying out loud.
2. And then we came to Montana.
3. To the touristy town of Whitefish.
4. Surrounded by mountains.
5. With its own ski resort on Big Mountain.
6. We arrived on December 1st and the first thing we did was set off into a forest to get ourselves a Christmas tree. This is a whole other level of fun – not buying a tree at the store, but choosing and cutting down your own.
7. Little Leila also chose herself a tree and is showing Michael with her little finger exactly where and how he needs to cut it down.
8. The fun costs $5. The permits are available at many convenience stores and gas stations.
9. A particularly American tradition: to decorate the tree with ornaments you inherited from grandparents, or ones you were gifted as a child.
10. An obligatory “V lesu rodilas’ elochka” (The Forest Raised a Christmas Tree) dedicated to our beauty.
11. For the first time in two and a half years we have a fast, unlimited internet! We gave it the name “Netflix & Chill”, password “All winter long”, and we are set for watching the “House of Cards”. The series is pretty good, even the third season.
12. The town is small and cozy. Neighboring houses are just made for the four seasons.
13. Not all though. There are obviously some summer lovers living here as well.
14. People keep riding their bikes even in the winter.
15. A ‘hello’ from Hawaii in the trash can. It’s interesting that before, everything Hawaiian seemed super exotic, and then, after we lived there, it became familiar and homely. Now it all combined into a strange combination of “familiarly-exotic”.
16. An overwhelming majority of the population in Montana is white, plus some Native Americans. There are almost no Mexicans, unlike in Washington, California and other southern states, no Afro-Americans, like on the east cost, and no Asians, like on both coasts. But there are Russians, and quite a few of them. But then again, in the States they are ubiquitous.
17. Whitefish is also the town of Subaru fans. This is a typical occurrence around here, this particular example including Michael and Tatyana’s and our neighbor’s cars.
18. Our other Hawaiian, Lora, came to play in the winter as well.
19. After six months on the road and almost no physical activity, besides walking, our bodies longed for the gym. But after two weeks of exercising, my old back problem began to persistently knock on my door. First, I just moaned and groaned, and waited for it to heal itself. Here you can see how I’m holding my lower back while thinking about the move. By the way, we are all playing together on this chess board, meaning that everyone moves whenever and on whichever side they want to.
20. For the Christmas celebration, we invited ourselves over to Michael’s family. First, the whole crowd came over to our house.
21. This year’s trends included beards or (at least) a mustache.
22. My responsibility was to provide hot cocktails, and I mean hot like the temperature, which we called Winter’s Bliss.
Here is our adjusted recipe:
30 ml spiced rum
15 ml agave nectar (not syrup, but nectar)
30 ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
100-120 ml of boiling hot water (the amount of water, as well as the amount of nectar, can be adjusted to your taste)
Mix all the ingredients together and sprinkle with a pinch of cinnamon. Decorate with a grapefruit slice (or throw it into the glass) and give the drink to someone who is slightly cold.
23. The reaction will be obvious.
24. For dinner we are headed to momma-Kate’s house (dad passed away last year). The oldest brother Daniel is saying the family prayer.
25. There is an opinion that americans can’t cook or don’t cook very well. Forget it. I had two grandmas: one, a Russian from Bryansk, who couldn’t and didn’t want to cook, so she would just make us some buttered toast with jelly and send us on our way. The other one, a Ukrainian from Poltava, cooked all kinds of specialty dishes from different world cuisines until her death. And she cooked better than many chefs from Kiev’s and Moscow’s good restaurants. Same principle here. The dinner prepared by the American mom of the Hughes family and her american children was delicious.
26. Our hosts for the first time are sharing a traditional family holiday dinner with Russian strangers 😉
27. Michael got his bachelors degree in Natural Resource Conservation. Now he is working as a BNSF freight train conductor. Tatyana worked in different clinics for many years and now she is studying to be a masseuse.
28. Josiah studied to become a physical education instructor. Now he is working all over, from the sales person in sports store to a boat valet. He is also a talented and a hereditary hunter.
29. Also, Michael and Josiah ski pretty well. Like this.
30. This is Rose, Michael and Josiah’s sister. Rose is a professional mountain bike racer.
31. This year she was selected for the 2016 Olympic Long Team.
32. Three years ago she took a little break and gave birth to Leila, rested a little and is now back to racing.
33. Rose trains even when she can’t leave Leila with a babysitter.
34. This is Nelson, Rose’s husband.
35. In his free time Nelson mountaineers, goes rafting and snowmobiling.
36. But during work hours, Nelson is a policeman. I already persuaded him to make me his partner for a day. I’ll tell you about it later.
37. And this is Daniel, the oldest brother of Rose, Michael and Josiah. Daniels is an engineer, but he has a hobby…
38. …at which he is pretty successful.
39. This is Esther, Daniel’s wife. In the past she shared the hobby with Daniel. Currently she works at a chiropractic/functional medicine clinic.
40. David, the one on the very left, graduated from the US Coast Guard academy. Here we are playing White Elephant.
41. Our gifts were prints of photos from Tour US.
42. Closer to the end Daniel pays a tribute to the spiritual part of the holiday by reading a chapter from Luke about Jesus’s birth.
43. On January 3rd we celebrated Alla’s birthday in a very nice restaurant up at the Ski Lodge.
44. Besides a traditional bottle of french cognac, Alla also received another gift from me, in the form of a contract. Which states that during the next year she agrees to render me with any assistance in filming a documentary about her and her life.
Alla loves these kind of gifts. Last year I gifted her a promise to write in my blog during the next year. The thing is that by that time I was barely on there at all. Moreover, in my mind it everything was coming down to the conclusion that I shouldn’t be writing in my blog at all. The carefully thought through gift provoked me not only to post photos and letters, but also situations, events and stories, which made it important to start going places and researching things just to tell about them. Even our trip came into being in part due to this gift.
45. After the holidays and guests everything calmed down and came back to its regular course. Tanya is continuing her studies in the massage school.
46. Alla continues working for the winery.
47. When it’s time to cook, Alla designates a whole day for it and goes all out. TV and documentaries are a good help.
48. And me, well, my back is hurting. It’s so bad that I had to start seeing a chiropractor in order to aid in the recovery of my poor spine.
49. In between doctor’s visits I lay in bed throughout the day on a firm air mattress and do things on my computer. Currently I am taking a filming course. Sure, I may have promised to film a documentary about Alla, but how to accomplish it in reality I have no clue. So, here I am, laying in my bed, learning. This is how I am spending the best time of the winter with its beauty, snow and frosts.
50. A person who hasn’t lived in their car for half a year will never understand what treasures the fridge, sink, table, microwave, bed, bathroom, and couch really are.
51. During the times when the pain abates, I get out. Jaegermeister is the best winter drink.
52. For years Alla dreamed about going sledding.
53. Under the pressures of the society, and his girlfriend in particular, Michael finally brought himself to shave off his beard. Gradually, of course.
54. Surprisingly, he can pull off the mustache quite well. Such a dandy.
55. Unlike this guy.
56. At the end of January Tanya and Vlad came from Seattle to visit and ski. For a different experience, they decided not to fly, but to take a train, like in the olden days. Cool!
57. The station, platform, greeters. Just like in my childhood, but with one difference – the passenger train here goes only once every 24 hours.
58. The baggage is brought by those same exact trolleys that were used to transfer the luggage of the first settlers from the trains to the carriages.
59. Right before the arrival of our guests we got some fresh snow. Gorgeous, frosty, a celebration up on the mountain.
60. I am very happy for them and am really pleased with the winter, skis, ice-skates, snowshoes, and adventures.
61. The Big Mountain has a pretty serious ski resort. The crowds gather for some fun from near and far.
62. The kids begin their acquaintance with the extreme from different ages. Interestingly, seven-year olds are quite normal to see here, especially because you’ll often bump into five and even four-year-old kids.
63. Lucky kiddos! They will never need to learn to ski, because as adults they will think that they could always do it.
64. Lora is taking everything she can from the snow before returning to the Big Island.
65. The winter is great in Montana! They say that last year was not so good with the snow, and this year it’s just abundant! The ski mountains work day and night.
66. Tanya is having a blast!
67. Michael is having a blast!
68. Alla is having SUCH a blast!
69. The other Tanya, Vlad – everyone is having a blast! Because a full-blown winter season is outside, and a really great ski resort is only ten minutes away from the house. You can’t, you simply can’t not be on the mountain. Especially since we don’t know when we will have another opportunity like this: to play, ski and roll around in the snow. We really should take advantage of this now…
70. …I think to myself, listening to my vertebras crack as they hold on to the inflamed nerves.
P.S. But why, I also have my own winter, my personal winter amusement. The doctor strongly persists that I regularly apply an ice pack to my back.