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Winter Rise

Winter Rise

April 4, 2019

As we move from winter to spring, we take a moment to reflect on the beauty and severity of the region we inhabit. Narrative and poems extracted from Peter Halstead’s book A Winter Ride describe the unique environment of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and the humility we experience from being immersed in its majesty.

“Winterreise” read by Carl Mayer
“Snow Night” read by Beth Huhtala
“Snow Dome” read by Ben Wynthein
“Snow Light” read by Melissa Moore
“Cloud Stems” read by Alexis Adams
“Rime” read by Lindsey Hinmon
“Snow Sun” read by Emily Rund

Produced and narrated by Zachary Patten
Photo by Alex Coyle
Photo Editing by Emily Rund
Sound Design and Mixing by Monte Nickles

Red Arc / Blue Veil by John Luther Adams, performed by Vicky Chow and Doug Perkins

A Winter Ride by Peter Halstead ©2018 by The Adrian Brinkerhoff Foundation



00:03 MELISSA MOORE: Welcome to the Tippet Rise podcast, brought to you from Tippet Rise Art Center, located on a 12,000 acre ranch in Fishtail, Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park. I’m Melissa Moore. At Tippet Rise, we celebrate the synergy of art, architecture, music, and nature, out of which we weave our identities. The Tippet Rise podcast explores these connections. Today’s episode, produced by Zachary Patten, transports the listener to Tippet Rise Art Center at the coldest time of year, when nature’s dynamic resonances grow from whispers, softly embraced by snow, to massive sound walls, amplified by ferocious gales. Narrative and poems from Peter Halstead’s A Winter Ride tell winter’s story of our environment and our place in it.

01:00 [soundscape]

01:14 ZACHARY PATTEN: It is the silence of the land out of which the land arises. It is the humility of the land, the quiet rolling of the hills, where its primal voice lies. Montana’s badlands offer the familiar shadows and angles of a Cezanne, the chiseled chiaroscuro of an Ansel Adams. But what is found here at the base of the Beartooth Wilderness really has little precursor in traditional art. It has no vocabulary to define a landscape that seems to have been imported from other worlds.

01:49 [John Luther Adams: Red Arc / Blue Veil]

01:56 In this part of Montana, it is the ranch headquarters, hidden in the cottonwoods and aspens of a river basin, which organize the chaos of the hills into a civilized overlay of meaning. But it is just an overlay. Everyone who lives here is aware that our passing identity is superimposed over an unmanageable, unimaginable skein of forces which aren’t just local, but global in their scope. The history that echoes here has nothing to do with roads, with cars or planes. The past which is on daily display flows inexorably through the immense canyons of the Hellroaring Plateau in Gothic netherworld voices which originate in an alien language.

The more we live on the land, the more we come to understand that we move through a world that is still Jurassic. We feel exposed to the sky here, to the great rages of intergalactic wind fire, because the ranches here have been stripped of their skin, of their crops and forests, by forces from prehistory.

Even the colors of the light in this part of Montana are the apocalypse that Scribin hoped to evoke with his music: we see the whirlwinds of space, the gamma rays and prismatic chords of the air here, without the usual filters, without the protection of artificial city lights. Amber fields of grain, waving in the gentle summer breeze outside the Tippet Rise concert hall, are just placeholders for the winter gales which will eventually strip away euphemisms of foliage and reveal the wizard behind the screen.


Today we pause to hear the solar rage
Of wind around the stars,
To watch the world’s massive gauge
Align itself with ours,
The way that winter wanders
Down a young girl’s long limb
And shines a worried light
On her simple skin,
On the season’s grieving night,
Anguished wails of storm transposed
Into sleeping adult fears,
So that our snows and songs and ghosts disclose
All the planet’s human gears.

04:52 ZP: We have to invent words to describe what happens every day. Science often invents words that lack the human scale of awe and emotion, so we turn to poetry, to the older rituals of Stone Age mystics and fables which seem, around a campfire, to evoke the shudder of things we have actually noticed. It is through these equivalents, these shadows, these eidolons, these ghost stories, the metaphors and synergies of art, music, language, and science that we attempt to describe, to appreciate the mystery of the land through which we move. We long for symbols, for anchors, for meaning. We walk in our minds through miracles which haven’t yet happened. But we know they are coming.It is winter night in Montana.


Snow Night
We wait anxiously for the snow,
But wrongly so.
On nights like these,
Frosted trees ghostly white
In the winter ruin,
Lake blanched
Around by moon,
Rather than that lowering
Skies will open,
Flake by flake, the bet
Is why they somehow
Haven’t yet.

06:30 ZP: We live in anticipation. Not of summers’s fires and sweat, or of spring’s mud, or even of fall’s dying embers, but of winter’s impossible extremes. Winter isn’t something that passes. It isn’t the brief, flashy fireworks of autumn. Winter is roadways turned into unnavigable mythic sheets by mists. It’s familiar trees made into monstrous forests by icicles, by nests of snow. It’s fifty three Inuit words for snow, such as pukak, powder snow clumped like wet salt crystals. Winter in Montana is an endless wilderness of lethal winds, zero visibility, horizontally blowing blizzards up on Froze to Death Plateau. Down below, it is windows laced with glaze and skies turned the kind of silver gray which whispers “Christmas”.


Snow Dome
embroideries of the sky
rootless in the glare
growing out of cloud
drifting down in dyes
shaken out of air
branches bowed
gentled by the trade
of leafy draperies
for the drifting braid
and frayed solutions
of the globe
suspended in the breeze
the day resolved
its robe
in lifeless freeze
its spring destroyed
by empty canopies
summers fading
into history
settling in a void
where skaters
lightly under limbs
glide with furls
and crescents greyed
in the tumbling shade
a world bent
by crystal traceries
ornate as presents
under Christmas trees

08:45 ZP: There are dark afternoons where the clouds are thick with night and the air heavy with the sheer calm of the holidays. There are evenings when the full moon glows through the cotton wads of clouds and softly falling flakes are lit by the porch lights. Any calm, though, is momentary. Montana is unpredictable, unfettered nature, ice storms today, floods tomorrow, snow devils and monstrous winds descending uncontrollably from millions of acres of mountains and vortices. In our corner of the state, winter descends from the twenty-three million acres of the Yellowstone ecosystem. It’s the land of the grizzly, wolf, and eagle, although there’s room for all the endangered species, human and animal, meek and frightening, who flock here for sanctuary.

Here are the silver suns, the invisible mornings, the iced roads, the impenetrable snow fields. In winter, the constellations are closer, more brittle. The earth’s surface more closely approximates the impossible climate of space and the solar system, and you can feel the celestial gears slowly turning in all their earthly disguises: gravity, magnetism flickering magnetic curtains of colored light, time itself. Miracles which we do not really understand, although we have words for them and we guess what rules might govern them and us.


Snow Light
In the graying, vague November day,
In the grimy specificities
That push the sun away
From certain unspecific cities,

In a nightmare of realities
I dream, possibly the purpose,
Filled with failure and disease,
Of unsettled states like this,

Of that moment in a forest when
The unclear world is real again.

11:13 ZP: Against the armageddon of the sunset, the end of day’s rage of atomic fires whose source is masked by dark hills, lumbering black clouds stalk the land. They don’t hover in the sky. They’ve come down to earth. The horizon is so large in Montana that it usually has room for four or five competing weather systems, but today the region is socked in, probably for hundreds of miles around the Yellowstone ecosystem. Giant sheets of rain sweep the drumlins, riding towards us as fast as the wind that drives them. Rain funnels reach down like arms to the hills, seven of them supporting the sky, like tornado stems. None of this is normal. The sky is surreal, dangerous.


Cloud Stems
How lofty clouds impose
Their shadows on a distant sea,
Where flaring cirrus throws
Its weight around with gravity,

Planting on the ocean’s glass
Pantomimes that seem the same
As what we see on country grass
Or shone on fields with perfect aim,

A common place phenomenon
On lazy summer afternoons
Of transparent sky and beaming sun -
Meadows peopled with heaven’s ruins;

But, looking down from
Where the racing grades are matched,
We see that nature’s copies come
With certain misty strings attached,

As our higher point of view
Shows a smoky sort of light
Against the water’s background blue
Like a loose tail on a kite,

But blurry and shimmering, alive,
Like a moving strand of rain,
Umbilicals that jibe
And coil below the plane

And link these flowers to their base,
Although in fact the opposite is true
(As plants their higher masters trace,
And water fakes what water vapor drew),

The world so upside-down here
That our 737 seems to swim
In a waving coral hemisphere
Like fish in an aquarium;

But still, it’s good to see -
If only when the lowly eye
Stumbles on infinity -
That the roots of earth are in the sky.

14:00 ZP: The skies have been filled with sun devils, parhelions, glories. Harbingers of the descending sky. Ice crystals fill the evening air, filter the moon through water drop facets which have to be precisely slanted at twenty-two degrees to produce such prisms. Interestingly, twenty-three degrees is the angle of repose, at which snow clings to a slope. At any greater slant, it slides. Our lives would appear to be controlled by these precise equations hidden in snowflakes, or buried in plain sight in a halo. These human-friendly equations govern the most mysterious parts of the universe, such as gravity and magnetism, about which them, just out of our sight, just around the corner of the horizon, are precise. In other universes, where the rules are possibly different, people would not exist. The sleet rhymes with the feeling of sky and night, and strikes an inchoate chord in our being. So our own cosmos is almost premeditated, calibrated to produce, at the far end of precisely detailed algorithms, us.


snow pours down in tufts
and settles in the field,
erasing all the river bluffs
and penciling the windshield

with its latticed flakes,
coupled in the massing skies
to cover up our cold mistakes
with the small disguise

of clouds, blank as paper
in the wordless dreams
whose microscopic crystal vapor
underwrites our cosmic schemes,

agreeing on a human flow
before it appears to us as snow

16:20 ZP: While the coming of winter is romantic, anticipatory, the arrival of winter is disturbing, nauseating, frightening, a horror movie with winds that pull off roofs, gales that sweep mountains of snow into valleys so that roads and sheds disappear. For six months, nothing grows. Nothing moves. No one leaves the leaking sieve of the house. The snow demon descends, and darkness rages. One day the world will return, but not now. And when the vast cosmic gales come whistling down the canyon to seal the fate of the warm world, to seal the last of the seared leaves in the cryogenic coat of immortality, then the doors are closed on idyllic picnics, on carefree treks, on spontaneous concerts high in the alps. The summer is immortalized by cold, bronzed in blowing dirt and sheets of ice. The planet freezes us to save us.


Snow sun
Down blowing hills and broken skies
The future of our meadow flies:

The history of our landscape runs
Through Christmases of snowing suns

That freeze in place the Kodachrome
Of our snow globe’s swirling home,

An igloo where the floating frost
Catalogues the winters lost

(The irreversible parentheses
Of years more desolate than these),

Desperate human storms and rifts
Which the brilliant blizzard sifts

Through chasms and through sieves
Where the coming summer lives

18:33 ZP: Beaten down by the long winter until we no longer believe in spring or its recuperative powers, each year we are as fooled by the first blades of grass that peel out of the seemingly endless snows as we are continually surprised by the resilience of the human spirit. The first of May this year could be snow turned into fields, when fields and snow share equal honors, half white, half hay. As glaciers carve fields initially from hills, so fields are carved by sun each summer from glaciers. Snow thousands of years ago makes fields what they are, and then each year repeats the miracle.

Broken with the fissures of cold winter, the crevasses of expectation, the earth is ready for the cracks opened up in the snow by the spring sun: the fissures of winter become the melt lines of spring, little arroyos in the snow. We become part of the storm: it sifts our emotional states like sleet through the sieve of the day.

The long hibernation of the bulbs produces brighter, hardier flowers, ready for the high mountain air. Like peeling our gloves off in spring at the end of the ski season, a flower stalk grows out of the hard soil. Our fingers warm like children in the sun, and we emerge as meadows do at last from volcanoes, as eager as babies to face the lighter world.