Once again my house is warm and not just because as soon as the new wall furnace was installed the weather was forecasted to go up to the Sixties, after having been at seven degrees below zero when I had no furnace. Although, considering the obstinacy and freakiness of this new climate, nothing is impossible and all is poised for surprise.

Getting the right furnace and getting it here was the easiest part. I bought it from Northern Tools, normally serving the east, but it came via Fed Ex while I watched the GPS progress: about a week to cross the continent. More than a week for the installer and Northwestern Energy to get it in. It was a half-day job. Originally.

It wasn’t personal, but a good example of what happens when everything is controlled by massive monopoly corporations acting to maximize their profit and minimize any exposure to things going wrong — not because their deranged management failed to act but by pinning it all on the little dispensable guy who does the work.

There is a second scandalous story but it was earlier and will require some research. Simply, it’s about pretending to “help” old ladies with low incomes while exploiting them. I’m including the unknown reader out there who sent me a heater without asking, claiming as reference a deceased writer who exploited vulnerable women, and burdening me with the task of what to do with the damned thing since I already have three electric heaters but can only use two at a time without blowing a fuse. But this other earlier story is not about him. He’s irrelevant.

The High Line, named for the railroad that was built just south of the Canadian border, is a spread-out area served from Shelby, a major port of entry, by AllSeason, a franchise that does HVAC. The Shelby manager is Peder Underdal, a Norwegian very tall man (think Max von Sydow) whose pedigree goes back to the first settlers along the High Line and Marias River. They may have been escaping the extreme cold resulting from volcanic action that veiled the sun and prevented crops in Europe in those early years.

This is Peder’s grandfather’s obit, which is like a condensed “Montana” novel, though much is left out.

Peder is an honorable and laconic man. My guess is that when he’s under stress he says even less than usual. Maybe he even turns off his cell phone. But once the furnace was safely working, he relaxed a bit and told me the above story with great pride. The family ranch is vast and historic, including ancient camp grounds like Willow Rounds and the location of the Baker Massacre. It’s mostly used for grazing. Don’t tell the Blackfeet.

Northwestern Energy bought Montana Power some years ago and has set about dismantling every human aspect of it. We used to have a rep living right here in town who shepherded us along to keep us safe. When any subject is brought up on the internet, other mentions of that subject are sent afterwards. I now have a huge collection of gas explosion stories, not just the gallery in Bozeman that recently blew up, killing the manager. Of course, the line to my neighbor’s house already sent up a little geyser of hissing gas that meant the whole line had to be dug up. Luckily, it was detected before a flame was near. A gas leak is what exploded in the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife a few decades back.

Thus, I have insisted that no more gas appliances be installed under my house. The wall furnace is gas because electricity is not dependable here. Hurricane winds and deep cold tear down the electrical lines and it is not feasible to bury them. There is a wind farm of huge turbines a few miles from town but luckily none has fallen or given anyone cancer. The electricity it generates cannot be accessed locally.

When I asked for someone to turn off my gas meter because nothing was drawing on it, the man who came was named Blake, according to the tag on his crisp uniform. He was more English and talkative, explaining as he went. The meter was ancient and leaking gas. Replacing it with a new one was a horrendous job but he was tough and tenacious enough to do it. In the end he was not so crisply clean. He locked it before he left, explaining that only after he approved any new appliances could it be turned on. His code was very particular.

So that was the new problem: playing tag with schedules, commitments and emergencies in a territory that takes an hour to drive between towns. After days of this I broke. Weeping with misery, frustration and terror as I feared a winter with no furnace, I think I finally became real to these two men. They made it their business to get here at the same time and get the job done.

Yesterday I stood behind the screen door and listened to Peder and Blake visit as they met for the first time. Both explained the interferences that had so complicated everything. No one apologized. It just happened. Both felt badly that there was so much SNAFU.

In the meantime the role of the women in the offices was to keep track and assure me everyone was doing their best. It took a while for me to find the emergency number for NWEnergy. I think they don’t like to admit that there ARE emergencies — if there are survivors. The first woman I dealt with was reasonable and helpful. The second woman the next day was the same though I had to explain everything again. The third woman wanted to know whether I had a second house to stay in. She also wanted my “Sosh.” She was a mush-mouth who talked very fast and had trouble with her computer. These women work from home, because of the pandemic, so they have no one else as in an office to help them.

The town had no interest in what was happening to cause so many trucks to be parked at my house. There have been such trucks at most houses all summer. Many people here feel that secrecy is the only safety and that people who know what you’re doing will only attack and criticize. Across the street my best neighbor, a contractor, left for Phoenix in a giant recreational trailer.


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Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.