The Heat Is On

John Meyer
Holiday 2013

The weather folks said the low tonight is supposed to be 21 degrees below zero. The last six weeks have been tough like that. I bought a new stove for the yurt, but ordered the wrong pipe three different times. Again, I fall asleep staring at the tape that covers the hole in the wall where the stovepipe should be.

At work, I’m briefing a lawsuit that is designed to stop a $550 million railroad from being built in southeast Montana. The government and railroad company have 12 attorneys on their side. There are two of us. The train will allow a multinational corporation to open up new mines. The train cars will haul 1.3 billion tons of coal that will eventually be burned in China. The planet will get warmer. Our grandchildren will inherit a radically different planet. I try to embrace the cold.

At 2:30 in the morning my feet wake me up; they’re swollen and throbbing. I am already wearing two pairs of socks, long johns and down pants. On top I’ve got a wool shirt, a heavy wool sweater and, finally, an old down coat. I’m wearing two hats. My down sleeping bag is rated to zero. On top of the sleeping bag I have a down comforter. On top of that a buffalo hide, then another, then an elk hide. The fur is face down – it seems to trap the heat better than the tanned side.

There is a man in Texas who owns a multimilliondollar house high on the hill above my yurt. He spends less than three weeks there every year. I laugh uncontrollably and wonder what his thermostat is set at. I entertain the idea of breaking in and staying the night. I think about selling out – quitting “enviro” law and making more than $20,000 per year. I weep uncontrollably. And then I shake up some hand warmers and throw them in between the two socks. I put on down booties and watch as the stars beam through the clear dome that sits on top of the yurt.

Sometimes voices haunt me, tell me I’m a dreamer, that I will fail. I shiver and try to shake them off, but I’m scared. If we don’t win this case, the fourth generation farmers and ranchers living in the far corner of our state will lose their property and the only life they’ve ever known. I’m scared that even if we do win, Cottonwood, our fledgling conservation organization, won’t be able to sustain itself. I close my eyes.

When I wake up, it is 6:30 a.m. The four hours of unbroken sleep have been spectacular. I feel my feet start burning again but know the pain will subside when I start moving. I put on my headlamp, jump out of bed and immediately put on my mittens. I watch as my frosty breath fills the yurt and take notice that my runny nose has again created a snotsicle near the collar of the sleeping bag. My mind flits to the forecasted high for today, and I wonder if the frozen snot will still be there when I get home from work tonight.

The stovepipe will be here any day.

Über den Verfasser

John Meyer is Executive Director of Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit law firm and conservation organization dedicated to protecting the people, forests, water and wildlife of the West. His passions include bow-hunting, climbing and suing the government.