Kathleen Clary Miller
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Kathleen Clary MillerKathleen Clary Miller has written 300+ columns and stories for periodicals both local and national, and has authored three books. She lives in the woods of the Ninemile Valley, thirty miles west of Missoula. - See more at: http://www.distinctlymontana.com/content/abide-its-february#sthash.GazHbtl1.dpuf

“It’s not snowing…right now,” my neighbor pointed out when I met her at the end of her driveway that had turned from dirt to mud in a couple of hours. We were heading out for a walk as she added, “Winter dies hard in Montana.”

During our forty-minute constitutional our hooded jackets warded off soft snowflakes the size of quarters, pelting rain showers, and my personal favorite (no sarcasm here), graupel.

What a small wonder! It doesn’t hurt like hail; it doesn’t even dampen my jacket; when it hits the ground it remains utterly perfect, as if it cannot possibly be real. It’s just the thing for making my walk interesting without being enough to drive me back inside.

Some people feel a surge of superiority from name -dropping. I love to email my California friends and casually drop this “weather word.” I favor it because in the nine springs I’ve enjoyed in Western Montana, not a single addressee has ever heard of it.

“What in the heck is graupel?” they ask. Good question.

My first exposure to it was while walking. It was entirely unexpected, and I have to say I wondered as these miniature light orbs fell from the sky whether or not I’d been blessed with some miraculous version of manna, although it would certainly take a lot of graupel to sustain anyone, even in the desert and for just one day.

It wasn’t long after I listened to the NBC Montana news that evening and weatherman Mark Heyke identified the phenomenon that I zapped off a few emails and casually inserted my encounter with graupel. I boldly went so far as to create the verb: It graupeled today—a signal of spring!

“Got Graupel?” reads the tee shirt NBC sells. Perhaps I need one of those when we sell our house here and move back home to be near grandchildren in Southern California. Who knows? Wearing it there could be the lucky charm that evokes moisture and aids in drought reduction!