Proulx's narrator describes the wintry weather in Wyoming as fierce, relentless, and deadly. We learn that "early wet snow froze hard, so the cattle couldn't break through the crust to the grass." The narrator depicts the weather as "freeze-eyed cold" and offers the image of "the gaunt bodies of cattle piling up." The cattle are gaunt or thin because they are hungry, as food is hard to find, and they die because they can't get through the ice to the grass.
We next learn that a young cowboy from Montana spent all his money on a beautiful pair of boots, skimping on warm clothes, and "froze to death" on Powder River's "bitter west bank." When Dirt Sheets comes across the dead Montana cowboy, he tries to take his boots. They are "frozen on" his feet, which makes removing them difficult. In fact, Dirt has to take out his knife and "saw" through the cowboy's "shins," putting the boots with the feet still inside them into his saddlebags.
The repetition of words like froze and freeze emphasizes the relentless harshness of the landscape. Images of death, such as the dead cattle and the dead cowboy, indicate strongly that the landscape is so treacherous that only the most knowledgeable will survive it. We get the impression, too, from Sheet's willingness to cut off the Montana cowboy's legs to get the boots, that a certain ruthlessness is needed to stay alive in this rugged climate.
As the temperature gets even colder, "spit crackles in the air," and "a man didn't dare piss for fear he'd be rooted fast until spring." The wind is said to be "scything" up a "howler," an image that suggests it will mercilessly slice down anything in its path.
We note that Proulx uses many blunt, one-syllable words that have a harsh, guttural, or cutting sound—such as froze, hard, crust, and saw—to mirror the feel of the weather. Two-syllable words like crackle and scything also have a harsh sound.