“The trees must know something we don’t know,” Sean told me a few weeks ago, on a day when the sun was particularly warm and the sky particularly blue. The trees were budding out, but barely. Baby leaflets cast a mist of color over the trees’ naked boughs, while the garden flowers and wildflowers were springing up madly from the red earth, blissfully unconscious of any lurking chill. Yet April sailed by on a warm breeze, sometimes a warm gale, and ranchers began to worry that the hay wouldn’t come in this summer if the spring dryness didn’t let up. A week of welcome wet our first week of May allayed those fears, and summer seemed sure to arrive.
Growing up in Illinois, I’ve always taken pride in our changeable and unpredictable weather. It is true, weather in Illinois will change quickly enough, often enough, and drastically enough to eventually suit the tastes of anyone who happens to live there. I had notions of idyllic weather in South Dakota, predictable and constant and with the perfect spring temperatures lasting until June, at which point it would just start to become summery outdoors and one could go around without a sweatshirt.
But talk of snow predicted for this weekend left everyone here a little incredulous. The “one good snow” habitually expected in April never came, and May is well arrived! Yet snow we are getting, and with a vengeance. It has already gone from the sleety, wet stuff in the photo to more of a real snow, with white clinging to the grass and rocks and fences. Probably for a born-and-bred South Dakotan, this is more a nuisance than anything. For ranchers, this is downright offensive, potentially interfering with the well-being of spring calves and shipping. But for a native Oklahoman and long-time resident of Illinois, this is something of a novelty. Snow in May? That’s a never before heard of idea where I came from! For now, I’m enjoying it from the window, but when I have to drive to work today in a few hours, confronting a 14% grade, mountain highways, and twists and turns, I might not enjoy it quite so much. And when the leaf-laden tree branches are shattered, spring flowers are blighted, and the snow melts into a swampy mess, I might very well resent it. And if it causes cattle losses and traffic hazards, I’ll hate it as much as the rest of them.