Snow Day

Oh, I love a snow day. A coffee-drinking, chili-eating, pile-burning day. Heavy skies, whirling snow, wading through knee-deep drifts and retracing steps a short time later only to find the tracks already blown in.

Everything is harder, everything takes longer, your toes and fingers freeze, and your face, the only part of you showing, gets nipped hard by the cold. Sneaky little trickles of snow find the impossible gaps between scarf and hood. Negative windchills require a delicate balance of enough layers to keep you warm in the gale-force winds and flying snow while not causing extra exertion and resulting perspiration. Bundle up enough to be warm and you’re suddenly wearing so many layers you’re sweating your way down a hill.

But truly, I love a snow day.

We went out first thing and lit off half a dozen piles, a jolly way to spend a frigid morning. I’ve always loved a good pile burning day! We had been anticipating a snow storm for months, hoping to get some of the slash piles burned up that are sprinkled all over in the timber, and Brad got excited when he saw not just the snow but the stretch of cold temps in the forecast. So out we went, armed like arsonists with gasoline and matches and old bale net wrap. The pups all came with us, a desperate attempt on our part to start wearing them out. It took approximately 4 hours of cold weather yesterday for them to get stir crazy and last night they were impossible. So we hauled them out in the single digits and they got a grand 5 minutes of running around before the silly things were shivering. They didn’t ask to get out of the truck after that. Every time we got out to light a pile, they spread out over all the seats, and every time we got back in they were less inclined to move out of the way, preferring for us to half sit on them instead.

The piles lit beautifully. I realized after pile four that I involuntarily released a sound, something like “Hah!,” every time the lit match hit the gasoline-soaked net wrap and whooshed into flame. But it is just so satisfying! I could watch the fire for hours, flames licking up ravenously into the snow-heavy air, creating up drafts that suck the smoke back into the pile in a volatile whirlwind. Mesmerizing. The bulls also found it satisfying, apparently, since they cozily warmed their little backsides, eventually wandering away and giving a musical shake to the icicles hanging all along their ribs.

Not much activity outside the chicken coop today. Not much, as in none. The chickens flatly refused to leave the coop and laid their eggs in creative places, like inside the feed hopper and while sitting on their roost. However, between Brad checking them on his way up from checking heifers and my own dashes down to the coop, not a single egg froze and the chickens laid a baker’s dozen, not too shabby for a day with highs of 1 degree. One glorious degree.

A lot of time was spent either trying to stay warm or trying to get warm again, getting as much done outside as we could yet trying to do as little as possible in the frigid temps. I rolled a whole bunch of seed starting pots while listening to a podcast, and worked on seed starting plans, figuring out what to start when. Peppers and some greens will be some of the first things to get planted, first thing next week when my seed germination mats get here! Someone likes to keep this house super cold in the winter. My chick order is ready to go next time I stop in to the ag supply store, hopefully tomorrow if the roads are good enough to run to town to teach.

Something about cold and snow make a person dream of springtime. But one glance at the thermometer or the drifted world outside is a keen reminder that winter isn’t over yet and the cold and the mud and the snow are here for awhile yet.

Muddy pawprints smear the linoleum in the kitchen (thank goodness for linoleum), which I have resigned to enjoying clean for half an hour at a time, the intervals between growing longer and longer. The mud room looks like it was ransacked, littered with so many pairs of muck boots and coveralls and coats that it looks like half a dozen people live here, and random gloves because the puppies squirreled their mates away. You can’t even cross the six feet of mudroom floor without stepping on something – Boots, hats, mud puddles, scarves that got away from us, dog toys, a puppy or three, maybe a cat, and I tripped or something as I opened the door and managed to nail myself right in the forehead, leaving a beautiful goose egg. The whole house smells vaguely of smoke from smoky (and perhaps slightly scorched) articles of clothing drying here and there. The pups are finally sleeping and haven’t made a peep in quite awhile. The afternoon walk up the hill in -4 degrees must have convinced them that we were serious.

Oh yes. I love a snow day!

When Winter and Spring Collide

What a time of year in what a wonderful part of the country. I know a lot of people in a lot of places say this, but truly, if you don’t like the weather around here, just wait a week. Or a few hours. It’ll change.

We’re halfway through February, and we’ve enjoyed some seasonal weather, chilly but not brutal, intermingled with days so warm you can smell the sap in the trees and the warming soil. There’s an extra something in the air. The promise of coming spring. But right now we’re watching for the winter storm that’s forecasted to start tomorrow.

A snow squall this morning was followed by blue sky this afternoon, teasing us with what’s forecasted, while we pray and hope for some of the moisture we so desperately need. While the meteorologists woefully and apologetically predict snow, ranchers are welcoming it for the moisture but prepping for what could turn into a challenging week. Once again we’re battening down, with forecasts of up to 18 inches of snow, heavy winds, and frigid temperatures. The three surprise calves that were born last month really were fortunate, and are healthy and strong going into this cold.

And what a teasing, taunting, beautiful winter it has been. It is as if winter and spring keep bumping into one another. One day I’m getting into my garden, stripped down to a tank top, the next I’m bundled up in heavy bibs stumbling around trying to keep animals watered and fed. One day Brad and I are splitting wood in a balmy 50-feels-like-60 degrees, the next we’re watching snow flurries and breaking ice on all the water. One day my laundry is hanging on the line to dry, the next I think I’m wearing everything in my closet. One day the chickens are happily free ranging in the springlike temps, the next day they glare at me as I let in a blast of cold air opening their door.

The one thing that is a constant is the pups – Snow or shine, they love it outside! I love looking out and seeing them romp, or finding a pile of kittens and puppies on the deck soaking up the sunshine. Josie got to experience her first few times riding the ATV, and she and Bess have come with us on some of our project afternoons.

The warm days we’ve filled with as much outdoor work as possible, reveling in the winter warmup – In Brad’s free time he has felled and chunked a number of dead trees, as well as pulling useable firewood out of the machine piles from when some logging was done several years ago. We hauled the splitter and a dump trailer up the hill to one of the piles and filled it full, and it turned into something of a late Christmas present for the folks. There’s nothing like wood heat on a cold day! And the girls were great help.

We’ve done some odds and ends of wintertime and spring-prep cow work, bringing the first calf heifers into the hayfield so they can be checked easier when they start calving. Brad is getting the calving shed set up and we’re just hoping the heifers wait until after this snow storm to start! We’ll be moving the rest of the cow herd tomorrow, bringing them from the north of the ranch into the center of the ranch for calving.

I’ve gotten into my garden, cleaning it up and adding compost, turning it under, wetting it down, and getting it ready for spring planting. So exciting! Every few weeks when there has been a warm up, I’ve watered the trees we planted, including the oak and ash sapling transplants, and have also doused my perennial garden a few times. Green is already starting to show! I bent a couple of twigs and even the transplants have survived. When I was churning up my vegetable garden, I uprooted this strange mess of roots, so fine I first thought it was fungus, only to realize it was my chives. Oops. Fortunately some plants are pretty forgiving.

The chickens are really picking up their egg laying, with a record breaking 17 eggs yesterday, and 16 the two previous days! I love being able to meet my customer demands, and sold three 18-packs and two 12-packs this weekend, and five 18-packs at the beginning of last week. I’ve been getting my plan in place for purchasing chicks soon, which is extremely fun to anticipate.

On the cold days I’ve baked bread and sourdough muffins, gotten some writing done, canned the rest of my cranberries, brainstormed chickens and chicks, planned my garden, and cleaned, cleaned, cleaned, the result of puppies and mud and the blurry line between winter and spring.

I went through all my seeds today and am pretty well set for my garden, except for one or two more varieties of tomatoes and some pumpkins. I’ll be getting some greens started in the house soon, a little indoor “salad garden,” since I’m hankering to be growing something. Maybe it will become a permanent off-season thing. To my rancher husband’s chagrin, I eat a lot of lettuce and greens. He says I’ll eat him out of business.

What beautiful days these are, when winter and spring collide.

Bess’s First Day on the Job

What an adventurous day it was. Bess accompanied me, Brad, and Pearl up to headquarters yesterday and got to experience all the excitement of a quick morning weighing heifers. She was enthralled, watching her mom, uncle, and grandma all show off their professional cowdog skills.

Her sister, Cooper, has permanently gone up north to join the crew up at headquarters and was following Dave around. Even just in the 24 hours Cooper was up at the north end, she adjusted really well to her new home! I’m impressed with how well these pups have all figured out their territory, sticking close to the house and barn.

Bess and Cooper took a break in an old lick tub in the scale shed after awhile (when carrying them was no longer convenient), and watched the heifers get weighed. When that got boring they napped, hard. It’s hard work, being a cowpuppy.

These pups are out of two great dogs, so we are excited to see how our two (and all the rest, that are close enough for us to keep tabs on!) turn out. Their intelligence is a little unnerving at times, but they have such a desire to please. Bess and Josie are getting familiar with basic commands, and have been very responsive. We’re working on “sit” and “down” right now, and hot dog chunks are a fantastic motivator. However, I think they might be smart enough to realize that the longer they take to learn something, the more hot dog they can eat.

It is fun to see how much can be accomplished with the help of a good dog or three. Although they’re loved like pets, they really are an integral part of the crew and a vital element to the work that gets done around here.

It was a great first day on the job for Bess!

Seeing Black and White

When the puppies were first born, it was impossible to really distinguish one from the other, at least as far as four of them were concerned. Bessie was named pretty quickly, because of her milk cow markings, and there was an all black male that was quickly identifiable, but for some reason hadn’t earned a name.

They are now coming up on 7 weeks old and are a riot of activity, eager for attention, friendly, boisterous, and just a bundle of fun. We’ve got the sweet and sleepy one, the go-getter, the playful and clumsy one, the smart one, and a couple that haven’t really distinguished themselves but are plenty adorable with more energy than should fit in a body that size. It doesn’t get much more fun than going down to the barn and yelling, “Puppies!” and have six puppies and sometimes their mother come pouring out of the barn or out from under the trailers.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have let them start to explore outside and it is hilarious to watch the fat little pandas barreling full-tilt across the yard in protection of their pinecones, tumble down remnants of snow drifts, and learn the about the delicacy of horse manure.

They also enjoy terrorizing the cats, many of which actually invite the terrorizing and enjoy a playful romp with the pups. Polly in particular. It is only since the puppies have significantly outweighed her that the novelty of them is wearing a little thin. One pup is generally tolerable, but four or more is less so. But she still comes back and invites another mauling.

It doesn’t get much cuter.