Good for the Soul

What a world of difference a week makes! Barely more than a week ago, we were contending with perhaps the parting onslaught of winter, snow amounts we haven’t seen in a long time; we were cold and wet and muddy, feeding animals that were less than comfortable and covered in a glaze of ice and glistening icicles. We were bracing for the aftermath, hoping and praying the toll on the little calves wouldn’t be too high. The wind howled, snow fell from a heavy sky and swept skyward again in the gusts. Eyes were blinded by the unbroken sheen of windswept white. We staggered around, floundering through drifts to do chores and feed animals, then tumbling inside to warm up chilled hands and toes and face.

This week, it is a whole different world. A hopeful one. Almost overnight, the first frost of green touched the hills, the first green we have seen in months and months of staring at dismally dry pastures in a parched part of the country. Every day the green is deeper, richer, and more. Calves sprawl in the sunlight on warm ground, no longer fighting mud and snow, or race wildly around in a frenzy of fun. Their mamas graze contentedly on the fresh grass, no longer clamoring for hay to fill hungry bellies.

Dams that were dry now have water in them, and the sky is the blue that only comes in the springtime. The wind is gentle, the bite of winter a thing of the past. The bluebirds are back, and the clear, sweet voice of the meadowlark soars high above the rest of spring’s many songs. While we were checking cows, I heard a familiar and strange call, one of those sounds that goes straight to my heart, and searched the sky – Sandhill cranes were making their way north from the sandy dunes of Nebraska, in a shifting V of flight. And yesterday the killdeer were pantamiming along the driveway. Spring is here at last.

My garden is beginning to awaken, with the promise of color and delight and beauty. Lupine and catmint and lavender and chives, verbena and painted daisies and hollyhocks, yarrow and purple coneflowers, all are emerging eagerly from the warming earth and spreading joyful leaves. The green shoots are so good to see, and the thriving of things that survived the winter!

The line between inside and out is deliciously blurred, with windows thrown open, beckoning the spring into the house, sleeping with the wind stirring the curtain by my pillow. Evening jaunts down to lock up the chickens can be done without piling on coveralls and heavy coat, and the first sunburns of the year have marked the welcome change of the seasons. What a glorious free feeling, to have set aside heavy muckboots and heavy coats in favor of lighter, to be unencumbered, moving easily and unhindered!

What a difference from last week, or the week before. What a wonderful difference. It is a spring that is good for the soul.

Weekly Photo Roundup | March 19 – 25

It was a good week. We welcomed spring with several mini snowstorms, and little bits of warm and friendly weather, a rollercoaster weather week. Tagged lots of calves, shipped a load of yearlings, baked lots of bread, sold lots of eggs, trained pups, and in general enjoyed a brief slow down before things pick back up. Searched for pasqueflowers, but no luck there yet. I did, however, find a snow-roller on a walk with the dogs.

Life’s a whirlwind. Embrace the whirlwind!

To Dream of Spring

It started like the snow in a snow-globe, turned topsy turvy by eager hands. Yesterday’s sky dropped a mesmerizing whirl of big, beautiful flakes like downy feathers, falling straight and true like so many stars, then falling thicker, then accumulating.

A snowfall settles like an enchantment. Dazzling the eyes, the snow transforms. It really is splendid, the way the mundanest of things suddenly become things of surpassing beauty, behind a shimmering curtain of snowflakes. Even a clothespin – a clothespin! – has an otherwordly delight about it, under a dainty cap of snow. So soon, the lines will be heavy with freshly washed laundry, not with snow.

With painterly precision, with spell-binding beauty, the homely ponderosa is made resplendent in a wonderland of white, even as the light is dimming from the sky. Things rusted and worn take on a beauty not their own.

The drab brown of worn out fields and tired earth are covered over with the bright promise of relief, of spring, of the so-needed moisture. Parched earth is mercifully given drink and spirits rise at small answers to prayer. A whirling spring snowfall like this one elevates and cleanses and heals and refreshes and restores.

We walked our normal evening loop, the snow plastering us from head to toe. The snowflakes were sweet on my tongue and easy to catch. I wasn’t wearing a cap with a brim and the snow caught in my eyelashes and flew straight into my eyes and melted all over my face. But the air was kind with coming spring, not bitter with the bite of winter. Even the animals felt it. The pups raced around with insane energy, unphased, unchilled. The horses galloped hill after hill, turning to face me, then running, turning then running, the snowy energy coursing in their veins as well.

And so the sun set on an altered world, asleep under a downy blanket, to dream of spring.

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.

Feathers and Stars

I think we say this every spring, but the weather has been taunting us. We’ve had glorious tastes of springtime, followed by chilly, winterish days, followed by summer weather, then snowstorms. That cycle has repeated itself a few times and, as I type this, the most beautiful snow is falling outside my window, a snowstorm that began at midnight on Sunday.  I’m sure we’ve had 8-10″ by this point, in two different cycles of snow, much of which melted off in between, and it is still coming down relentlessly.IMG_8557e
IMG_8503eIn spite of the untimeliness of a snowstorm at this time of year, I can’t help but be awestruck by the beauty of snow, particularly falling snow. Part of me would prefer balmy spring weather and wildflower hunting, but the enchantment of a snowstorm – of trees in the snow, of snow-covered hillsides, of snow falling with a soft sound from heavy-laden branches, of footprints in the snow, of the silence of a snowed-in world – is hard to resist.IMG_8554eEnya, in her song “Amid the Falling Snow,” writes, “A million feathers falling down, a million stars that touch the ground.” That song is one of my favorites, and those lines have always stuck with me.

Feathers and stars, and a world transformed. Winter can last a little longer.

Spring Again

Another spring is here – for real, this time. We may get some more snow (likely, actually), but when the pasques are out, spring is really, really here.
IMG_8177eI found these on a little trail in Rapid City just before a piano lesson last week. What a lovely find! There are a few other wildflowers I really get excited about, but pasques are particularly special. They mark the end of a long winter, and the beginning of beautiful weather and the promise of more living, blooming things, and of vivid, rambunctious color coming back to the landscape!