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.

Riding Out the Storm

The meteorologists have downgraded the severity of the storm for today and tomorrow, which is a blessing! Plenty of moisture but without the winds, we’ll take it! Local power outages have been restored, and all in all things are going well. I don’t know what they’re expecting as far as additional snow totals, but the winds aren’t supposed to be as wicked as anticipated. Temps will be pretty miserable tonight and tomorrow morning, but it sounds like it should be better than initially thought.

The pups went with me to do chores this morning and they promptly regretted it. They abandoned their solo floundering and followed along in my footsteps, the snow more or less up to their ears. As heavy and deep as the snow is, I had to stop a few times on my way down to take a breather, and on the way back up my tracks were mostly drifted over again. The wind howled so I couldn’t hear anything else, but I’d occasionally check behind me and there were the pups, trotting along obediently right behind me, completely frosted over except little holes where their eyes were.

The chicken coop is snug and actually feels warm (which it should, with 29 birds in there), and the girls were busy about their egg-laying by the time I got down below. The chicks in the barn are likewise toasty and comfortable and our barn cats are well-situated.

Checks went well up north this morning, and when Brad got home I went out to help him feed hay to all the cows on our end. Gate-getting isn’t a job to be laughed at, that’s for sure. It actually saves a lot of time, as silly as it might sound. Down in the hayfield, we had locked a bunch of dry cows up with access to water and a windbreak, and they were making good use of the buddy heat method, but looked pretty annoyed at their situation. However, up in the timbered pastures it was delightful to look down into a draw or sheltered spot and see a group of excellent mama cows with their calves tucked away in the plum and chokecherry thickets. They couldn’t have been more snug if they were in a barn. The calves surged in waves in front of the tractor, like little black dolphins in a white sea. It made me laugh.

The stackyard was impressively drifted over, with drifts as tall as the bales of hay, and even with non-blizzard winds all tracks filled in just about as quickly as we could make them. The fourwheeler barely made it up to the house.

We’ll hang tight for a bit before venturing out to finish up everything, but my snowshoes are staged by the door for my run down to the barn. It’s a great day to take advantage of a warm house, hot tea, and a good book. And a few puppy cuddles.

Tucked In

What a beautiful morning to wake to! We have gotten a solid 13 inches of wet snow here, based off my measurements on the back deck, and could be getting about a half inch an hour for the next 12 hours. The trees are cloaked and lovely.

We’re thankful for all the storm prep we did the last few days and are anticipating a worsening of conditions as the winds pick up, which they already are. Snow is falling a little heavier than it was at sunrise. Brad and Dave are out feeding everything before it gets much worse, and we already know of live calves that were born in this storm, which is very encouraging. Cattle are safely bedded in sheltered locations and yesterday’s tucking in appears to have been a success. We are very thankful!

Other than feeding and other normal chores, we’re set up well to hopefully be able to just keep food and water in front of animals and then more or less stay tucked in ourselves to ride out this blizzard as it worsens over the next few hours.

The pups are already intensely stir-crazy at 8am, busy disemboweling their toys and turning the living room into a jungle gym. They’ve gotten a stern talking to already which resulted in approximately three and a half minutes of quiet. The cozy ambiance is rather disrupted by the sound of bodies hitting the floor, snapping teeth, trampling of feet, and the occasional puppy or puppy toy flying through the air. This could be a long day.

Not Exactly Maternal

Four months ago today, Pearl had her intro into motherhood and let’s just say it has been a journey. Her maternal instincts were a little sluggish, sort of like a heifer who looks at her first calf like it’s a different species from who knows where and how in the world did it get here? That was Pearl. The first pup arrived and the guilty look on Pearl’s face very clearly said: “I’m so sorry, I have no idea what this thing is or where it came from!” I’m pretty sure she never even knew when she was going to have another pup, because she’d stand up and another one would just – plop – hit the floor. For Pete’s sake, she took off before she was done having all her babies (to go bunny hunt, by the way), and couldn’t get back to the house in time so resorted to having her last pup outside under the deck in 20 degree weather requiring us to do some un-carpentry to get the pup out.

Anyway, her maternal instincts did eventually kick in, after a fashion, although she always looked vaguely pained and tormented. But she managed to raise them all without accidentally killing any of them, or intentionally, for that matter, and they have all gone to great families. However, I just wanted to share this sequence of pictures that really is just the perfect visual of Pearl’s relationship to her pups.

Ironically, Pearl and Bess, the pup who got plastered in these pictures, get along swimmingly, but Josie is kind of scared of her. I don’t blame her. Pearl can get a downright possessed look in her eyes, right before gleefully plowing her into the ground. She isn’t exactly maternal.

Tucking In

The snowstorm last week was just a practice run for what the meteorologists have been predicting for this week, starting today. According to current predictions, we could be looking at 12-24 inches of snow and 60 mph wind gusts, warranting an official blizzard warning for the next 48 hours.

Over the last two days, which were beautiful and springlike, we’ve gotten set up for this snowstorm and put the finishing touches on everything today. It is comforting to see the hayfield emptied, all the mamas and babies pushed up into the trees where they can find better shelter to weather this blizzard. The calving shed is likewise empty, except for one cow we put in there this morning and the calf she just had. Brad and Dave spent the late morning and early afternoon tucking the big north bunch of cows into a timbered and sheltered ravine while I made a last minute egg delivery.

Everything was uneasy early this afternoon. The atmosphere was unsettled and everything felt it. Critters have their way of knowing when a storm is coming. Heifers came barreling down the hill to the stock tank for a quick drink of water before disappearing back into the trees, not moseying in and dilly-dallying as is their habit on a nice day. Horses were pretty talkative, and everything was on edge.

The snow held off long enough I started wondering if they’d missed the forecast altogether, but around 1pm the flurries started. Visibility has gradually worsened as the snowfall has gotten more persistent, and we’re probably at about a quarter mile visibility right now. The snow is starting to accumulate and a calm has descended. Cows have tucked themselves up in the trees with their calves, chickens are tucked in their coop, and all the other little animals are settling in to ride out the storm.

And it is a wonderfully wet snow! People are of course complaining about the snow, but this is South Dakota after all and we are in the middle of a drought. Spring snowstorms can be devastating, but so can the absence of spring snow. God knows our needs and we are trusting in His provision, praying for safety, and thankful for the much-needed moisture.

Chicks down in the barn are toasty warm, the cats have plenty of food and places to shelter, and the chickens have been spoiled with fresh bedding in the nesting boxes and their food hopper is moved back inside to make things a little easier. We have batteries in our flashlights, oil in our lantern, candles, water to drink, fuel for the generator and tractor, and chains on the tires. And a crockpot of chili. We’re sitting pretty good and getting all tucked in.

Ranch Wife Musings | Mud

It is everywhere! Mud, absolutely everywhere, on everything, tracked into the house and well beyond the mud room, caked on boots, worked into the denim of jeans and crumbling from the legs of the pants. I’m scrubbing it from the floor, washing away those telltale paw prints from one of the pups who busted through the mud room gate or got overzealous when we headed inside.

I’m sweeping up piles and piles of it, combing it from puppy fur, and washing it from my face, from that one cow who turned suddenly and splashed me – twice – in the corrals, flinging it on me head to toe. And that’s special mud, corral mud. It flings up from the tires of the four wheeler, snow and mud spraying up and all over everyone. Coveralls are stiff with it. Floorboards are caked with it. It’s everywhere. Eventually you just have to accept it.

And it’s glorious.

Mud is a promise.

A promise that springtime is coming, the thaw really is happening. Winter is coming to an end.

A promise of moisture. Life-giving. Sustaining.

It’s hope.

Hope for a good year.

Hope for grass, for healthy livestock.

It is an answer to prayer.

Oh, how we have prayed for relief to this parched land. How we’ve prayed for water to fill the dams. For respite from the drought. Without water, there is no mud. And there is mud. Plenty of it. So there is water.

It’s a reminder.

God’s answers to prayers don’t always come all nice and tidy and recognizable. In fact, usually they don’t. Sometimes they’re mud-caked and messy. Sometimes answers to prayer come paired with reminders of our own fickleness, wanting something but grudgingly trying to tell God that the manner of gifting was wrong. “Sure, that’s what I prayed for, but what I meant was….”

So I’m thankful for the mud. For warmth and thaw. For wet and running water trickling down all the trails, pooling in the most inconvenient places. I’m thankful for springtime. For life. For mud-covered blessings.