March 9, 2011



It was late September. Maybe early October. We’d had some late showers, and it kind of fooled that grass into thinking it was spring. There was a little green stuff under the sun-ripened grasses left over from a summer of grazing. But the days were getting shorter. And you could see there was moisture in those dark clouds sneaking up over the hills west of the yard.
Forecast said a chance of snow showers. Now, if you’ve lived around here long enough, you know what a snow shower could be. It might be a few icy flakes that sting your cheek as you look away from the wind. Or it might be a couple of feet of white stuff that is going to be there until April.
Shirley sent me out to kick the cows off the flat. Me and Paul and Lonesome. As we started those cows into the breaks and watched them string out down the trail, I felt a couple of flakes hit my cheek and rode up on the ridge to look west. You could see the heavy snow headed down the creek and you kind of turned your collar up and realized that winter was here.
Paul was riding Sham and I was on Zip. We put them in a long trot for home, and started wondering where we had put our overshoes last spring. As we rode into the yard, we started glancing around trying to remember where everything was lying so we could dig it from under the snow in the morning. Like usual, we weren’t ready for winter. Happens every year.
Just got done hauling hay in and now we have to start hauling it out. Guess the Indians are right when they say life is a circle.
Oh, some winters are good. You might have decent weather, a January thaw, an early spring. Cows come through in better shape than they started. Gets dark early enough you can make it into town for a pinochle game or a ballgame.
Or you might have a winter where that first snow gets covered by a new one the next week. And that one gets covered by a new blanket a few days later. And the winds blow from the north for two days. And then switches to the southeast for a few days. And then the northeast. And then it snows again and everything is plugged up. Roads, ditches, trails. Everything is socked in tight.
And it might be twenty above in the day time and zero at night. Or you might go forty or fifty days without ever seeing zero. And it’s thirty below at night. And the snow cracks under your feet as you walk to the barn in the morning. You’re buying ether by the case and wearing two pairs of socks and have your long handles on for weeks. And some old fool will tell you it was a lot worse than this in the old days. And it probably was. Who am I to say?
Or someone will say “This is just the way ’64-5 started out.” I hate it when that happens.
But all in all, I kind of like winter. When you are walking to the house at night and you can look up and see the millions of stars twinkling back at you. And the air is so still that even an occasional snowflake is embarrassed at disturbing it.
And I always kind of liked riding in the winter. Oh, your toes might freeze and fall off. And your fingers get so cold that you have to hold back tears as they warmed up under warm water from the faucet.
But there is something about riding along the ridges and spotting a buck deer bedded down under a cedar tree. Or having a pheasant or sharptail burst through fresh snow from right underneath your horse. Or maybe seeing the tracks where coyotes pulled down a young or crippled deer in the deep snow. And picturing the battle in your mind.
I remember one time I was riding down Deep Creek. It was one of those winter afternoons where the world is standing still. Not cold enough to be miserable, but cold enough to keep the riffraff out. Snowflakes as big as saucers were gently drifty down from a dark sky. Not a breath of breeze was disturbing those lazy flakes.
Riding along in fresh fallen snow, I sensed some movement out of the corner of my eye. There was a herd of elk winding down a sidehill toward me. I stopped “Freeman,” and he sensed it was a special moment. We sat there, frozen in time, as thirty elk came winding down through the scrub oak and passed a few yards in front of us.  Only one saw us. And that old cow elk just turned her head and looked at me kind of quizzically, as if to ask why I was in her house. Then they disappeared up the next canyon like ghosts into a castle. When they were gone, I sat there another moment, hating to move, and realized that life was good.
Oh, sometimes winter was bad. When you broke down on the river, and had to walk eight miles home. Uphill. Carrying fifty extra pounds of lasagna around my middle. Or pacing the house while a blizzard roared for a couple of days, and you were worried about the cows. Or worrying while a son or daughter was on their way to a rodeo over icy roads and drifting snow. But, I guess I’ve been pretty lucky. The cows usually came out of it pretty good and the kids always did.
May as well put on some extra clothes and we’ll go feed cows. Hang on, ’cause I’m going to take a hard run at that big drift up ahead.