The pundits say practice makes perfect. My husband, Steve, and I took their advice to heart during the holidays.
The morning of Christmas Eve, the kids and I were enjoying some hot chocolate and talking about Jesus’ upcoming birthday party while Steve finished feeding the livestock. I answered the phone, only to hear a string of expletives directed toward sheep. Sheep are not Steve’s favorite four-legged mammal; in fact, some days I think rats rank above them in Steve’s mind. Apparently, a few ewes had dashed through a gate before Steve could get it closed. Then, while he was cussing the sheep as he drove the tractor up a steep slant, the rear hay bale rolled down into the frozen creek. When he tried to retrieve the round bale, the tractor sank through the snow drift. I never was really sure what he called about, but 12-year-old Will stayed with 4-year-old Abby while I grabbed a shovel and the dogs, circled the sheep through the gate and started digging out the tractor. By then, Steve had walked back to get my little tractor. My tractor doesn’t have a lot of power — 70 hp — and the tires are worn slick, but it had two advantages that day: It has a loader to push snow and it started right up.
So, while the rest of America attempted to protect its personal privacy from TSA, Steve and I shoveled and pulled, shoveled and pulled for about two hours until we dug his tractor out of the snow drift.
But we weren’t done. Both tractors now sat at the bottom of the hill, trapped between the snow bank and a warm spring. The only way back to the barn and the rest of the hay that needed to be fed was to plow back through the snow bank. Another two hours later, we had both tractors above the snow bank and facing the hillside. By then, the warm sunshine had melted the top layer of snow. Slick tires are no match for ice. We jockeyed around the hill until we managed to get the tractors where they needed to be and we noted how lucky we were to not be flying that day.
On Christmas, we fed all of the livestock without incident. Apparently, even practice needs a holiday once in a while.
By the day after Christmas, we were delighted to avoid the after-Christmas-sale throngs. Weather reporters were predicting a windy, cold snowstorm to hit us by Wednesday. It seemed wise to prepare for this storm by hauling a load of hay from the east end of the ranch closer to the livestock. Steve and I had not hauled all of the east pasture hay yet because our big truck is a dual-wheeled 2-wheel-drive that does not handle snow and ice well.
We managed to get the truck and 21-foot flatbed through the gate of the hay lot before the truck started sliding down an icy steep slope. The trailer jack-knifed about half way down the hill and the truck slid to a stop, buried in a snow bank. We shoveled and pulled, shoveled and pulled, finally managing to get the truck on to the plowed county road. We were home free, only needing to load 12 bales on the trailer and get back to the house before Abby awoke from her nap. Good thing I drove into another snow drift, burying the truck again so Steve and I could test our true love for each other.
By New Year’s Eve, Steve and I were happy to stay off the highways and out of overindulgence’s line of fire. We found some benefit to our shoveling exercises and even laughed about how good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. Then Steve buried the tractor in another snow drift.
As we carried our shovels out to the buried tractor, Steve said, “If this winter gets bad enough, I might have to put the tire chains on.”
Tractors get stuck because they get high-centered on packed snow. A person can not just shovel the powdery snow behind the wheels and drive out. The heavy packed chunks have to be broken loose and scooted out from under the belly of the tractor. It’s very satisfying to dig out a huge chunk. Practice perfects this skill.
So, if all else fails, Steve and I can always get jobs shoveling snow. We’ve had lots of practice.
Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.
She has two children; Will, 12, and Abby, 4.