I can’t help myself.
As I walk past each cow, I check her tail, watch her move, and search the drifts for newborn black ears.
After all, snow pelting my north-facing cheek means it must be calving season.
My wool longjohns hug my legs as I step into drifts up to my shoulders.
Two layers of wool socks keep my feet from sliding around in my muck boots as I coax recently-weaned lambs through a gate and into the barn.
But I don’t wean lambs in March and I don’t calve in September.
Snow piled to the barn roof and reaching out 15 feet doesn’t check the calendar, though.
Somehow, calendars become irrelevant when the cows and sheep are hungry.
When snow piles high to the top of the roof, calendars are irrelevant, but relationships become stronger.
The chaff of life disappears. No trips to the store. No excursions for fine dining. No pedicure to flash fancy toes in high-heeled sandals.
Okay, so most of that stuff evaporated from my life long ago, but when Graham Ranch National Forest tree branches, heavy with snow, the brush the ground, I don’t even miss that stuff.
My September to-do list, prioritized to maximize the final days of summer, becomes irrelevant, too.
Instead, connections matter.
I keep the most vulnerable livestock in the barn – my barn with four walls and a solid roof, thanks to so many helping hands within the past two years. Every single time I walk into that barn, I thank the people who rebuilt it for me. They put their lives on hold so mine would improve. Their gifts of time and effort are priceless.
The weaned lambs, the high maintenance lambs with various health issues and Abby’s old horse command the barn’s palace.
I touch the lambs as they crowd around bales I set before the storm, while I still could.
Their wool is soft and warm.
I feel the horse’s eyes gaze over to me contentedly as I hear him munch alfalfa.
The high maintenance lambs bleat, assuring me that they need even more food because what if they run out? Most of these lambs have been hungry, very hungry, at some point in their short lives. I wonder if they remember that emptiness.
The hen with two downy chicks huddles in the woodpile with her wings spread. A tiny beak pokes out from her feathers. I toss some grain near her so she won’t have far to go for breakfast.
The cows huddle on the lee sides of the barn while ewes slip between their legs to enjoy bovine warmth and windbreak. Each time the wind relaxes, all of them spread out across the pasture for a bite to eat.
As the wind sculpts snow art between the horsetrailers, I contact friends I have neglected all summer.
Are you warm?
Are you safe?
Are you trying to drive through this mess?
I tease my 12-year-old daughter, Abby, that we should stick to our to-do list and fix fence on the west end of the ranch. She giggles, knowing full well that none of our vehicles can get to the west end of the ranch, much less allow us to pound straight posts. The wind would angle them to the southwest.
Instead, she watches movies while I putter. We both laugh at the jokes emanating from the television.
I think about March.
Some things are different about a September snow storm.
The wind doesn’t bite quite as quickly.
The snow isn’t quite as hard.
The days seem longer.
Some things are the same, whether snow comes in September or March.
I do what I do when I don’t do anything else: Make sure Abby is safe, take care of the livestock and don’t get hurt.
The Montana sky takes my breath away.
And I lose my driveway.
The storm passes, as it always does.
I feed hay until the snow melts and the grass reappears.
The chicks chirp from under their mama.
The horse goes back to the corral.
The lambs move to the lamb lot.
The fine dining restaurants and pedicure spas take reservations again.
I look at my calendar.
Seasonal priorities return.
I find my driveway once again.
Maybe we need more September snow storms.