My 11-year-old daughter, Abby and I heard the spring sounds of birds flying overhead as we trudged through the snow and mud last Sunday.
We grinned at one another. Neither of us had heard birds for months. In fact, we had not seen bare ground since before Christmas. But warmer temperatures during daylight hours melted some of the snow and lifted our spirits. Freezing night time temperatures kept flooding at bay. Spring might show up at the Graham Ranch after all.
We looked up to watch snow geese gliding low over our hats.
They were flying south.
Not a good omen.
By Monday morning, life got busy.
My friend, Andy Watson took time away from campaigning for the Montana legislature to haul some cows to the Lewistown livestock auction for me.
My mom was visiting for the weekend so she and I were loading the cows into the horse trailer when Andy pulled up.
As we swung the back trailer gate closed, I looked up to see the propane truck parked on the county road.
A few weeks ago, my drought mitigation strategy of feeding on high spots so my four-legged organic matter spreaders would increase the soil’s water holding capacity changed to access mitigation. I fed hay all the way to the house so all of those cloven hooves would reduce drifting and pack the powder down. I had created an outback-style trail, but I no longer got stuck on my way home.
Last week, I cleared powder again so Propane Tom could make it the half mile from the county road, down a hill, across the bridge and up a steep incline to my propane tank near the house, but the thawing made his route questionable at best.
As Andy pulled out, Propane Tom began his attempt. Just then, Plumber Cody pulled in. I had texted him the night before, after my multiple, unsuccessful attempts to unclog the septic system. I hoped he would perform his magic so we could stop using the grand outdoor outhouse and maybe even take a shower.
Andy gunned the four-wheel-drive up the hill, then pulled on to the snow so Propane Tom had room to pass. But the snow is deceptive, appearing solid while the mud underneath jiggles.
Just ask yours truly, the resident tractor-stuck-in-the-mud-and-snow shoveling professional, how deceptive that snow can be.
Andy’s tires spun mud through the air, but the truck didn’t move.
Plumber Cody would pull Andy to the road if I had a chain.
I jumped into the Jeep and bumped my way over frozen manure hummocks to the house for a chain.
When I got to the shop, Propane Tom was spinning his wheels in mud two feet deep within 50 yards of my tank.
This did not look good.
I started the tractor, letting it warm up so I could pull Propane Tom out right after I took a chain to Plumber Cody.
I had to pick ax the chain out of the ice. As I chopped, Propane Tom handed his tow strap to me. He said he had never carried a tow strap before, but he had already used it three times this winter.
I told Propane Tom that he could smile now; we were finished with winter storms.
His eyebrows raised.
“Yep,” I said. “Wednesday is the first day of spring. From now on, we’ll have spring storms.”
Propane Tom tried to smile, but he didn’t pull it off well.
Plumber Cody and Andy were ready when I arrived with the tow strap.
By the time Cody pulled Andy to the county road, Propane Tom had managed to back up to the tank and fill it.
As we stood in the deep mud watching the propane truck four-wheel across the pasture, Cody gave me a single word of advice.
“Gravel,” he said. “Lots of gravel.”
“I have lots of gravel on the driveway,” I told him. “Loads and loads of gravel. I just don’t know where the driveway is.”