Annual April Storm
This is the time of year when a person starts wondering whether she can quit feeding hay pretty soon.
The cows spread out over the pasture, grazing, while their calves curl up for a nap nearby.
The sheep trot out of the corral each morning, nipping at the green grass as they circle the pasture, seeking the perfect blade.
But the grass is still short, struggling to keep up with those prehensile lips.
Cold nights keep it that way.
When I start the tractor, black and white heads from two species raise up and look at me from a half mile away.
I spread a few bales, while cows and sheep crowd around, clamoring for tasty alfalfa leaves.
Then they don’t bother to clean their plates. They high-grade the leaves while the calves nest in the tough stems.
A child would be told to finish one meal before beginning another, but livestock don’t always do what I tell them.
They are funny that way.
But last weekend, the question of whether to spread more hay did not enter my mind.
The radio was full of warnings – blizzard, high winds, six inches of snow. Over and over I heard it.
The radio could have played the same warnings from last year and the years before.
In fact, I plan for a late April storm.
My son’s birthday is April 29.
The year he was born, lilacs were blooming.
Since then, snow has been flying.
One year, he received a new computer game. The electricity was off for three days.
Another year, heavy snow downed power lines for five days. We warmed water on the gas stove while the generator rotated among freezers full of beef and lamb.
Usually, the first lambs have April birthdays, too.
I push lambing season as far into the spring as I can, but summer responsibilities backstop my lambing calendar.
Those first lambs better be tough.
So, last weekend, as the radio roared blizzard warnings, I spread hay for the cattle out of the wind, glad for piles of stems that would buffer young calves.
I put the sheep to bed in my barn, knowing the population would probably increase in the night.
In the pitch dark, shrieking wind pelted snow against all of the north-facing windows and most of the others. I opened my eyes to Mother Nature’s howls.
Daylight revealed the good, the bad and the ugly.
Two ewes hovered over newborn lambs tottering around the barn.
The horses tucked themselves under the southern barn eaves, snow packed in their tails.
The cows crowded around a brand new windbreak that stretched across my yard fence into the pasture.
Mother Nature had howled “TIMBER!” in the night, shrinking the Graham Ranch National Forest by one.
The old spruce lay between the propane tank, a lilac tree and my rock wall.
A logger could not have placed it any better.
My neighbors had it far worse.
A windbreak fence blew over and let horses out.
Full-term cows could not wait any longer so wet newborns faced a short life in a bone-chilling world.
But this is the world my neighbors and I choose to face. For a variety of our own reasons, we gamble with the seasons of our landscape.
By 11 am, the wind still roared, but snow subsided so I fired up the tractor to feed again. Snowdrifts filled leeward hillsides so it wasn’t hard to figure out where to spread the hay.
The cows and sheep ventured over to fill their rumens and generate some heat.
The neighbors rebuilt their windbreak fence.
Others will sell the cows that lost calves so McDonald’s can stay in business.
I’ll plant a red-leafed plum tree, or maybe an apple tree in my yard.
Next April, we’ll do it all again.