April is like a lion

farm storm

Some years, March arrives on the northern Plains like a lamb and leaves like a lion. Other years, it’s just the opposite. This year it was a lion from start to finish with no real break between roars.

Unhappily, more often than not, April makes March’s lion look like a house cat. For whatever reason, April usually features bigger and more brutal storms so I doubt there were many who thought the end was actually in sight when the month changed over. And that pessimism is about to be validated because this week we are scheduled to have one of the biggest snowstorms yet.

As I write this, the sun is shining and the huge mounds of ice and snow that are piled higher than I am tall are rapidly melting. The cows and brand new calves out in the pasture are resting in the first heat we’ve felt in a long time, but the wind is screeching and howling through the trees in the wind break and around the eaves of the house, just to make sure we haven’t forgotten what’s on its way. The sense of foreboding is almost worse because the sun is out and the soundtrack of the yowling winds reminiscent of the creepy music played in a horror movie right before things get gory.

Meanwhile, my husband is out executing the kind of executive decisions that make me glad I’m just a ranch hand. There are so many variables to consider. We’ve got some ideas about wind direction, temperatures, and relative duration of the storm. There’s less information on snowfall amounts or how the cows and calves will actually react. Older cows with calves by their sides are often better left to their own devices. They know where and how to find shelter in draws or tree belts depending on the changing conditions. Drifting snow and high winds can shift the equation though. Even an experienced mother might end up in a place she doesn’t want to be in a really bad storm.

New moms, on the other hand, are more likely to make mistakes or lose track of their calves regardless of a storm’s severity, but keeping them close or putting them in a barn comes with risks too. Sickness moves fast when you have a herd of animals milling around in close quarters, and new babies are often better able to handle cold and some snow than germs.

Even worse are the moms who have to deliver babies during the storm. There’s no foolproof solution for that either. Close quarters or out in the elements are both risky, and besides, there’s really no way to tell for sure who is going to have a baby in a given time frame unless labor has already begun.

All of this is why I’ve come to believe my husband’s unflappable stoicism may very well rival that of a seasoned zen practitioner. He works hard – harder than anyone else I know. He is also one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. In everything he does, he considers all angles and possibilities, weighing his options. But once he makes his decisions, and puts his plan into action, he stops worrying. If there’s no longer anything tangible he can do, he has to save his energy for the time when a solvable problem arises. Tonight, as the storm blows in, he will probably have the best sleep in a week. He can finally rest knowing he did his best, and that the eventual outcome is now beyond his control.

I’m not sure if everyone raised on a farm or ranch has this level of equanimity, but I know I sure don’t. Sometimes I like to worry so much about things I can’t control that it leaves me little time to work on the things I actually do have control over.

This week, Dear Reader, I’d like to offer a blessing of encouragement to myself, and to those of you who are like me: May we find peace where it is offered, even in the midst of storms, and may we find the courage to let the storm rage while we rest.


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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.



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