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Ruth Wiechmann: Ready or not

This view is a familiar one to ranchers across the plains this winter. Ruth Wiechmann | Courtesy photo
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This week brought a classic winter storm to the northern plains. As the forecasters made clear that we would likely receive an abundance of snow, we began to prepare.

I use the term ‘we’ personally and collectively. On a personal level, we, my family and I, weaned one bunch of calves and hauled them home, put out plenty of hay for that group of cows and mares, and trusted them to their instincts and the thick shelterbelts of trees that I helped to plant and hoe decades ago. The big bunch of cows got a big bunch of bales in a draw, and while they have far less protection they still have a decent spot to weather a storm. The little groups of miscellaneous critters around the yard got jockeyed around to various comfortable spots and got extra bales. It looked like Tuesday and Wednesday would be the worst days with the heaviest snow, so I tried to feed enough that I wouldn’t have to go out with the tractor in the thick of the storm.

As a last measure, I went to town for some number one diesel fuel for the tractor, fill a can of gas for the generator, should we need it, and grab a few things at the grocery store. I wasn’t the only one. I gave up on the line at the diesel pumps and went to get my groceries, hoping there wouldn’t be a wait when I got back. Wrong. The entire county was of one mind: stock up and get settled for the long haul. The grocery store shelves were thin in places, and when I got back to the fuel station there was yet another pickup with a service tank ahead of me at the diesel pump.



As I waited for the tank to fill, another pickup pulled up across from me. I could tell that this driver was another woman; we smiled and waved as our eyes met. But who was it? There was definitely an air of familiarity, but between her kerchief and coveralls I had a hard time recognizing the classy lady I see at church! Without her stylish skirts and heels her smile was the only thing I knew.

We exchanged small talk about getting ready for the storm. With the past three years of drought, and three corresponding open winters, we have had it easy, at least as far as winter storms go. But we haven’t forgotten what winter means, and we all do our best to be ready for whatever a blizzard may bring.



I was feeling pretty prepared until my phone rang, and I learned that my neighbor’s tractor had thrown a front wheel while they were putting out straw by the windbreak for their cattle. We do our best to be ready for the worst, but some things just can’t be predicted. Murphy, I am sure, was snickering up his sleeve at the timing of this mishap. There were parts to be had, but in another town, and the roads were already growing slick with freezing fog. Retrieving them would have to wait until after the storm. Of course, I would be willing to drive our tractor the half mile to feed their cows during the storm.

The storm that forecasters calculated would last two days is now raging away a third day, and likely to last into a fourth day, each one stormier than the last. But we’re getting through it, collectively, thanks to plenty of coffee, good ash firewood, linemen who go out in all conditions to repair broken poles and wires to keep our power flowing, and family and neighbors who call to check on each other and show up to help get a generator going, fix broken machinery, or put out hay.

And I’m getting the feeling that this winter may be the drought-breaker we’ve all prayed for, ready or not…

This view is a familiar one to ranchers across the plains this winter. Ruth Wiechmann | Courtesy photo
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