Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: April 6, 1996
A few nights back my dad and I were discussing the forecast, specifically April blizzards like the one we’re in the middle of as I write this, when he said, “April 6, 1996.”
That was a doozy of a spring blizzard for the part of eastern Wyo. I grew up in. Lots of heavy, wet snow, and the wind shifted partway through. In a rare turn of events, our deep draws went from excellent sources of protection to traps.
We were in the thick of calving, and lost 40-plus calves, milked at least that many cows for days, and fed dozens of calves whose mothers had sunburned their bags. Several cows lost teats or function in quarters of their bags. Some of those would stand there, with cracked and/or bleeding teats, and let their calves suck. Others would not.
Our old squeeze chute reeked of rotten milk from the gallons we stripped out of cows in an attempt to save their bags until they had recovered enough to let their calves suck again. I recall my dad milking cows and applying bag balm almost nonstop for a few days. Empty green tins littered the ground surrounding the chute.
Our equally old wooden barn was a solid mass of calves. They would run to greet us morning and night when we arrive with breakfast and supper.
My brother and I sunburned our eyes, my brother especially bad, after riding all day following the storm. Grandma Maelene had us sit with slices of raw potato over our eyes that night. The next day we were out riding again, with lots of sunscreen rubbed on our exposed skin, and sunglasses. At one point my trusty mount Brownie and I miscalculated exactly where we were, and walked off the trail and sunk into wet, heavy snow that went up to the middle of his rather tall chest.
My fear and his ability to get us out are what I recall most about that storm. That, and riding all those rough draws, and finding cow after cow standing next to a bank of snow that presumably held her newborn calf. I can see one old, red baldy cow who hadn’t cleaned yet plain as day. Standing in the bottom of a draw that was half snowbank, half lush, green grass. Looking from me to the snowbank, and back again. Refusing to leave.
As my dad also said, a lot of us would be hard-pressed to find a cow today with the degree of mothering ability several exhibited in that storm. In spite of that big positive, that was also the spring we went away from Hereford cows. You always have to weigh the pros and cons in cattle, and there are some things nobody wants to experience twice. April 6, 1996 was one of those things, especially for my parents.
There are going to be some that recall April 11, 2019 as my family thinks of the spring of 1996. Spring blizzards are “doozies,” particularly after the year of weather we’ve already faced.
Some of the best medicine I’ve found to help address my mental state following a blizzard is to go find an old ranch person. It doesn’t take many of their stories about blizzards before long range forecasts, four-wheel drive tractors, round bales and numerous other modern conveniences that I start to feel better. Those tough, older folks also have a way of making anyone around them pull up their proverbial bootstraps and get over any feelings of self-pity. After all, there’s work to do, and sure to be hay with this kind of moisture.
Another thing we can all do is pray. Particularly if you find yourself at an indoor job, reading this. Pray for those souls out there fighting tooth and nail for every inch this year. There is nothing more important that you can do for them than to pray.
Lastly is what will also be remembered in this and other bad storms, and the reason my dad has said more than once that America does not need a welfare program; neighborly assistance. We’ve seen it in a big way already this spring as folks do everything they can help Nebraska and its neighbors that were impacted by the bomb cyclone. It’s also what you’ll hear those elderly folks mention in their blizzard stories, and what my parents comment on, too. So and so showed up with their brand new four wheel drive tractor. This neighbor opened a gate to let cattle into protection, or maybe fed them. Someone brought a casserole. It’s a rare blizzard story that doesn’t mention something someone did that saved the day in one way or another.
That degree of care for one’s neighbor is largely being lost in our great country, arguably in part because of welfare, but it is a biblical order that is still alive and well in agriculture.
Regardless of how hard it is, and how few understand what these storms do, those that do understand work tirelessly to ensure their neighbor’s, near and far, make it through. What a heartwarming blessing that is, even on the coldest of days.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5