Snowbound in the Country

PETER A. JAY

March 21, 1993|By PETER A. JAY

HAVRE DE GRACE — Havre de Grace. -- It must be cozy up there in the country when it snows a lot, say the city friends a little enviously. You probably just sit in front of the fire and read, without a care in the world. No sidewalks to shovel, and you park your car wherever you want.

Well, sort of. Until last weekend, we'd almost forgotten what it was like, it had been so long since we were really and truly snowed in. So herewith a few hasty notes from the wintry rural paradise.

Friday, Mar. 12, was sunny and smelled like spring. Recent bird activity suggested the same thing; swans had been flying over all week, heading north, and bluebirds had been checking out the boxes. But the weather reports were adamant that a big storm was on the way, so we placed our faith in Norm Lewis and got ready for the snow.

Firewood: check. Portable lanterns, both propane and kerosene, and fuel to run them: check. Shovels: check. Generator (a small one but enough to run the water pump and an appliance or two): check. Children (one recovering from chicken pox): check. But when I walked to the barn that night after supper there was still no snow, and my faith in high-tech meteorology was shaken.

Not for long, though. Saturday morning by first light the promised snow was hissing against the windows, and the bird feeder was filled with grackles and blackbirds making their own frenzied preparations for the storm. I brought in the horses that had spent the night out, and fed the cows in the big open shed.

We have one orphan calf who's living in the barn and getting a bottle twice a day. When he came to the stall door the snowflakes blew in and speckled his black face, but he was much more interested in his breakfast than in the weather. For him the storm was a sideshow.

Again and again during the day, the wet snow turned to rain and then back to snow again. It was impossible to work in it very long without getting soaked, and by evening every hook in the cellar seemed to have a dripping garment on it. In the afternoon a cow quietly produced a calf. Fed cows again. Fed horses. Fed orphan calf. Fed birds. Fed fire. Felt pretty tired. Wondered when the power would go out.

But Sunday morning we were amazed to find ourselves still electrified. The snow was heavy enough to have broken trees and wires, but the high winds had blown it all off. Now all we had to do was dig ourselves out.

This was not easy. The snow was more than a foot deep, and had a hard crust on top. It was hard for a person to walk through, and harder still for a large animal. The cows were staying close to the shed, where I found another new calf, the second born during the storm. On the hard snow I unrolled their breakfast, a 600-pound bale of hay.

Later that Sunday morning my friend Bobby Kennedy came over his four-wheel-drive truck. I've been boarding Bobby's horse for him, and Bobby had offered to help with the chores, so I was especially glad to see him. He got halfway in the lane before he got stuck, but I pulled his truck out with the tractor and we cleaned the barn together.

In the afternoon, the third calf of the weekend arrived. The cow, a Hereford who had twins the two previous years, deposited it in the straw as casually as a woman setting down a shopping bag, then began licking it off. It was on its feet and nursing within an hour.

The daily routine went on. Haul more firewood. Haul more hay. Feed cows, feed horses, feed orphan calf, feed birds, feed fire. That evening, slipping and sliding, we got out the lane and went to the store. When we got home I thought about reading, but trudging around in the snow had called various obscure muscles to my sudden attention. Although I wasn't tired, they seemed to be, and so I obligingly went to bed.

That was about it for the great March blizzard. The next day, Monday, was bitter cold, and it was hard to get the tractors running early in the morning, but the roads were open, and we picked up the old routine. There had been no adventures. We have no good blizzard stories to work up into family legends. Say, gramps, what did you do during the World's Greatest Storm? Well, we fed the cows, fed the fire. . . . Oops, sorry we asked.

Some people did have real adventures, though. Here's one I know about. On Tuesday, the Cecil County farm where my friend Louis Bosley lives was still snowed in, almost a mile from the main road. But Louis, a horse trainer, had a filly that was supposed to race that afternoon at Laurel.

He put the filly in the trailer and tried to drive around the drifts through a cornfield, and sure enough he got stuck. So he walked the filly back to the barn, walked back to his truck, dug it out, and drove it and the empty trailer to the main road. Then he walked back to his barn, walked all the way to the trailer with the filly, loaded her up and headed at last for Laurel.

She won, too. If that had happened to me I would have written a column about it.

Peter Jay's column appears here each week.

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