Embracing winter weather, whether or not I like it
An unchangeable fact about life in the northern Plains is that winter lasts for several months so if you don't want to be cooped up for the duration, you have to dress warm and head outside.
My sister, Bonnie, and I, who have December birthdays two days apart, recently were reminiscing about how we celebrated them outside with our friends in temperatures that often were well below zero.
Bundled up in our winter jackets, snow pants, boots and mittens, we slid down the snow pile “hills” that our dad made for us with the loader tractor bucket, played freeze tag in the snow-covered yard and climbed on the bales in the hayloft of the unheated barn.
Although, I’m sure we got cold, it’s the fun, not the freezing temperatures that Bonnie and I recalled.
Spending time outside in the winter wasn’t just limited to birthday parties. Bonnie, my brother, Richard, and my dad took many bareback rides in cold weather, our legs wrapped against their furry sides of our mounts. Gypsy, Beauty and Ginger seemed to enjoy the rides as much as we did, blowing steam that sounded like whistles out of their ice-covered muzzles.
As livestock owners, being outside in the winter weather of course was not all fun and games. No matter how low the thermometer dipped, the winds blew and the snow piled up, the cattle and horses had to be fed.
In my elementary school years, we threw alfalfa bales out of the hayloft into the cattle corral, then carried — for me it was dragging — them to several spots so all of the bovines were assured of having a place to eat. My dad bought a round baler and added a grapple fork to the loader bucket when I was in high school so he and Rich could use his 4020 John Deere tractor to feed the cattle.
It still was cold work because the tractor didn’t have a cab, but it made the chores go faster. Meanwhile, we fed the horses by hand, carrying chunks of hay to several spots around the corral and feeding them grain in feed pans spread apart.
Like playing outdoors in the cold, my memories of doing chores in the winter aren't about how cold I was, but about the warm feeling of accomplishment I felt when we were finished. It felt good to work alongside my siblings and dad, to know that we had done our best to make the animals comfortable and that adverse weather couldn’t stop me from either of those things.
For nearly three decades as an adult, I continued to do chores in the winter, feeding the horses and chickens and checking to make sure they had water every morning at my own farm before I went to work and in the evening when I got home. Like in the days on the farm, my chore routine made me feel like I had triumphed over the weather to care for the animals entrusted to me.
During the past two winters since we sold our last two horses and gave away our two chickens, I haven’t had any outdoor chores to do. However, I am embracing winter in a different way by going for walks down our gravel roads with my golden retriever, Nova.
During December, I was part of a Walk/Steps Challenge that had a goal of walking 60 miles in 30 days. I met the goal by walking, most of it outdoors, while Nova explored the roadsides and fields. Except for a handful of days when the daytime high temperatures were below zero, which could cause frostbite on Nova’s paws, we walked 2 miles a day.
Dressed in my insulated coveralls, parka, stocking cap, neck gaiter, mittens and a pair of warm hiking boots my family gave me for my birthday, I stayed warm on our walks, even when the wind was blowing hard. The greatest challenge from the wind wasn’t the cold, but remaining upright when I was walking against it. Nova, meanwhile, never appeared to mind the cold, either, as she periodically either dashed into the field to roll in the snow or went running on snowy spots on the road, and then dove head over heels and rolled on her back, her feet kicking in the air.
An unchangeable fact about life in the northern Plains, where I’ve lived for the past 64 years and hope to be for another 30 or 40, is that winter lasts for several months. For me, embracing it in some way makes it more tolerable. Getting outside and doing something results in me complaining less about how cold and windy it is and focusing more on how glad I am that I didn’t let that stop me from reaching my goals.
Ann Bailey lives on a farmstead near Larimore, N.D., that has been in her family since 1911. You can reach her at 218-779-8093 or firstname.lastname@example.org.