Tuesday, May 3, 2011
May Day! May Day!
Driven by the force of the wind and unable to see clearly through the thickly blowing snow, the deer stumbled on, desperately seeking shelter. The thick winter coat it counted on for protection from these harsh conditions had been shed a month ago, leaving it with a sparse pelt and low energy reserves.
As it plowed through the drifts, powered by its overwhelming urge to survive, the ground suddenly collapsed under legs frantically peddling for a secure footing. The snow that beat against it so cruelly had also hidden an even greater danger. A shallow prairie slough, which in good weather would have been nothing more than a refreshing wade for the deer, was now covered with a thick mush of ice, thick enough to appear solid, but not thick enough to support the deer's weight. It plunged through, still able to touch bottom, but unable to extricate itself from its icy prison.
Still it struggled on, breaking a thin trail through the ice, ever driven south before the gusting, whirling winds. From time to time it would stop, panting in terror and exhaustion, its head drooping dejectedly. To either side, the shore lay within easy reach, but the deer didn't know this and could only follow the instinct that told it to put its back to the wind. The cold temperature of the water quickly sapped the last warmth from its body and its struggles grew weaker and weaker, then ceased all together. The deer's head sank a final time to the surface of the ice. The edge of the slough was 10 yards away
This blizzard hit our wildlife population particularly hard. After a winter of quiet, the sky has turned into the avian equivalent of Grand Central Station; there are SO many birds up here for the spring migration. Birds that are not equipped to deal with harsh weather---that's why they go south after all! Even the year-round residents were vulnerable because they had already shed their winter coats and were wearing fur fashions that looked like they'd been pulled from the rag bag.
I drive past the deer in the slough every time I go to town and I never pass it without saying, "Poor baby." It really is a tragedy that so many wild creatures lost their lives, more and more showing up as the snow melts. But this is a hard land and the survivors, both wild and human, must mentally shrug their shoulders and get to the business of making sure life continues.
I still feel a little bad for having enjoyed the blizzard so much personally. It's my favorite blizzard so far. Coming so late in the season, the system had lots of warm, moist air to feed on and was the most powerful one we've experienced this winter. The winds were fierce, the snow was heavy and wet and caused wide-spread damage. The storm hit in full force in the middle of Friday night---by 5:00 or 6:00 we'd lost power, probably earlier since the house was already so cold. We weren't alone---there were power outages everywhere the storm went.
The weather had been idyllic in the week leading up to the storm, at least to our frozen standards. The day before, my parents and I had been doing yard work in short sleeves. When I cleaned the house Friday afternoon, in the mood to cast off some of my winter's clutter, I had decided to take back the propane heater that had supplemented our electric heaters all winter. So now we had no heat. In the middle of a blizzard.
I wasn't particularly worried. If I'd been worried, the storm wouldn't have been much fun, but I knew it wasn't cold enough to pose any real danger. The temperature outside was barely below freezing, and while we might be uncomfortable, we would be safe inside out of the wind. We spent a good share of the day in bed; it was the warmest place in the house as the temperature steadily fell, reaching a low of about 44 degrees. I was in pajama pants, snow pants, a hat, a tank top, long sleeved shirt, sweater, and vest, with long socks and my new fuzzy slipper boots I thought I wouldn't get a chance to use before next winter.
We ate cold food, talked, and slept some more. The storm finally blew itself out by about 8:30 and I was ready to be rescued. My neighbor came and plowed my driveway to let us out and gave us instructions on the back way into town since the main road was blocked with huge drifts. Jack met us on the way and escorted us into town safely. We decided to spend the night in Westby in a heated house, which was a good thing because the next morning our house temp was down to 38 degrees. I brought as many of my seedlings as I could because they were already showing cold damage. Thankfully, a night in a warm house revived them, but I left them in an extra day to play it safe.
The town of Westby emerged on Sunday to find a world quite different. It was the first day of May, but it didn't look it! Trees were down all over the place and everything was covered with snow again. But the forecast called for plenty of sun and the snow wouldn't last long. The power came back on around 4:00 that afternoon, and everything was back to normal, at least for around here.
These are all scenes from my parents' house:
My driveway, which had just started getting better:
The thick, icy snow melded onto the tree trunk in a curious geometric pattern: