When I heard the power click off in the middle of the night, I didn’t think much of it. Living in a small town on the plains makes you a little more desensitized to losing power. The wind was howling and my tiny house was starting to get cold - nothing another old wool blanket couldn’t handle. When my internal clock hit seven, I got out of bed and discovered that I still didn’t have power. In all honesty, my first reaction was “how in the world am I going to get ready for church without water and a curling iron?” The more I called around for information, the more the reality of weather conditions set in. A couple hours later, Alix and her husband were at my door, dressed for the blizzard of the decade, and ready to drive us out to the ranch, where a generator-warmed house was calling our names. Church was not on the agenda that day…
A typically easy 20-minute drive started with over an hour venturing through a white-out, and finished with driving over downed power lines and a sloppy dirt road to reach the ranch. When we arrived at the barn, more layers were thrown on and we prepared ourselves for the elements. Stepping out of the pickup, Alix and I had to prop each other up to brace the wind. We were given a stark warning: “Hold onto each other! These are the conditions people die in!” Then my hat blew off and I left Alix to go chase it down and she got blown over (sorry girl…I mean, priorities?). It’s pretty comical looking back, but when you’re giving it your best against the wind and still can’t move, not so fun in the moment. The horses were brought in and moved around, sopping wet to the bone and shivering. After the livestock was taken care of, we got to reward ourselves with dry clothes and hot coffee indoors.
The next hour was the highlight of the day. We had a hot meal and just sat around and talked, joking about getting blown over, losing hats, and the power lines. We were sitting in ignorant bliss to what was actually happening outside. When a couple of the men decided to go check on the roping steers, the rest of us didn’t think anything of it...until they came back with a report that four of them were down. We sat in silence wondering what to do and how to help. Nevertheless, we piled our layers back on and numerous thoughts went through my mind. We are under a blizzard warning. The roads and pens are muddy, sloppy messes. Things could get dangerous. We have to help the steers.
When Alix and I pulled on our boots, we were told that we didn’t need to come along. It would be better for us to stay in and stay safe, than to come out because they wouldn’t need our help. Naturally, we ignored that order and went anyway. When a situation is presented like that, we can always help in one way or another. The family needed us and we knew it, regardless of what we were told. Loaded down with a skid loader, a pickup (in case the skid loader got stuck), and another pickup (in case the first pickup got stuck), we headed out to the steers.
After arriving, the first steer was loaded in the bucket and with a little maneuvering, was safely delivered to the barn. We threw some horse blankets on him and started rubbing him down, trying whatever we could to keep him warm. The second one they brought us was dead before he arrived. A little defeated, we awaited the third. Alix and I took turns wedging ourselves between the steer and the ground to keep him upright while we tried our best to restore his body heat. About 30 minutes passed before we realized the guys hadn’t come back with the fourth steer yet. A quick look outside revealed that the skid loader was stuck…and so was the pickup. Thankfully, the final steer had his head up and continued to look alert as he tried and failed to stand himself up. He still had some fight in him yet.
We gathered and loaded logs and anything else we could use as traction to get this skid loader unstuck, but try as we might, we couldn’t get it out of the muddy mess. Minutes rolled by and by, as the steer’s head sunk lower and his eye began to droop. I knew we needed to get this steer in the barn. “Can we all pull the steer into the bed of the pickup and drive him over to shelter?” I asked Alix. She took the initiative (she’s braver than I am to suggest something to a group of worn out and frustrated cowboys) and told them what needed to be done; they agreed. Our last vehicle that wasn’t drowning in mud didn’t move more than 10 feet before, it too, was stuck with its peers. How we were going to save this steer without any way to move it? By hand, of course. Alix and I had a rope around his back legs, and the guys took hold of his tail. Through the mud and the snow, we drug that steer out of the wind and towards the barn. We had to stop every 20 yards or so from pure exhaustion, but with encouragement and determination, we made it. Sucking air, I sat down and thought about what we had just accomplished – as a family. I thanked the good Lord for everyone’s safety and remembered how Alix and I almost didn’t come along. Our bodies were fatigued, cold, and ridiculously muddy, but I knew in that moment this would be a story for the books. When your family ties run deep (blood, water, or otherwise), and you can band together for a common cause, not a whole lot can stand in your way.
Farmers and ranchers across this country know the feeling of being beaten down by mother nature all too well, especially in the past few months. The heart of this country has experienced devastating wildfires, flooding, and blizzards. Yet here they stand, heads held high, because the industry, communities, and families are the backbone. These people abide by “loving your neighbor”, and often sacrifice a great amount to help others out. It wasn’t our will. It wasn’t our strength. It wasn’t our stubbornness that drove us across the finish line. It was family. And with that, we can get through anything.
May 12, 2017