The thaw-out ritual

It was great day to be alive at the ranch. The sun was shining on the buttes, melting away the snow and revealing the ground, the sweet, muddy, brown ground that is certain to burst with green in the coming months.

Nobody could wait. Not the birds…

not the deer…

not the antelope…

not the snarky coyote…

not the pets…

(Don't worry, I've moved the bird feeder...)

not the people…

Not the pops.

Enough with the cold already.

This is spring fever. And the person who suffers from it more than anything else in the world, man or beast, is my pops.

As soon as the sun hits that ice and snow, warming it up enough to see some water run, to see some ground exposed, he’s out of the house like a caged bird who hasn’t been released since his capture. He doesn’t know what to do with himself he’s so giddy. He gets that list in his head going…all the things that need to be fixed, all the fences to check, all the animals to scope out, all the tinkering to do. He gets that list going and milling around right and good and then lets it all fly out his ears as he climbs to the top of the nearest hill and plops himself down in the warmest, driest spot he can find and just lets the sun shine down on him.

That’s his thaw-out ritual. I have witnessed it year after year, spring after spring. And I have adopted it.

Because it’s a good idea.

Ok, so here’s the other thing about my pops. When it thaws, he forgets.

He forgets that one warm day does not the summer make. He forgets that the 6 feet of snow in the coulees does not melt in a mere two hours of warm sunshine. He forgets that the frolicking about will remain challenging in the slush and slop and ice…at least for a good month or so.

He frolics anyway, despite the cost and the muddy, wet clothes that result. And last week I was reminded of this as I pulled into the yard on the first sunny, blue sky, warm melty day we’ve had in months. There he stood, my pops, in his cap and overalls and muck boots, hammering on the tractor, shuffling around the shop. I parked my car in the driveway and quickly changed into my ranch clothes and walked out to see what he was up to.

Pops emerged from the dark of the garage, hand shielding his eyes from the sunshine.

“Hey. Whatcha doing?”

“Oh, had to get out here. It’s such a nice day. Isn’t it gorgeous. Feels like 60 degrees…water’s really running. Got that part I needed for the tractor, but it looks like I need another one…won’t get that fixed today. Oh well…want to come with me to check the horses?”

“Sure. We walkin?”

“No, we’ll take the 4-wheeler.”

“Really? You think it will make it?”

“Oh, I think I can maneuver it around the hills…we can make it…it’s a beautiful day. Beautiful. We’ll bring them some grain. Hop on.”

Here is where I will explain that I have been known to do exactly what my father says, without question, since the beginning of time. Obedience. I had it. And even though I have a few vague memories of the pops’ great ideas turning into arms and leg flailing, bone crushing, all out wrecks complete with run-away horses, polyester shirts welded to arms, a barbed wire fence to the forehead and one finger smashed by a 2,000 pound bull in the past, it turns out those fuzzy recollections have no power over my two relentless qualities: obedience and loyalty.

I hopped on.

And wondered how this was going to go, remembering my recent trip to the horses in my snowshoes where I sunk into 10 foot drifts and drug my ass home with blood gushing out my nose from the cold and trauma of the exertion. Now I realize the temperature was unbearably cold then and the snow was fluffier and much easier to fall through, but it hadn’t melted that much had it?

Ah, it didn’t matter anyway because Pops was determined. He was not worried. He took his 4-wheeler and me and my doubts along the gravely mucky road and then turned, nice and easy off the path and up the melty drift that has been growing and growing all winter long at the entrance of the farmstead.

I closed my eyes tight, waiting to feel the pull of gravity that was sure to send us plummeting through the 12 feet of snow and rocks and slushy water toward the earth that I was sure still existed under all of that stuff.

Then I opened them, because that didn’t happen. Nope. Not at all. With pops at the helm whistling a familiar tune, we put-putted our way right on over the drift like we made this daring trip every day and headed for dry ground. We continued this way, dodging the white patches of snow, taking the long way around hills and trees to keep the machine on snow-free ground.

The warm air whipped through the hairs that had escaped from my beanie. My pale cheeks soaked up the sunshine. My lungs shouted “woo hoo” as they remembered what fresh air above 35 degrees felt like.

I released my white knuckled death grip as we approached the gate to the horse pasture.

Ah it was springtime and the living was easy and as pops got off his machine to get the gate I thought of all of things I was going to do under this big sky with its ball of warm heat shining down on me….

plant a garden…lounge with a vodka tonic…clean up all of the things that have magically appeared as the snow disappeared (who put that kayak there?)…wear shorts…avoid washing my windows…

Pops hopped back on and as we continued on our little journey…

…where were we? Oh, yes……avoid the laundry…run through the sprinker…wash the dogs (I think I can smell them from here)…fill up the kiddie pool and attach it to my slip ‘n slide…speaking of slip ‘n slide, remember to NOT fling my body down a clay butte, no matter how much the mud beckons…grill…drink margaritas….find my floaties and head to the lake…eat pineapple..





“You need to get off.”


“We’re stuck.”

And just like that, the green and blue landscape that existed in my head was replaced by reality’s sharp kick in the pants.

A good mile from the house and  good half mile to our destination there we sat  in the great white north with a 600 pound 4-wheeler buried to its gullets in the heavy, wet, limitless, not so spring-like snow.

Without a shovel.

Now here is where I tell you that I wasn’t surprised despite my momentary, it’s-spring-time-things-are-going-good, distraction. See, this isn’t the first time pops has had this thing stuck. Like really stuck.

See, growing up we didn’t own a 4-wheeler. We had horses. Those were our 4-wheelers. At least that’s what I was told.

But pops splurged in the last few years when his kids (who maybe would have liked a 4-wheeler a little too much)  left home.

Ah, sweet freedom.

Freedom to splurge on the only convenience the man has ever had on the place. Really. So you can’t blame him for testing its limits by taking the beast where no machine was meant to go: t0 the tops of buttes, over giant boulders, through fences, up trees and across muddy, ravenous, woody crick beds.

I know ’cause I have had to pull, cut, dig and help lift him out.

But this particular day, as I squinted my eyes against the sunshine reflecting off of the glaring white snow that was holding promise of disappearing, I looked at pops and laughed. And he shrugged. We kicked the tires. We pushed a little. We dug a little. We commented about the shovel.

And then we grabbed the bucket of grain and abandoned our ride to continue the task at hand.

It was a beautiful day and there was no time to waste for minor inconveniences like walking…

And the horses were feeling the same way and they came running.

And kicking…

And bucking…

And jumping…

And laughing, I think, just a little, at our pathetic attempt to hurry spring along.

The mule, looking just as sexy (and blind) as ever.

No, you just can’t rush things like this.

You can, however, bring some grain

And a shovel, just in case you might have pushed it…

Ah well…

Happy spring!

18 thoughts on “The thaw-out ritual

  1. You have such a good relationship with your father. You’re the son he must have wished for and the daughter he got. I love your “pops” stories because he is such a good person. K

  2. Looks like another blast of winter heading through the state….might push spring back a bit for all..:-( Great story-thanks Rich

  3. Jessie…thanks so much for the kind words after checking out my blog! Gayle shared your blog with me as well; I just checked it out and am thinking she might be right in thinking we are a little bit of kindred spirits. Glad to know there are others who love ND, photoraphy, and words. You are a fabulous story-teller and I look forward to continuing to read! Happy spring!


  4. And what was the grain being fed to those crazy animals? I do remember that they loved oats. We grew it and they loved local food!

  5. That’s the same relationship I have with my dad – aren’t they special!! They may lead us into some crazy messes, but they also get us out of them!

    Your father-daughter bond is AWESOME! I love how you tell the story.

  6. LoL, as always another awesome blog..can’t hurry mother nature but we can sure try…just for kicks…does he think it’s short weather like all the teenager’s I’ve been seing? Prob. not. I’m hoping to venture to Bismarck this weekend so warm it up. 🙂 Nicole

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