Friday, January 8, 2010


There’s a -18ᵒ windchill outside. This cold is insane. Perhaps other places get colder—much colder—but we Missourians can’t handle this relentless wind, the heavy snow, the icy roads, or the intense chill (“frigid,” says the weatherman, while warning of frostbite). Even the horses, though hardy creatures, are suffering the effects of the inclement weather. They can hardly wait to come into the warm barn at night, and when the snow comes down and melts into their downy underfur, they shiver beneath their turnout blankets and turn their backs to the wind. When I, stupidly, tried to ride the other day in 6ᵒ weather (“It’s not really all that bad once you get moving!”) I didn’t make it more than five minutes before my frozen-lunged mount was panting beneath me, and my extremities were numb, and my face was burned from the wind.

It’s beautiful, but it’s a cruel beauty. Dry crunchy snow is blown and whipped by wily winds, drifting into thick piles, exposing frozen rutted ground. Turn towards the wind and your face is blasted; eyes freeze; frigid air whistles through ears until it sears the brain; nose goes numb and dribbles like a faulty faucet. Turn away and the wind seeps through the neckline of your jacket to tousle your hair and make you shiver.

I hold my horse steady. The vet mandated 10 minutes of hand-walking a day for her rehabilitation, so 10 minutes a day is what I shall do, braving the bitterness. The cold and wind make the mare crazy; she plunges at the end of her lead line, pulls away from me, turns again, swivels and bucks and rears and paws. She flattens her ears and shakes her head at me, blaming me for her confinement, then vents her aggression on the snow, striking it with exaggerated motions until she finds some buried grass, then tearing violently at the hidden green blades. She stops to roll in the powder, and I urge her on. We repeat the whole process as she grows more agitated and I grow weaker. I’m panting from exertion by the time I’m done, but I’m still awfully cold with dulled senses and slowed reactions as I drag her back to the only marginally warmer barn.

I chose to go into town the other day to meet some old friends before we once again parted our separate ways. It was a bad decision because the snow was heaping down and the roads were slick with ice. On the way home, the highway was unrecognizable. I crept along at 35 miles per hour and felt reckless at that speed. The lanes were gone, and it was impossible to tell where the edge of the road met the shoulder or median. Soft whiteness enveloped all, and fat flakes marred by windshield as my wipers slashed to clear it. Everyone was driving smack dab in the center, straddling the place where we presumed the lane lines would be. A few fools tried to pass me, but quickly gave up once their tires hit a slick spot and their cars lurched. My headlights showed the paths that many before me had taken—sliding off the road and into ditches, over hills, into woods, out of sight. I’ve made that mistake once and, knock on wood, don’t intend to do it again. Something about having your car sliding backwards down the highway, slicing through a reflective road marker, and coming to rest just feet from an imposing wall of rock has a sobering experience that one doesn’t soon forget, let me assure you.

But at the end of the day, the consolation prize is a warm house. Even during the worst of it—even when I’m carrying an eight gallon bucket full of freezing water over uneven terrain, and even when I trip on a snowdrift and spill the whole damn thing all over myself (and it instantly freezes on my coveralls and gloves and my already-slow movement becomes even more impeded) and I utter things not worth repeating and bury my face below my collar when confounded by the futility of it all—even then I know that there’s a fire to go sit by, and good food, and a comfy bed. And I can gaze out the window as a simple spectator to the sullen beauty of the snow.

And then it will be all right.


secret agent woman said...

You know it's cold when even the animals need coats.

Mozart said...

Either that, or you know your animals are spoiled!