Shivering Home Through a Storm

LIFE on the farm is not always picturesque, although most of us would like it to be - and often try to make it be, in any and all seasons.

Our weather was moving into a period of somberness that so frequently prevails after Thanksgiving and collapses into dullness when the winter solstice is over. I could feel the rigors coming on!

There was a frowning uneasiness among the clouds and woods, a rebellion against delicacy that, in itself, had threatening impulses in it: snow banks, shadowed; uncertainties of temperature.

That was too bad, we felt, for we had a trip to take. I would go with my husband, Red, and my daughter, Dixie, to Des Moines, where they would remain for the day. Then I would return home. They would come back several hours later.

Red remarked that the forecasters didn't seem to know if it would snow or rain. "If we're late, could you feed corn to the cows and calves?" he asked.

"Of course," I said. I am one of many farm women who likes to do chores, and I enjoy almost every kind of weather except drought and bitter-hard cold.

One of the poems I had written recently anticipated some of the excitement of a wet, wind-swept winter storm.

Listen to the Wind Listen to the wind and how it howls like coyotes on the hills! Like a cat it prowls the roofs of houses, rattles panes and falls on the ground from trees and bushes, squalls among trash cans and fences, rocks and walls. It will not get tired for several hours. Not until it uses all its powers for vehemence, and ends in peckish showers like blackbirds tapping on a window sill, nibbling at leaves like mice, or going still as deer to sleep beyond a distant hill.

I waved at Dixie to warn her that time was passing. She was dressed to travel but lingered outside, kicking walnuts about with her booted feet, so if the snow came, the squirrels could dig them out from under the dank leaves beside the tree trunks.

The first part of our trip went well enough. Eighty-three miles enough! Uneventful, except for a few late flurries and wind. I saw my family off cheerfully to their meeting, then I hustled out into a scattering of snowflakes. They were not friendly.

I am a country girl, and on my way back from the city, I felt harried by almost everything: time, and the tall buildings whose names I hardly knew; the people endlessly hurrying along the streets who seemed to have little sense of direction, and no purpose except to leave something behind them!

I sought a way out! But even the signs, bridges, and highways seemed bent on blocking my intent.

I felt more at ease when I found an opening into the fields - the level, wide fields; even though they were becoming windswept, they were familiar. Only the radio in my car seemed strange. I heard the same voices that I heard from home, but they were vaguely nervous....

"Snow has been falling all morning in southern Iowa. In northern Missouri, near the state line, there have been several accidents.... The temperature has dropped...." I shivered. I could feel each chilling word!

In my mind, I concocted the first stanza of "Bitter Cold" that day.

Bitter Cold

Cold was so much

no one could touch it

without flinching;

nothing mincing,

tame or slow

about it!

Like a blow

of fist

across the brow,

beneath the eyes....

It should neutralize

sun, sky, and cow,

and hold all hills

toward North.

Such was the cold

and what came forth

into its icy glitter

had to be bold

beyond belief.

I knew more about that when I got home and plunged into the storm.

Snowplows had passed and dumped their loads of white onto the road's shoulder. I got out, sized up my chances, and managed to back into the drive and manipulate our car into the carport.

What a blessing home is - and what a comfort.

I stood, awed by the scenery that acted out its story for me, as I paused on our porch.

Inside the house, two cats, sitting on a pillow in our bedroom window, gazed at me with fascinated topaz eyes. Outside, a possum crawled away into the shelter of the junipers. Trash cans had been tipped over.

I could almost see figures....

Snow Wraiths

The ground is brittle, bare and hard.

Wind is inclined to shift and blow

and the only forms that disregard

the cold are dancing wraiths of snow.

They come in crowds down from the hills,

trailing chiffons, and find a plain

where they can cakewalk, or, in quadrilles,

bend or tremble; or, down some lane,

they waltz ecstatically alone,

or single file. I peer at them,

so humanly shaped, so little known.

Evasion is their stratagem.

I watch them weave from tree to tree,

whirl up or crumple in the wood

and vanish as exotically

as mysterious ladies. It seems they would

avoid us in a kind of doubt,

a feeling something is amiss

with substance - and they will not go out

in weather, white and wild, like this!

The cats and I had a quick kitchen lunch, then proceeded to my bedroom where I spread my work out on the bed - unfinished poems. (The cats' contribution was to lie on my white typing paper.)

It was too dark in the room, however. Grim blue clouds seemed to have entered through the double windows to the north; they had taken over while I was away. They almost blotted me and the cats out - and the ceiling's crimson chandelier.

To thwart my worries, I turned on the TV, then the radio, even picked up the phone, but they were crackling with static. Finally I dressed for the cold again and headed for the barn. I did not like much of what hit me and swept me down the hill!

The calves were unwilling to come out in the storm, even for corn. They huddled inside, near the half-empty manger, and eyed me from the doorway. I moved across the road to the haymaker and dragged a few of the small bales down onto the floor. All I could see from here were the cows' heads filling the doorway.

At length I pushed my way out of thebuilding and completed my struggle toward the gate by stumbling into a frozen snowbank. For a few moments I wondered if I'd make it! I thought about what coming home in a storm meant to our family - and others....

Home Through Snow

Again, I see the snow begin to fall,

heavy and fast before the hour

when school lets out and office closes.

I hear the wind as it opposes

roofs and walls with fierce power,

and the house and I are suddenly small,

or lost, and may not be found at all....

They may not find our gate or street -

They may not find a blazing fire -

my arms that want them safely home.

They may, throughout the city roam

as through a prairie, and inquire

endlessly of cold and sleet

for friends and neighbors they never meet.

And then, out of the bitter blast,

they come, with coats thrown off

and cries

of joy and love that reassure

me roads are open and secure;

and hearts dare much, are homing-wise

and will return, at need, at last,

to make our walls and rooftops fast!

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