Ankle deep in mud that wants to suck us down before our time, we plod through the corral, feeding cattle, fighting to get heavy cows into the barn, dragging dead calves out to the pickup. Snow falls so thickly it's hard to recognize familiar cows, and each other's blurred faces. We are tired and cranky, mud and blood up to our knees. Our minds squeeze down to a fire, coffee, dry clothes.
A cry raises our eyes. Two blue herons circle. Like a Chinese painting, their angled breasts prow against the snow, lifting with each beat of the mighty wings. We sail into the falling snow, twin graceful shapes who know mud - and more. Our fragile feet are not stuck in clay; we pose in cottonwood, then lift, disappear into time. Reprinted from the book `Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains' by Linda Hasselstrom (Barn Owl Books, 1987), used by permission of the author.