Here Are the Snows of Yesteryear

MARG and I hadn't seen each other for a couple of years, so walking rather than driving into La Veta suited us both. The town is a comfortable couple of miles from her parents' Colorado home, and the thickly falling snow didn't faze us for a moment. A childhood in upstate New York either makes or breaks one for winter weather. Marg and I were made.

These days, we both live in milder climes, Marg in southern Germany, I in southern Indiana. Though far apart, we keep in regular touch. Weather reports punctuate weightier matters in the letters we exchange. "Cold enough for snow, but only a half-hearted dusting - Ach!" "Rain, rain, rain and it's almost Christmas - Phooey!"

We commiserate absolutely, both aching for one decent winter, as if for childhood itself. Our moms send us maddeningly casual reports of what we are missing: snows that fall like benedictions all night long over the southern rim of the Great Lakes, and along Colorado's storm-friendly Front Range. My own folks haven't moved from northern New York. Hers had uprooted from one snow belt only to settle down in another. Marg and I finger the envelopes arriving from the hearts of winter and wonder where we went wrong.

Finally, last month in Colorado, we found ourselves together in the thick of a memorable storm. Though we were not aware of it at the time, this snow would be the fourth-heaviest in the area's history, falling for 30 hours and accumulating several feet along a broad, state-long band.

Marg had already spent a warm, sunny week with her parents when my plane touched down in Colorado Springs, meeting the front head-on. She and her mom, Bonnie, were there in the family's four-wheel-drive Blazer. With calm expertise, Bonnie guided it homeward over two mountain passes.

Marg and I sat transfixed as we cleaved deep virgin snow over the last couple of miles of unplowed country road. This was joy beyond all reckoning. Our vehicle nosed into the garage like a dependable plow horse to its stall. It had brought us safely through and deserved a rest.

Marg and I had other ideas. Less than an hour later, in borrowed coats, boots, and mittens, we bent our heads into the wind and broke our own path toward La Veta. We needed nothing, wanted nothing more than this walk together, toward the town and back in time, away from our separate wet, brown winters into the dazzling white intimacy of a decent storm. Our conversation, like our letters, pulled the private pockets of our lives inside out. We were covering more than literal ground when a fellow pedestrian caught our attention.

"Hey, cow up ahead." I squinted as Marg pointed a brown-gloved finger through the stinging snow. The black shape dominated the drifted roadbed. This was the open range, I suddenly remembered. Cows were as free to walk about as we were. Bulls, too. And he was a big one.

MARG deferred to my expertise as a dairy farmer. We weighed our options as the big animal peered at us with eyes widely separated by a big, wooly brow. He was utterly alone and seemed unsure of where to go. Was he lost in the storm, separated from his herd?

We debated whether to pass the behemoth on the road or give him wider berth. The only way to avoid a close encounter lay in the deep, drifted snow over the barbed wire. I assured Marg that after handling four different bulls over my seven-year dairy career, I had absolutely no clue as to whether we could trust this fellow. A bull is somewhat less predictable than the jet stream.

In the end, we played it safe. As we floundered in the thigh-deep snow behind the protective fence, the big animal stopped in his tracks and seemed to weigh matters, too. He turned suddenly and trotted back whence he'd come, melting into the storm like a mirage.

Marg and I were of one mind: He'd been beautiful, etched against the blizzard like a black, opposing force of nature. Really beautiful. But then, not all things aesthetic bear a full embrace.

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