My husband, John, and I sometimes remark that our farm belongs to the wildlife, and we are merely the caretakers. In the evenings, we often spy four or five deer munching alfalfa in our hayfield, and while we are eating supper we watch a flock of 50 turkeys walking single file up Pleasant Hill to where they roost. If I forget to close the gate to my vegetable garden, deer and turkey tracks pockmark the soil where the Brussels sprouts and broccoli grow.
But recently a blizzard roared off Lake Michigan and blasted our farm. The trees moaned and their branches creaked. Wind-driven snow encased pine needles, heaped into drifts, and sculpted fields. Curtains of snow-draped shrubs created small caverns where sparrows and rabbits hid. A lip of snow spiked with icicle teeth curled over the greenhouse attached to our house.
John was vacationing with his siblings in a sunny clime, but each morning I awoke to snow flocking my windows. My mind altered a line from Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales" into "It was always snowing in Michigan."
Between shoveling snow, hauling firewood, breaking ice in the livestock's water buckets, and attending to my graduate-school studies, I had plenty of chores.
Fifteen inches, 20 inches, two feet – and the snow kept falling. "Lake-effect snow" is what meteorologists call these narrow bands that cling to the shoreline. Travel 20 or 30 minutes inland and only a few inches of snow cover the grass.
A half mile separates my house from any roads, and the snow muffled all sounds, sealing me into a frosty cocoon. Only the call of the chickadees pierced the cold as songbirds huddled around the bird feeder. Scarlet cardinals puffed up their feathers, while downy woodpeckers clung to the swaying suet feeder.
Four days after the blizzard had smothered the lakeshore, it gasped and the winds fell to a whisper. Despite a watery sun, snow still fell – great fat flakes that sifted over the landscape.
Wood smoke drifted from my chimney as I tossed snow from the narrow channels that ran from house to barn to woodshed. When a squirrel bounded from the pines to an oak, I realized that other than the birds at the feeder, I had seen no wildlife – no ragged deer trails or black ribbon of turkeys marching toward their sleeping quarters.
I hoped that the turkeys had claimed space in our neighbors' apple orchard and could peck at withered fruit. Surely the deer could browse on the sumacs and multiflora roses that flourished along the edges of the woods.
In the quiet I heard the rumble of my neighbor's front-end loader as he slowly plowed my driveway, connecting me to the outside world once again.
Later, while eating soup, I noticed them through a veil of snow: four deer tiptoed down the cleared paths, heading toward the plowed driveway.
Liberated at last, they could once again survey their farm.