It is possible to get a little claustrophobic in a winter like this. The yard on which we do our work has gotten smaller with every snowfall this winter, since we can never push the new snow quite as far back as before. I put on the snowshoes this Saturday afternoon and took a walk to the north through the pig pastures, across last year's hay field to the township road on the north, ostensibly to see whether we had a chance of getting manure out through that approach this early spring, but really for the chance to be out and about.
The snow on the prairie is drifted this winter so that it looks like a white ocean frozen in time. We don't get this very often; I can only remember three winters out of my 62 years where the snow stayed out on the land all winter, and that would be this year, last year and ten years ago. Generally the wind has it immediately stacked up in the groves and tree lines. I sank in a bit walking through the grove, flushing up a group of pheasant which have been staying close to the yard despite the dogs. We have taken to deliberately spilling a little feed regularly to feed them for wild birds have a very tough time with all this snow cover. On the prairie, the snow immediately bore me up and as I looked behind I could sometimes not make out tracks of the snowshoe frames for my own shoes carried me on the hard drifts.
No tracks out there to speak of. The mice and gophers are underneath which would make it tough for the coyotes if it were not for the carcasses of wild things scattered about plus a few pig and calf casulaties. I didn't see one coyote track in my half mile walk, but I will bet there is a well worn trail between the cattail slough and our dead animal compost pile. Coyotes are opportunists. I saw one mink track making it from the growe at an angle toward the drainage ditch, where it probably has a den in the bank. I wondered what it was finding on the yard.
No rabbits either, once I cleared the grove. The air was cold and clear, making the lungs feel young again and very efficient. I walked toward home at an angle so that I came onto the yard on the opposite end from where I began. I walked along a ten year old tree line which we have been trying to expand by starting two more similar lines next to. These winters have been hard on the little trees, bending them over during the spring melt and stripping some of the branches down under the weight. The banks next to the trees offered me a chance to look down about ten or fifteen feet to the tops of the adjacent fence posts which are about five feet tall.
Spring feels a long way off here at Pastures A Plenty on the 27th of February. And when the melt does start, the fear is that the Minnesota will flood. We are kind of hoping for a slow thaw for that reason.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
I saw another bald eagle today. This is unusual, as we have occasionally seen them for a day or two in spring and thought that they are on their way back to the Minnesota River valley for the season, but this is the third of February, a dazzling bright day with the snow reflecting the sun's full power in all directions. Wild things seem to know a tractor is different from a man on foot, for when I got back from feeding cattle and saw the eagle sitting near the top of the cottonwood tree I drove next to, it simply looked down at me watchfully. But when I stopped the machine and got off a few hundred feet further along, it decided I was too close and took off. I watched it fly, those huge wings in a lazy easy motion as it made the thousand feet to the electric transmission line we have on the south side of the farm and perched atop a pole and looked back at me. Somehow, these majestic raptors have made a comeback here in western Minnesota and they are welcome here. And this is a sign of progress, that they are no longer being poisoned by agricultural chemicals.