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After Olive, the prairie blizzard

Everyone hereabouts nowadays is excited about the “M-word" as in, “Oh, boy! The forecast says that all of this snow could soon begin to melt!”

The National Weather Service has started to name winter storms. The latest one was dubbed Olive, which makes me think of Popeye’s girlfriend, which also makes me envision someone who is meek and mild. But, winter storm Olive was the opposite of those things.

Olive ravaged our region for several days, leaving behind snowdrifts that were deep enough to bury a wooly mammoth. Interstate highways were closed, and flights were cancelled; life grounded to a halt. Many of us may have longed for a day off from work, but not if it came in the form of a winter storm.

My wife and I are lifelong denizens of this area, so we know what to do when afflicted by a prairie blizzard: we hunker. We’ve had numerous opportunities to practice hunkering, and have become so good at it, we could win a gold medal if it were ever to become an event in the Winter Olympics. 

Once the snow stopped falling and the wind abated somewhat, I put on my full wintertime battle rattle, which consists of several layers of clothing, along with insulated coveralls and a bulky white winter coat. My appearance was not unlike that of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Thus equipped, I ventured out onto the snowscape that was our farmstead. A drift blocked the driver’s side door of our car, making it impossible to open. I had to enter via the passenger’s side and scramble over the console, no small feat for a guy who’s dressed like a giant marshmallow.

The chief point I want to make about the post-storm cleanup of our farmstead is this: Thank goodness for good neighbors! Our neighbors came over with their titanic dozer tractor and powerful payloader and moved more snow in 15 minutes than my little John Deere 3010 could in 15 hours.

Looking across the endless mountain ranges of drifts, it’s difficult to believe that the day will soon come when all of that snow is gone. We always hope for a slow melt that will allow the meltwater to soak into the soil. But as we saw recently, we seldom get to call the shots, especially when it comes to the weather.

The winter when I was eleven was particularly nasty, with snowfall records that still stand. Spring seemed to arrive all at once, as if Mother Nature had flipped a switch while muttering to herself, “Those pitiful souls have suffered enough!”

The snow melted like an ice cube on a superheated summertime sidewalk. My siblings and I were in our glory. We built all sorts of tiny civil engineering projects on our farmstead, using the toes of our boots and sticks to construct a dam here, a diversion channel there.

The runoff from our farmstead coursed downhill to join the mighty stream that had appeared overnight in our south field. Meltwater gushed through the twin culverts that ran beneath the gravel road.

The sight of running water is irresistible to children. My siblings and I walked down the hill to view the roaring culverts, fascinated by the twin whirlpools that formed on their upstream side. We tossed sticks into the water and watched as they disappeared down the black holes at the center of the vortices, secretly wondering what would happen if a kid fell in. Would you blast out of the other side of the culvert like a guy getting shot out of a circus cannon? The water rushing through the culverts was ice-cold, causing us to shiver at the mere thought.

Our dog, Bella, eagerly accompanied me when I ventured out in the wake of snowstorm Olive. Bella is tremendously enthusiastic about everything. She ricocheted around the farm like a furry black bullet.

There were areas where the snow was as hard as marble or had the consistency of eider down duvet. Bella would randomly hit areas of soft snow as she darted hither and yon. A small cloud of fluff would burst from the drift as a snow-dusted dog tumbled across the bank. None of these frosty spills did a thing to dampen Bella’s high-spirited enthusiasm.

A pair of incandescent sundogs appeared in the morning sky after Olive departed. Beauty can often be found even in the face of the most extreme hardship.

It dawned on me that sundogs are just small rainbows. Perhaps, like God’s promise to Noah after the flood, the miniature rainbows were a sign that better days are ahead.

I certainly hope so. I am really tired of hunkering.

About the Author

Jerry Nelson

Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which become a book of the same name. Dear County Agent Guy is available at                              

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