One of “Those” Winters

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winter

How to survive winter in western Montana.

I’ve certainly posted pictures of enormous snow drifts and buried hot tubs over the years. And I’ve shared many before & after pictures of our deck in Montana that would be buried overnight and require my little body to shovel as if there were no tomorrow.

I’ve also told winter tales of woe from our ranch in North Dakota, where the winds blow in unimaginably cold temperatures for days and you pray that you don’t get stuck and that your diesel doesn’t gel.

But this winter… this is one for the ages.

 

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Our barn in ND before Alistair could really do some work.

Its been particularly harsh in Bismarck because they have had two extended periods of extreme cold weather and a tremendous amount of snowfall. Usually the snow comes down and blows around. The drifts make travel and movement a challenge but the volume doesn’t often stack up.

Its stacking up this year.

Like it did in 1996/97 where everyone in North Dakota remembers trying to beat the swollen Red River with sandbags. They were unsuccessful and downtown Grand Forks, ND flooded.

 

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Image from 1997 Red River flood (not my picture)

 

Everyone in the state watched the largest city get buried in raging, muddy waters that were formed when the snow never seemed to stop that winter. Snow that was shoved to the sides of the road higher than our one-ton pickup, Big Red when we were at a hockey game in Grand Forks months before the flood.

 

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All that snow melted and it had to go somewhere (not my picture).

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, fire broke out downtown but nobody could get to it because of the floodwaters. North Dakotans are remembering this springtime disaster because the snow this year is much like the snow that winter.

 

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haunting aftermath of the flood and fire (not my photo)

Because nobody wants to see this again.

But we know that many precautions have been made and banks were reinforced so we are all hopeful to avoid that kind of nightmare.

Or the nightmare of 2011 when Bismarck flooded after heavy snowfall in Montana had to go somewhere.

It chose the mighty Missouri.

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Flooded roads and residential areas in Bismarck, 2011 (not my picture).

Families were evacuated, homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed and an army of people and pets moved into our home with Alistair for most of the summer.

The Army Corps of Engineers will hopefully be more on top of things this spring so we won’t see a repeat this year.

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snow load and drifts on our ranch in Bismarck right now.

Because there’s a boat-load of snow and its only the middle of January.

Many Montanans say that the snow used to come down like it has all of the time in the “old days”. That people were shoveling and roof-raking all winter long. It was the price you paid to live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth and I guess we’re paying for it now ourselves.

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My view for much of this winter already.

I have it a lot easier than poor Alistair, though.

For starters, I can plow in the warm comfort of Big Red with Jack Johnson, Iz or Coldplay blaring out of the speakers.

I have the big tractor with the covered cab and more heaters and a radio for company.

I also only have one horse to care for here versus the dozen he must feed and protect in Bismarck.

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from our snow-blown deck in North Dakota last week

Which is a challenge when he’s not there for 2 weeks. Its a challenge when New Neighbor is clueless about our tractor (which does not have a cab, heat or music) and damn near destroys a rim as he tries to clean up the snow. And its a challenge when it feels like 60 degrees below zero and the wind has blown for 3 days while snow kept coming down but he still needs a road to get to the horses and to get to work.

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a challenge to get into the barn where the tractor is kept!

I got to post cute videos of me listening to a warming Hawaiian ukulele with the incredibly beautiful Horseshoe Hills just beyond our Montana dream home while poor Alistair froze himself for hours trying to make sense out of the mess in front of him.

A mess New Neighbor truly hadn’t helped with. A mess our postman refused to enter so we didn’t receive mail for a few days. A mess that was very, very cold.

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You have to have a path, right?

He had to stop 5 times during the massive snow upheaval to shiver and shudder in our heated tack room. He traded socks, toques and gloves and stuck his bare toes directly into the slots on the baseboard heater and hoped beyond hope that when the tractor sounded like it wanted to seize up thanks to gelled diesel that it was just messing with him.

Its not as if he has the splendor of the Rockies to look at while he’s trying to move snow from here to there.

He has the flat, white horizon. Its a treeless, dreary, almost depressing landscape when its like this and you recognize how Seasonal Affected Disorder can creep in.

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My stunning backdrop in Montana.

But this is why we do what we do.

Because he gets to call this place home as well and we can enjoy our time together with our pets, heated tractor and vehicles that hopefully all start.

Today Alistair has been back in the big, warm tractor snowblowing out our driveways that are now too tall for Big Red’s blade to push aside. He has the roads wide enough to land a plane on so I’m ready for the next dump of snow.

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Taking a break on the hay bales yesterday with UB, Cleo & Jockey

And we laughed a lot yesterday splitting wood with our electric wood splitter, playing with our remaining band of merry misfits, hot tubbing with toques on our heads and fires lit in the tiki torches he had to dig out.

We watched PGA golf on Oahu and smiled at the vast difference in landscapes while sipping martinis and wine, and we talked about the antibiotics Cleo is on for a dental infection and the meds I started for Sport for a likely overactive thyroid and we shared a sad glance or two at the empty, cleaned-out ferret cage, Quebec and we make each other smile when spirt of Luigi or spirit of Calypso has something to say and we take Loki outside and beg her to do her business out there and we wonder how long we have with her but we can’t get enough of her snuggling into us and onto us during couch time or through the night and the cribbage game continues and we are hopeful that surgery might be soon to remove a pesky pelvic pin for hubby and that eventually, some day, maybe when the snow melts and hopefully doesn’t flood riverbanks onto the prairies, the sun will shine and we will be able to get back to our golf game.

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Another break in the wood splitting yesterday.

We plug the rigs and the tractors in. We only use diesel 1 which southerners don’t know even exists. We keep a steady supply of wine and vodka and frozen food and pet food on hand. We split more wood. And we move more snow.

And Alistair took the keys away from New Neighbor, saying it was time for them to get their own tractor.

Its just one of those winters and we’re doing everything we can to get through it.

Smiling.

With our version of winter Aloha, booze and hot tubs.

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Bismarck hot tub buried after the 2nd blizzard before Alistair dug a path.

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Our Jetta, Klaus in Montana… probably not going anywhere soon.

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Blasting out a “piddle path” for the dogs last month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Week

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While my blog title may bring to mind the catchy tune by the Barenaked Ladies, this isn’t about them.

Even though I am Canadian by birth and therefore can lay some sort of claim to the band.

I even saw them once and have the T-shirt to prove it!

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Some of the gang in Bismarck- Shilo, his mom, Raven and Susie

No, this blog is about the week I have had and how everything can change in such a short amount of time.

One week ago I was back in Bismarck, North Dakota, home of the hubby and most of our horses and fields of hay that needed to be cut.

Its that time of year.

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fields of hay during baling

New Neighbor has been a nuisance this year, pestering Alistair about getting his field cut and baled even though the man knows nothing about farming.

(If you recall last summer’s blog about the baling event he also knows nothing about hard work and sweat and how to get a job done.)

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The neighborhood hay bine that cuts the fields of grass and alfalfa and lays it out in rows. Its also a nice, shady spot for Howard’s dogs, Chili and Ginger.

Putting up hay isn’t something you can teach in a 15-minute discussion.

Running our expensive tractor and using Howard’s hay bine and figuring out what to do when & if things go wrong while listening to weather reports and checking weather websites and watching the skies to know when to cut and how long to leave the grass on the ground before baling is something of an art form.

It takes years to learn and try to perfect the skills so you have working equipment and dry (but not hot) hay bales to load into your barn for winter.

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Good hay!

In the end, we didn’t cut our hay. The weather timing wasn’t right with Alistair’s work schedule and New Neighbor still had no clue how to do anything.

Howard also wouldn’t let NN use the hay bine.

But Howard, an exceptional neighbor, cut his field and we stayed in Bismarck an extra day and helped him and his wife and a friend haul bales in the hot summer sun.

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Howard, baling his field while we loaded them up.

Many hands make for light work.

Even little girl hands like my own are useful.

I got to be the stacker.

Meaning I got to ride on the flatbed trailer like a surfer on a giant surfboard along the bumps and corners and sudden brakes, stacking the bales in neat, tidy, tight rows while the men tossed them up at me.

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One of my masterpieces.

The men get to do the heaving of the bales and the negotiating of the nice trucks into and out of the barns.

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Totally NOT my job!

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And he makes it! Go, Alistair!

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This is just a bit too tight of a parking spot for me to negotiate…

Howard has a bale elevator which makes for a better day for your back. We all stacked the trailer loads of hay and then drank water or nibbled popsicles and wondered where New Neighbor was while we debated the merits of a Toyota pickup in terms of guts and glory and talked about their daughter and her baby in Texas and didn’t talk about the daughter they lost and we watched Howard get the baler going again & again after dropping a bale.

And then we would go get another load.

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Just dropped another bale but Howard got it all going again.

Its the kind of work that you sort of enjoy because you are really earning a glass or two of wine later and you know you’re helping out and your neighbors really appreciate it and you are using just about every muscle you have in the blazing hot sun.

Its the kind of sweat that you would get if you sat in a sauna fully clothed for a few hours.

Its the kind of tradition that you don’t celebrate or plan ahead for because you really don’t know what the weather will do or if you will be in Montana or North Dakota or how many people will show up to help and its just something that needs to be done.

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Little girl, after yet another load was stacked into the barn.

I’m so glad we were there to help.

Even if I could feel every muscle in my body for days afterwards.

Its not Pretty Girl work.

Its not sparkly.

Its not something you look forward to.

You just do it because its the right thing to do (which NN obviously didn’t get… he was tinkering around in his garden when we drove up our driveway after 3 hours of hauling bales.)

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Bale moving along on handy-dandy bale elevator with Alistair working the upper levels of stacking inside the barn.

But then we played in our garden, which has been fantastic this year given the amount of moisture Bismarck has had.

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Our ND garden

It has been trampled and crushed by torrential rains and incredible winds twice this year and has withstood frost at least once.

Not everything survived but Alistair replanted when he could and shrugged his shoulders when he couldn’t.

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basil-basil-basil!!!!!

We enjoyed some yummy meals and continue to do so with the produce we brought back to Montana.

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Lovelies for my spaghetti sauce last night!

With all of the animal changes going on at the Fyfe Farm we didn’t need someone to stay overnight because I brought all 3 dogs with me.

Even blind, little Loki.

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Loki snooooooooze in Bismarck. (Insert snoring sounds….)

She lived in and visited our home there throughout all of her life and it always amazes me how she remembers how to navigate inside and outside of the house.

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Loki, UB and Cleo enjoying a Bismarck cuddle with Daddy

They travelled well with me and even though Cleo is mostly deaf she would look up at me from the passenger seat if my singing became too… well… I don’t what it was but it was “too” something given the square-face look she gave me.

But what is a woman of the 80s & 90s supposed to do when Four Non Blondes are belting out What’s Going On?

(Poor Cleo…)

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Non-singing portion of the road trip at our favorite doggy rest stop between Lewistown and Jordan, MT.

And we’re back to Montana and more changes occurred.

Or, had to be made.

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Cooper xoxo

Cooper wasn’t having any fun anymore and it was time to say goodbye.

How did we know?

She didn’t vocalize or try to get into the office anymore. Her weight loss was profound.

She got out of the cat bed when Boomer joined her and laid off by herself in a corner of the kitchen.

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Last month, Cooper enjoying the morning sun on our back deck

She wasn’t going out on the deck with the others in the mornings and that was maybe what clinched it for me.

I laid our 20-something year old companion in her Daddy’s lap and sedated her as she softly purred.

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Cooper Fyfe, back in the day, with one of her many garter snakes

And we remembered all of the special things about our short-haired, all-black, clawless wonder who found us in 1997.

How she would wrap both arms around your neck when you picked her up.

How she smacked the bejeezus out of me when I joined Alistair in ND after the 2 of them had bonded for a month.

How she groomed a terrible open wound on his hand he earned from trying to hold a crazy mare back with a rope.

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Oscar and Cooper, lovers for many years (Bismarck, many years ago)

And how she truly, deeply loved Oscar and wailed for 3 months after we said goodbye to him.

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more Oscar & Cooper shenanigans in Bismarck

Her peaceful presence is missed and our numbers are dwindling.

Its not easy.

Its not sparkly.

Its not something we wanted to do.

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More Oscar & Cooper moments

But its our deal with the animals- donate your reproductive organs at the door and get along and we will give you the best life we know how, with ample food, special treatments, voices, accents, dances, cuddles and kisses.

As good as we can for as long as we can.

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Oh, Coopie!

And more things change around the farm on a daily basis and we know we have some more sadness to handle up ahead.

But not just yet.

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Boomer, Cooper and Oscar a couple of years ago

I have visited the Everything Changes theme before and I think more and more it is why we live our lives in Fyfe Style.

We make the most of every morning together and enjoy the heck out of our days, our animal companions, our golf game, our friendships, our garden and each other.

We work hard so that we can play hard.

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Little Chorney with big sister Cooper… together again.

Because you don’t always know what’s up ahead and we want to be able to look back and remember the wonderful times together- not the things we didn’t do, or the words that were never said.

We want to help our neighbors and love our homes and land and be good people who do good things.

Even if it isn’t pretty.

Or it isn’t sparkly.

Or maybe its challenging and difficult and sometimes it makes us cry.

RIP, Cooper. We’re glad you’re back with Oscar.

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Cleo & UB in Bismarck

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Fun indigo tomatoes in Bismarck!

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How I will remember Cooper-and-Mummy time… RIP, dear Coopie. We miss you.