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On the Edge of Common Sense: Walkin’ in a winter wonderland

Baxter Black Published on 03 February 2010

This winter is shaping up to be a reminder of why they sell more long underwear north of Interstate 40, which runs from Bakersfield through Amarillo and Little Rock then on to Raleigh.

We’ve already had blizzards, ice storms, blackouts, whiteouts, and more horsetank ice-breaking injuries than we’ve had in many previous winters.



Livestock people adjust to the cold out of necessity. Principally because livestock live outdoors! It’s amazing to me that horses and cows and sheep can stand 20ºF below zero weather with no apparent discomfort. You’re bundled up like the Pillsbury Doughboy out building a bonfire under the engine of your 1-ton flatbed to haul a load of meadow hay to your cows …

In the meantime, in the pasture a 3-day old calf with a haircoat no thicker than a buzzcut St. Bernard, waits for your arrival. “How did he get so swollen, mama? Humans seem so bulbous and awkward.”

“Don’t make fun of them, little Bully Boy. They are descended from the walrus. They never learned to walk on four legs!”

No matter how many years you and your ancestors have lived on the family farm or ranch, you never take stock water for granted. Water can be a blessing in all three elemental forms: steam to power engines, water to wash our clothes, ice to store food. It can also be the bane of the unprepared; an unexpected fumarole, a flash flood or a snowball down the back of your neck.

In the frozen north, like Michigan, Manitoba or Montana, where you bury your pipes six feet under the earth, you still have to offer available drinking water to your domestic beasts. Humans have been very inventive. Just walk into any co-op store to see the variety of drinkers available.


Brian had built a cattle waterer in the far pasture out of a tractor tire. It involved a float, some PVC pipe and four bags of Portland cement. He was proud of it, but it still froze over this winter.

“No sweat,” he said, adjusting his Elmer Fudd earflaps and climbing behind the wheel of his 3/4-ton 4 x 4. “I’ll just bump it with the front tires.”

First bump, nothing happened. He backed up and tried again. The tires were absorbing the shock.

“Once more,” he said, stepping on the gas. This time the ice cracked. But not before the air bag blew up in his face and broke his nose!

To his misfortune, the truck’s radiator cracked along with the ice, creating an Old Faithful-like atmosphere in the frozen air.

Brian survived. It was only a 35-minute walk to the main road, although the detours due to his swollen nose and puffy black eyes added another 30 minutes to the stroll.


“In the field snow is glistening,
to the left Brian’s listin’
A pitiful sight, his eyes swollen tight
Walkin’ in a winter wonderland!” PD