Among other things, the extended stretch of winter weather that set up camp in the Ozarks late last week has reminded me how much patience can be required to simply exist in a snow-laden environment.

If you think about it, almost every aspect of daily life is in some way affected when snow falls.

Driving perhaps provides some of snow’s widest-ranging demands for patience.

For example, if you live way out in the sticks and there’s eight or more inches of fresh white stuff all over the place, your local dirt road might resemble an untracked ski run more than a place for cars and trucks to roll and it might take a few tries to get up the final hill leading to the pavement. But with a little patience (or maybe a lot), you can eventually rush up and back down enough times to create a good enough set of ruts for the tires to help you reach the top.

If you choose to have a home beyond the boundaries of where state-funded snowplows go, things might remain a bit tough until the township grader comes through and scrapes away the frozen mess to once again make driving on terra firma possible. But patience always pays off, because the machine always arrives a day or two after the storm (and in our Cass Township neighborhood, does a whale of a good job).

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Even just driving around town can take a little patience. Thankfully, we residents of the Jillikins don’t have to deal with the kind of incessant, irritating traffic that our city-dwelling brethren do, but if snow has fallen there might be four or five cars in front of you approaching a stop sign at the bottom of a hill that are moving much more slowly than they usually might. And even on a flat surface, you never know when you might find yourself behind an intrepid soul in a mid-90s, rear-wheel-drive Olds 98 or Chrysler New Yorker who’s doing their level best to slowly advance while keeping the boat between the buoys.

All that’s left at that point is to take a deep breath and be patient.

To be sure, farm animals have to be patient when the snow flies, too.

Obviously, finding grass and other stuff to chew on in a pasture isn’t exactly easy when a winter storm hits, so cows need to hold their horses and horses need to avoid having a cow and just be patient until their local human delivers the goods – and for the most part, they seem to instinctively do just that (although a certain old Arabian gelding I know is prone to acting up and putting on a bit of a show when the local human shows up – no doubt just to feel tough and in charge). And of course, the deeper the layer of snow, the harder finding food can be, so the patience factor basically ratchets up with every flake.

And of course, there are the chickens.

As I write this, members of our little colony haven’t left the cozy confines of their 9X30 enclosed “room” that was formerly an implement storage area on one side of an outbuilding that we converted into an egg-laying bird sanctuary.

They’ve apparently decided that their normal routine of free-ranging during daylight hours isn’t a good idea with snow half as deep as they are tall (or more) covering the ground, and an extended stay indoors will suffice.

But unlike their hoof-bearing neighbors, the chickens’ snow story isn’t one of hardship. To the contrary, it’s almost as if they’re enjoying their indoor vacation. They seem completely content to move about in their room, sitting on their log perches that are mounted to stands attached to the floors and walls, or lounging on square hay bales that are strategically stacked in a couple of key spots around the space’s perimeter – including in front of an east-facing window that we installed so they would have both a view in times like these and light and warmth when the sun rises over the ridge on cold winter mornings.

And no need (or want) goes unanswered in their little world. The rooster boss simply dials up room service each morning (more like yells for it) and a fresh meal and liquid are delivered.

Must be nice.

From what I’ve seen, dogs must also find extra patience during snowy times.

When they go out, they or course eventually want to come back in. And when they do, they can’t just run through the laundry room into the kitchen and leave wet-dog remnants everywhere, they have to hold on and be toweled off first.

Cats? I’d say they’re more or less exempt from the rule, because the outdoor versions can typically find a rat under a barn or old run-down cabin and the couch potato versions never set foot outside the four walls of their castle and get what they want 24-7, 365, no matter the weather.

Anyway, in my younger days I liked cold, wintry weather and even looked forward to it to some extent. But my outlook in my current, more ancient state of being has definitely changed, and I’m looking forward to when we get past the mushy, mucky, muddy aftermath of this outbreak of winter and can return to our normal, less patient ways.

Not that patience is bad and not that I’m advocating impatience in even a small measure, it’s just that I’ll be glad when there’s no snow on the side roads and the horses can graze freely again.

Then again, it’s nice to be tested every now and then and be forced to step outside the boundaries or normality and have to do what it takes to survive in snow. And I can safely say, there aren’t too many things as happy as a horse that just received a bucket of mixed corn and sweet feed in a snowstorm, and it’s gratifying to witness it.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

With snow covering his usual source of food, a patient Bennie gets a mouthful from a bucket of sweet feed provided by his local human.

With snow covering his usual source of food, a patient Bennie gets a mouthful from a bucket of sweet feed provided by his local human.

The only tracks in about eight inches of snow on this rural Texas County road were apparently left by a rabbit.

The only tracks in about eight inches of snow on this rural Texas County road were apparently left by a rabbit.

 

 

D and J w-border small

Handling the weather when the weather’s hard to handle

By DOUG DAVISON

The weather over the past few months has prevented him from doing much journeying beyond the boundaries of his front yard, but for a big ol’ Welsh Corgi like Jamie, just getting through the lengthy wintry mess has been a journey in itself.

Jamie typically likes spending plenty of time outside, enjoying activities like rolling on the grass, lying on the porch, sniffing odors wafting on the Ozarks breeze, and marking select spots around the remote Texas County outpost where he lives with me, my wife Wendy, and our collection of other hoofed, winged, and claw-bearing tenants.

But the extended period of cold, wet, and often snowy weather that has dominated the climate in south-central Missouri during the early stages of 2013 has caused this particular canine character to alter his style a bit and spend the vast majority of his waking hours indoors.

In fact, the conditions have frequently been so sloppy, sloshy, or slushy that the big guy has at times only wanted to be out long enough to make a deposit in a corner of the yard, while otherwise remaining in suspended animation in one of his favorite rest areas in the house.

On numerous occasions this year (especially since February began), the yard at our property has more resembled a wet sponge than a chunk of land. Of course, the clearance between Jamie’s underside and the ground is only in the neighborhood of about two inches, so when the ground’s wet and muddy, his belly tends to be the same.

When he comes in from a short jaunt to one of his designated drop zones, Jamie inevitably bears slimy, grimy signs of the times, and the smell of wet Corgi permeates the air in the laundry room. Mucky conditions notwithstanding, he’s never one to miss an opportunity to share his knowledge. Like one day last week.

“You know, that soil you’re toweling off of me has a fairly significant lime content,” Jamie said. “That’s due to the area’s karst geology. Of course, the word karst comes from a German word with the same spelling that describes landforms created by mildly acidic water affecting soluble bedrock, like limestone. And limestone is very common around here, you know, because the whole region was covered by salt water many, many years ago.”

“Wow,” I said. “You obviously know something about this area’s geology.”

“I’m just sayin’,” Jamie said.

Not that the Big Lug hasn’t enjoyed some quality out-time this year. When wintry storms have covered the landscape’s miry mush with a clean, fresh blanket of white, he has taken advantage of the situation and gone doggone giddy in the frozen groundcover.

Due to his God-given, long-and-low physique, romping in a winter wonderland is, in effect, another form of journey for Jamie, and definitely presents a challenge. But he seems to love meeting that challenge, and does so with a unique outlook that only a land manatee like him could have.

Like during that February storm that dumped several inches of sleet and then topped it off with a bunch of freezing rain. The crusty result was so rigid and strong that our car and truck didn’t even break through the surface. Naturally, 35 pounds of Corgi didn’t make a dent, either, but that didn’t deter Jamie from having a good time.

“This stuff’s weird,” he said. “My paws don’t go into it, and my claws can’t grab ahold of it. And if I get up any speed, I slide.

“I like it.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty unusual,” I said. “It’s like a layer of frozen mashed potatoes mixed with cement.”

“Don’t tease me like that,” Jamie said. “And actually, I already tried taking a bite of it and just about broke my face.”

“Be careful, big man,” I said. “No reason to damage that handsome mug of yours.”

“You’re right,” Jamie said. “Blemishing this masterpiece of a profile would be an awful shame.

“And speaking of cement, some kinds can harden underwater because of their chemical make up, you know.”

“Again, big man, your general knowledge is amazing,” I said. “Have you considered Jeopardy?”

“Yep, I gave it some thought, but me and Alex Trebek agreed it might not work out,” Jamie said. “It might be kind of hard for me to press the button on that little thingy the contestants use. No thumbs, you know.”

And then there was last week’s early spring storm that dropped about six inches of snow in these parts. Since that’s about four inches more than Jamie’s ground clearance, he basically plowed a trench everywhere he went.

“Now this is more like it,” he said. “This stuff gets out of my way when I move forward. I like it.”

“You look like one of those snowplow trains,” I said.

“Gangway!” Jamie said. “Snowplow train comin’ through!”

Our other Corgi, Gertie (the perma-pup), is always on the go, but shifts into an even higher gear in the snow. She’ll literally run in circles at top speed, and then stop suddenly and take a big bite out of the fluffy white stuff, like it was frosting on a gigantic cake.

“That dog’s crazy,” Jamie said. “I like it.”

“Yeah, fun’s her middle name, big man,” I said. “She can’t help herself – to her, everything’s exciting.”

“Even a dead skunk?” Jamie asked. “Or a piece of rotten asparagus?”

“Well, maybe not quite everything,” I said. “But I’d say a dead skunk might just qualify.”

Now that the weather has perhaps taken a lasting turn away from winter, it won’t be long before Jamie (and me, his appointed chauffeur and wordsmith) can get down to some real journeys in the Jillikins. Among other things, the Big Lug has plans of swimming in lakes and rivers, going for a boat ride, doing some fishing, and visiting a few more state parks.

Along the way, the he intends to learn more about the Ozarks, make some new friends, and eat plenty.

“Yeah, like french fries and ginger snaps,” Jamie said. “That’s the good stuff.”

“You say that about pretty much all food,” I said.

“Yeah, food,” Jamie said. “That’s the good stuff.”

Spring will no doubt provide Jamie ample opportunity to enjoy great weather in great places. Hopefully, he’ll also be able to keep going all summer long in temperatures a bit further south of 100 degrees than the past couple of years. Whatever the case, he’s ready and raring to go.

“Yeah, let’s roll,” he said. “I like it.”

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Jamie is a big ol’ Welsh Corgi. Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Jamie displays his favorite solution to handling the run of cold, wet, and even snowy weather that has been common in the Ozarks for many weeks.

Jamie displays his favorite solution to handling the run of cold, wet, and even snowy weather that has been common in the Ozarks for many weeks.

Jamie stands atop a rock-solid sheet of frozen H2O following a February sleet storm that was followed up by several hours of freezing rain.

Jamie stands atop a rock-solid sheet of frozen H2O following a February sleet storm that was followed up by several hours of freezing rain.

Jamie plows through snow after an early spring storm in Texas County. Wait, that's a snowplow train.

Jamie plows through snow after an early spring storm in Texas County. Wait, that’s a snowplow train.

The little glimpse of spring we recently had, when the temperature approached 80 for a few fleeting hours, was fun while it lasted.

But for crying in the mud (literally), this area saw one heck of a lot of cold and wet weather during the latter portion of winter.

On some of the sloppier days we’ve experienced (which always seem to happen on Sundays – never Wednesdays), it has been funny to watch the reactions of the animals around the remote Texas County outpost (a.k.a. home) where my wife Wendy and I hang out. Like their human counterparts, they seem to be tiring of standing water and spongy ground, and have more or less taken to avoiding it whenever possible.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

During the relatively frequent hours the rain has been in the process of falling, the horses and donkey have seemingly gone into a temporary trance, and stand motionless in or next to their designated outbuilding. The 2 1/2-decade old Arabian, Big Sur, usually acts as undisputed king of his domain and often seems to have a problem with allowing his subjects to enter the shelter of the old hay barn. But during this extended mushy season, his highness has relented a bit and graciously offered his peasant pasture mates access inside the palace gates. Even little ol’ Abe, the donkey and court jester, has been given permission to get out of the dank weather, and seems to have a smile on his typically dour face when the rain stops and he leaves the royal shelter.

Meanwhile, the outbuilding cats haven’t often ventured outside their outbuilding, but can regularly be seen hanging out on objects next to windows, enjoying the fact they aren’t outside and probably daydreaming of warmer, drier, more rodent-friendly times to come when they will be.

And while they normally range freely and search almost from sunup to sundown for bugs or other tidbits of succulent organic matter, the chickens have taken entire days off, staying balanced on their native wood perches and never setting foot outside the shelter of their room on the side of the garage. I guess nasty wind and rain can wreak havoc on a hen’s ensemble (especially the Don King-like do atop the noggin of Miss Tilley, our stylish silver lace Polish), and Jerry, the Jersey Giant rooster, seems to be aware of that fact and does the gentlemanly thing by not forcing any of his ladies to exit.

In similar fashion, the Welsh Corgis have on many occasions during this run of sloshy weather cut way back on their general movement. Rather than dealing with the mess beyond the laundry room door for any length of time, they’ve instead been content to go out and do their business once in the morning and once in the evening and spend the bulk of the rest of the day in horizontal mode inside the humans’ warm and dry cave. Of course, that comes naturally to a land manatee like Jamie, but even the perma-pup Gertie has joined in on the moratoriums of movement and spent entire days in pause mode rather than running half wild outside as she usually does.

Of course, Wendy and I have at times been the example the animals were following – like last Sunday when it was about 38 outside and rain fell pretty much all day long. As we did little but watch Hallmark Channel movies all day (hey – they weren’t “chick flicks,” they were quality motion pictures with poignant story lines and fine acting), the animal contingent followed our lead and laid as low as possible (especially the dogs, who laid all the way down).

While days like that are welcome rest periods that should definitely be taken advantage of now and then, it’s hard not to long for an extended stretch of sunshine and 78-degree warmth. Escaping reality and hanging out indoors has its merits, but it’s tough to beat getting out in the Ozarks hills when the weather is right.

Obviously, another spring officially began this week, but sheesh, winter ain’t giving up easy and there might be snow on your daffodils as you read this. Oh well, I understand that winter can sometimes hang tough in these parts (and I’ve lived on other parts of the continent where the story is the same), but I’m so ready for the weather to warm up – and stay that way.

I’m ready to cut grass, swim in the lake, and grill burgers. I’m not too keen on the idea of continuing to have to put on a knit cap and heavy gloves when it’s time to go out and feed members of the menagerie.

The good news is, it surely won’t be long before the warm-up sets in for good. And not long after that, it’ll be 100 for weeks on end.

For the record, I’m not complaining. It’s all just part of life in the Jillikins, and I’m totally good with it.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

The fashionable Miss Tilley, a Silver Lace Polish hen, doesn't like the kind of weather that has been common in the Ozarks over the past couple of months, because is wreaks havoc on her hairdo.

The fashionable Miss Tilley, a Silver Lace Polish hen, doesn’t like the kind of weather that has been common in the Ozarks over the past couple of months, because is wreaks havoc on her hairdo.

I like how every snowstorm has a unique personality.

Some are harsh reminders of winter’s potential to pack a punch, others are snippets of frozen beauty, and no two have the same characteristics.

I’d put the one that hit parts of the Ozarks last Friday into the latter category. And it was particularly cool on several levels.

First, it’s always interesting when snowfall comes as almost a complete surprise, and last week’s pretty much came out of nowhere. Only a few days earlier, weather prognosticators assured us that we were in for a “significant snow event,” and were quite confident in predicting our area would see a good six inches of white stuff.

Then, nothing.

Conversely, I think I remember hearing that there was “a chance of freezing drizzle” or something like that toward the end of last week. Instead, snow started falling early in the afternoon and didn’t stop until four inches had piled up on the high ground where my remote Texas County outpost is located.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Kind of reminds you that weather forecasting is basically guesswork, and that God is the only one who truly knows what’s to come on a given day in a given place.

But maybe the best thing about the surprise storm was that it was of the calm variety – the type that makes for the best in winter scenery.

As I was driving home from Houston that evening, the further I got into the Jillikins, the more intense the snowfall became. By the time I crested the big hill near home, it was coming down big time.

Since there was pretty much zero wind, the millions of flakes were falling straight down. As I got onto the dirt road that leads to our outpost, I slowed, and enjoyed the moment. It was a classic winter wonderland: light, fluffy snow covering everything in sight, from the smallest branches on the trees in the surrounding forest, to every inch of barbed wire lining the sides of the roadway.

Some of the snowflakes coming down were so large they looked more like snowballs, and no vehicles had yet passed the same way, so the route I was traveling looked more like an ungroomed ski run than a road. The atmosphere was extremely quiet and very peaceful.

When I reached home, there was already about three inches on the ground. As I drove my old pickup down the final portion of our tree-lined driveway, a couple of Corgis came running to greet me, smoke-like plumes of snow swirling around them as they plowed through the white stuff atop their short legs.

After I settled in a bit, I put on some snow-appropriate attire and ventured out to tend to animals.

The horses and the donkey were in chipper moods, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the windless, wintry situation. As they each chowed down the grain I had put in their buckets like it was the first they’d seen in months, I threw a bunch of hay on top of the snow along the fence line in the corral for them to snack on later.

Next I then went over to close up the chickens’ “room” alongside the garage, and was somewhat taken back when there wasn’t a bird to be seen. Rather than fret, I smiled, because I just knew they were safely weathering the storm in one of the other outbuildings. Sure enough, my wife found them the next morning perched on a beam in the old hay barn.

I had to laugh because I knew exactly what had happened. Our chickens wander the property freely during the day, but like clockwork head back to their shelter and hop aboard their designated perches just before nightfall. This time, though, the unexpected storm caught them off guard when they were still out and about. I’m sure that when it became obvious they wouldn’t make it back to base camp without trekking through snow, the group’s leader – Jerry the rooster – took the action he deemed necessary to protect his five hens.

“Ladies, we’ll hunker down in here tonight, and we’ll get back on schedule when this thing is over.”

Meanwhile, I checked the shop building to see how the outdoor cat family was doing. As expected, all three members were in a pile on an old blanket between some boxes and looked at me with that sort of disgustingly content cat-smirk as if to say, “may we help you?”

Having secured the animal contingent, I spent some time photographing the somewhat surreal but entirely beautiful scene right outside the house. I then said goodnight to the friendly snowstorm and went inside for the night.

Sometimes good things come when you least expect them. Last week’s snow was a nice surprise.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Quietly falling snow piles up fast Dec. 28, 2012 in Texas County.

Quietly falling snow piles up fast Dec. 28, 2012 in Texas County.