Tag Archives: Christmas Eve Blizzard

The other side of nature

The other side of nature. A rather intense blizzard, Christmas time, Texas High Plains, 2009.

We turn our heads, even raise our hand to eye so as to blind us to the other side of nature — fierce cold.

Winter storms force cattle to turn their backsides to the wind and drift — drift until warm temperatures encounter their travel.  But during the worst of blizzards, cattle bunch into box canyons, fences and fast-flowing streams that terminate their travel, even their lives.  The worst of western blizzards came in 1888, destroying like a monster from Hades the free range of the American West that never arose again.

The photograph inserted shows the blizzard of 2009 that stranded motorists and brought out the National Guard to the Texas High Plains.  Brenda and I drove through the storm.  Livestock perished, not like 1888, but many perished despite the efforts of cattlemen and helicopters dropping hay from the heavens, manna for cattle.  We put chains on the pickup in Roscoe and took them off in Slaton, slowly making our way to Lubbock, then Santa Fe.

I drive at least two times, sometimes four times a week, between Mingus, Texas, and Abilene, a journey of 87.2 miles from my ranch house to Cisco College.  As I travel, I see good and warm things, but I also see a tableau of death, regardless of cold Winter or warm Spring.  I do not write about the tooth and claw — only one post in a year have I written about the other side of nature — because it is most unpleasant and I have been taught by my family to look the other way, grit my teeth, bow my back and work on, carry on, even pick up sticks and rocks from the corral to forget and cover the other side of nature, raising a hand to the eye.

I was taught by my family to keep death and blood away, the least semblance of pain is to be endured against happiness and pleasure receding too quickly in our lives.  I learned in college that my family’s philosophy was stoicism, remembering vaguely the word, but daily that conduct.  I write this blog about nature and how she covers us second by second, year by year, like a quilt on a cold winter’s night, a softness and heaviness at the same time, installing comfort into our harried house.  The warmth erases pain and anguish.  But, there is another side that we all must endure.

There is an extraction, a debt, that inevitably must be paid.  As I drive the 87.2 miles to Abilene and back to Mingus, I see, even hear the debt being paid in blood and tissue.  How many deer, raccoons, skunks, possums, coyotes, dogs, cats, field mice, ravens, hawks, snakes, fox, moths and monarch butterflies can I continue to see killed along the roads?  I see the remains; I am even a part of making the remains.  The only debt I hear paid is the lovely monarch butterfly that hits my windshield, leaving a yellow stain that I cannot wash off until the day ends.  The monarch strikes my windshield and I cringe.  I think, quite often, that my salary, forcing my travel to Abilene, is not worth the agony and groans that I feel and emit as I see and hear the other side of nature.

I write of horses prancing, birds singing, dogs playing and armadillos browsing with slow gait, rooting and eating contentedly.  Then, why write this post, why bring up the other side of nature?  Death and blood and stench of flesh?  I’m not sure, but to bring up the other side of nature seems to balance my exuberance downward.  Downward to the way-things-are and away from illusion, closer to truth.  My work is affected.  As I drive the interstate to Abilene I see the panic of deer running across the road, jumping the fence to safety, to daily heaven.  I walk into class to lecture and the gravitas of it all weighs me down to essentials:  why are we here, what are we doing, what are the models we want to imitate, what are the models we wish to avoid?  I don’t waste time for I am doing my best to answer those questions for that day.

As I come back home to Mingus, I think:  I am here to groom my horse, play with my dog, feed my cats, tend my pastures, grow plants for monarchs to feed upon, protect the deer in my domain and love my life and wife.  Taking my hand from my eyes, I see life as gift once more as it is balanced against the other side.

______________________________

Notes:

I often have Brenda read my stuff before I publish it.  She read this and said, “Very good, but very heavy.  They’re going to say you haven’t had your anti-depressant.”   We laughed.  She understood what I was trying to say in the post.  I told her that I have been wanting to write this post for a long time.  One of the reasons I support wildlife corridors is the death I see on my travels to Abilene.  There’s a place along Baird Hill that needs protection.  I see drivers trying to avoid the wildlife.  Many succeed in avoiding the critters.  Drivers aren’t all talking on the cell phone.

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Filed under Baird Hill Pond, Deer, Dogs, Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance

More Santa Fe Blizzard Express

Hermleigh, Texas, December 24, 2009

Hermleigh, Texas, December 24, 2009

Roscoe, Texas, December 24, 2009

Roscoe, Texas, December 24, 2009

Jack Matthews, Roscoe, Texas, December 24, 2009

Farm Fields, Slaton, Texas, December 24, 2009

We had been keeping up with weather forecasts before we left at 5:00 a.m. CST from our home in Mingus, Texas.  The weather forecasts on December 23, indicated that the Arctic snow front would pass through the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma, bypassing our route on Interstate 20 to Sweetwater, Roscoe north to Lubbock, then Clovis, Santa Rosa, Santa Fe.

On December 24, we left Mingus, temperature 37 degrees.  We first encountered snowflakes in Eastland, Texas, but before that, only minutes out of Ranger, Texas, a Federal Express double-trailer had overturned, indicating, perhaps, high cross winds.

The snowflakes would not subside until we reached Lubbock at 2:00 p.m.

We did not encounter snow accumulating on the road until Sweetwater where we made a rest stop.  At Sweetwater, the temperature was below 30 degrees.  By the time we reached the turnoff to Roscoe, Texas, then north to Lubbock, the snow had accumulated on the highway and the wind blew the snow to a white out for a few seconds every so often.  The turn off at Roscoe was treacherous because a white out suddenly occurred at the intersection and I had to “feel” the turn for a few seconds.  At that point, I decided to go into Roscoe and put the cable-chains on the back wheels of the F-250. We also considered staying put and waiting the storm out and Highway Department to clear the roads.

The F-250 I drive is a 2003, the last year they made the 7.3 liter diesel engine.  Our F-250 is maintained precisely to the Ford Motor Company’s guidelines, plus a few of our own.  As a consequence, we have 240,000 plus miles and it pulls a twenty-six foot tack and stock trailer or a flatbed with a DX-55 Case tractor.  We had a full fuel tank, blankets, phones, and food and water.

At Roscoe, I put the chains on and we ventured out again on the highway to Lubbock.  At Hermleigh, we stopped at an Allsup’s for a rest stop but the convenience store was closed.  Our daughter in Lubbock called by cell and said that there was a thirty-two car pileup at Post, so we first decided to go from Snyder to Lamesa, then Santa Fe by various routes, but the latest reports at Allsup’s from truck drivers indicated that the wreck had been cleared.

The wind turbines at Roscoe and Hermleigh were hidden by the snowstorm, but occasionally the wind would die down and we saw the giant turbines, less than a quarter-of-a-mile away, slowly turning in the storm.  Nothing else but snow and the turbines.  We maintained a long distance between ourselves and the car or truck in front of us to give us time to stop.  Yet, we did not have the respect from cars in back of us.  Truckers, however, gave us space.  Since we had chains and traction, I could ease over and let cars and trucks pass us.  Several cars that passed us we later saw in the ditch or median.

Our speed could not exceed 30 m.p.h. with chains.  Finally, at Post, Texas, we stopped and I took off the chains.  Between Post and Lubbock, we were diverted by the Highway Department to tour along the access roads and avoid going over bridges.  In Slaton, a U.S. Postal Service truck was blocking the overpass because it had no traction and was stalled.  We saw several National Guard medical vehicles headed south from where we had come.  We later found out that Governor Rick Perry had called out fifty National Guardsmen to assist in rescue efforts.

From Post, then, we had no chains, but the Highway Department had cleared one lane by the early afternoon on the highway.

At Lubbock, we visited with our relatives and left Lubbock at 4:00 p.m. for Santa Fe, arriving at 9:30 p.m. MST.

Notes

“Postscript by Brenda:  Jack’s writings depict the experience perfectly.  What cannot be conveyed completely was the stress and emotions of the eight-hour drive to Lubbock…but, the picture of him above portrays his attentiveness.  I was never terribly worried because I knew he was an excellent driver and near obsessive over safety.  Yes, I wish we had left a day earlier, but I am happy to be in Santa Fe!  Brenda Matthews, 12.28.2009.”

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