A deluge of Biblical rains made for a swampy, steamy, muddy summer at our farm. Between trudging through mud dragging water hoses for calves, having my boots sucked off entering pens for said calves, our cell count going up due to the humidity and mud, and just all-around misery, I grumbled about how nice it would be to have winter here again.
        When I was younger, I despised winter. Since I didn’t grow up on a farm and I also grew up without the luxury of snowmobiles, there was literally nothing to do outside other than carry firewood in every evening to fill the wood stove. Now that I’m a grown-up and a farmer at that, I realize that I led a charmed existence by not having to venture out onto the tundra every single day twice a day.
        We got a nice taste of winter around the first of November. It was chilly, snowy, cold, and none of us were quite ready for it. Looking back at the number of other farmers fighting their way through harvest when that first snow hit, I believe we were all caught off guard. Then, the snow melted and the ground softened up just enough so others could get their fall tillage done. It also bought me time to leave behind my obsession with pumpkin spice everything and embrace the changing of the flavor guards as mint flavored everything began to fill the shelves at the store.
    This time, when winter decided it was going to stay, we were as ready as we’d ever be. On Monday night, when it was still in the 50s as we headed to the barn for night chores, Sam and I both muttered and groused about how ridiculous this weather was for early December. Fit for neither man, especially me fighting a head cold, or beast, we said. After milking, we went to Dairy Queen in Chetek for a late-night snack, and from the time we walked out of the barn to the time we came back home the temperature had already dropped 10 degrees.
    What a change it was from Monday morning to Tuesday morning; I just about needed ice skates going down to the barn. The rain froze on every surface as the temperature plummeted and turned to snow, and the wind howled out of the west. After milking, I figured I would be fine feeding my calves without a jacket – boy, did I find out otherwise! My calf hutches face south without a windbreak, and I had to stand with my back turned to the west to keep the milk from flying and splashing every which way as I poured it into each individual pail. I also had to kick the side doors of each hutch in order to bust the ice that adhered them shut before I could feed the littlest members of the herd, all of whom were very happy to see me.
    As I made my way back to the house to thaw out, drink coffee and eat some bacon, the clouds were beginning to part with small patches of robin’s egg blue peeking through a watercolor sky. Winter, with all its inconveniences, has its definite advantages. It is a time to recharge, pause and rest, not only for farmers, but for the land before the madness and excitement of another growing season repeats itself next year. Life slows down with the absence of field work, allowing us time to simply exist and be. It is also a cynical reminder for me that not everyone has the mettle to feed infant bovines outdoors when the wind chill is just barely above zero, and that it takes someone special to be a dairy farmer.
    So, to you, winter … hello, old friend. Do take your time, but don’t make yourself too comfortable.