As a Florida baby, I've never liked winter. Since I've lived in Missouri for thirty years, I've sucked it up and learned to adjust. (If you don't count the annual case of late-January blues.)
But this winter, this winter has come pretty darn close to breaking me, and I'm not the only one. There are those who say this is the way winter is supposed to be, we've just forgotten. I'd beg to differ. It's been so long since anyone I know has seen anything remotely resembling this, I think it's safe to say this is no longer normal.
There are others who make comments like, "What's the big deal? People just need to toughen up - you don't hear me complaining when I can't make it to the gym because of snow." Honestly, this mindset sends me into a Hulk-like rage. I'll just leave that one alone and move on.
The season started early when a freak storm hit the Dakotas, killing tens of thousands of cattle and forcing many ranchers out of business. Since then, the United States has been pounded by wave after wave of severe winter weather. Ice, snow, and subzero temperatures have not only made life miserable for millions, it's created dangerous conditions.
As of early January, the death toll from cold alone was over 20. As of this month, the death toll from this flu season stands at 40. The multi-day Atlanta gridlock left children stranded in schools and motorists on the highways, many of whom suffered exposure injuries. Across the nation, people are faced with empty grocery store shelves. Schools have canceled a record number of days. For me, school cancellation means more quality time with my kiddos and a bit of cabin fever. For many parents, it puts them in a bind, especially those who must choose between paying the unexpected childcare expense and buying groceries.
Since my family moved so close to winter's start, we weren't able to load up on firewood beforehand. That and the bitter, bitter cold means all five of us pitch in to keep up with cutting firewood, and there still have been many nights I've spent praying it would last until the next break in the weather. If it wasn't for random friends from church stopping by to bring more wood, we wouldn't have made it. Others, like a single mother I know a few hours from here, aren't so lucky. There are no angels dropping wood off on her door, so when she's not working her full-time job, she's out walking the woods near her home cutting wood to keep her children warm because she can't afford to refill her propane tank. Why? Because prices have nearly doubled since this time last year.
Our first goat to kid lost one of her twins to cold. Despite our best efforts, I don't think the second baby is completely out of the woods just yet. Without our warming barrels, I know we would have lost our entire kid crop this year. With them, it's dicey at best. Sometimes I hold the weaker ones to warm them; their little bodies are wracked by shiver after shiver. It hurts my heart to see my animals so miserable with the weather and I wish there was more I could do. I've been so wrapped up in my own farm, I hadn't stopped to realize that we were the lucky ones only losing one baby. Others have lost much more. A recent conversation with a local cattle farmer reminded me of that.
For those who haven't been impacted by this yet, remember that the cattle dying on someone else's farm were intended for your dinner table. This winter's effect will eventually reach you.
I haven't had a good night's sleep since November. Our stove burns for two hours, which means it has to be stoked round the clock to keep the cabin warm. If the weather stays in the 20s, the cabin retains its heat. More nights than not, we've dipped well below that threshold. Anything other than a roaring fire, and things get chilly. Another friend of mine recently worked three days straight without going home to see his family because he couldn't leave the barn without fear of losing animals.
That's not even getting into the millions of dollars of damage done by busted pipes and roofs that have collapsed because of "ice dams" forming, or the illnesses running rampant this year. My family has been sick more in the past three months than we have in the three years prior. I've hauled countless gallons of water to frozen troughs. My fingers and toes have been so painfully cold it made me cry more times than I could count. This has truly been a long, cruel winter.
My point isn't to use my blog as a means for self pity; it's this: those of us impacted by the weather are bone weary. We don't have much left in us. I know it's only February and I don't mean to whine, but I'm more exhausted than I ever thought possible or words could ever express. It's more than a physical tired, too. Until I'd lived it, I never could have understood it. And as miserable as I've been, I can't even fathom how my homeless friends feel - or the Syrian refugees living in tents during their own harsh winter. If you happen to be one of those people only mildly inconvenienced by the weather, say a prayer of thanks that you're safe and warm, and while you're at it, please pray for those struggling to put one foot in front of the other.
If you're someone who is in the trenches of this ugliness, hang on. Spring will come. You aren't alone. There are others out there who know and care what you're going through. And know that you're in my family's prayers.
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.