THE SNOW CLIMBED DOWN

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Photo circa 2000, 7 miles north of Cassville on Y Highway.

Winters in the Ozarks aren’t nearly as harsh as the ones I’ve come to know in central Iowa. Folks up north scoff at southern drives in snowstorms, but bare in mind, our roads are rather dangerous even in ideal conditions. Over the years the old snaking logging roads turned into paved roads that require keen observation to navigate.

Grandma lived half a mile down the road from my childhood home. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday she served bacon, eggs, and flakey biscuits. Tuesday and Thursday was biscuits and gravy with sausage patties. Saturdays, pancakes and waffles and Sundays we ate breakfast rice.

Our snow day started with refilling the wood box by the cast-iron fireplace. I used to spit on the top just to watch it sizzle away into oblivion. We drove our 88 Dodge Ram Charger over and ate the appropriate breakfast for the day of the week. Second hand Carhartts were wrapped around to keep a body warm.

The old Ford farm truck was an odd combination of mustard yellow, rust, and mud. The heater never warmed up to a sufficient temperature, which didn’t much matter, as I spent most of my time riding in the back. We would lower the hay spike on the back of the truck, spike a round hay bale, and take it to the top of a hill. Few things are as fun as shoving a round bale of hay down a hill. After a few rotations downhill the bale lost all control and careened over or through most obstacles.

I don’t know how many hours I spent in the barn pictured above. With the imagination of a young boy, the barn became a rallying point for the 101st Airborne in northern France in 1944. When the snow covered the ground, it became Bastogne.  I could bend my surroundings to fit the narrative of any historic setting I desired. That barn was the equivalent to tree houses all the kids in mid 90’s movies had. It was an escape from reality and a refuge from the elements.

One particularly bad ice storm sums up life on an Ozarks farm. Across the lower field from grandmas house sat one of our steepest hills. Debris often rolled down the hill, took the 20-foot drop into Flat Creek, and began its journey downstream. The cattle had found cover under a cedar tree grove. The incline proved too much for their hooves, and we watched as our main source of income slide off that hill toward the creek. There was nothing to be done, other than watch the tragic bovine bobsleds make their decent.

In my youth, nature made life harder; the same goes for life as a troubadour. Shows cancel, attendance can be low, and travel is risky at best. Perhaps childhood tales of Jeremiah Johnson and Hugh Glass have fortified themselves in my psyche, making it impossible not to enjoy the danger or challenge of a Midwestern snowstorm.

-Jake