While running a small country weekly newspaper, one learned rather early that if the local prairie folks saw truth in a blizzard warning they would be standing four to five people deep at the local grocery cradling a half or quarter of “blizzard meat,” their eyes nervously eying the checkout lady who loved being neighborly even with doom on the threshold.
Translated, “blizzard meat” means ham. “Since they’re cured,” explained one of my coworkers, herself a native of the Western Minnesota prairie, “hams will still be good if your electricity goes.”
Ever since I’ve used hams as my blizzard yardstick. If a blizzard warning or watch is issued, just take a quick pulse of a local prairie grocery store.
So when the warnings came about a weekend blizzard I was in dismay since we’re too distant from a prairie grocery store to properly gauge the situation. One of the “Farmer’s Almanac” sure signs of a blizzard is having winds high in the treetops. Odd winds where you feel nothing on the ground, but you can hear a hushed roar up high and can see the very tops of the trees in wind stress.
We were outside most of the weekend tying up loose ends in preparation for the winter … putting up snow fences, pulling down the political signs, putting a “roof” over the chicken run and bolstering the sides with bales of straw, storing away the charcoal grill and bullet smoker, and Rebecca even took her garden tractor to mow a loopy cross country ski trail through the prairie. Sure, we kept an eye on the sky, and Rebecca kept looking at radar reports. Yet, we simply didn’t hear nor feel those high, treetop winds.
Throughout the weekend people from all around the prairie, from East River to Minneapolis, were all abuzz about the ravaging blizzard that would plant a foot or more of horizontal snow on our patch of earth. “It’s now moving north,” someone warned, meaning right in our path. Then came the posting of colorful radar-enhanced maps with concentric waves of disaster … with us right in the middle of the pool. “It’s still a fluff,” I said, time after time, for the wind just wasn’t right.
No ominous clouds were building to the west. From here we can see the distant “blue” of the Dakota Cocteau, and above it the clouds appeared peaceful, floating gently through the gray of the afternoon. Ours was a cold, gray Sunday, with a slight north wind. Dale Pederson even drove up from Wegdahl to retrieve his tractor so he would have means to clear his driveway. While here he hoisted and screwed wood panels to the north garage door opening. “The storm is supposed to hit from the north,” he warned, a look of worry crossing his face. Apparently I had been looking in the wrong direction all this time. Twice before bed on the eve of disaster I ventured outside to pace the deck and look up at the northern sky, and even the night sky seemed peaceful.
Those damp and chilly winds blasted us throughout much of last week and seemed more eventful than anything over the weekend … although late Friday afternoon gale force winds whipped up such a frenzy that the house wrap had torn into huge flapping pieces when we returned from an art show opening in Granite Falls. Those had calmed down by Saturday, and the calm continued into Sunday when a tall stack of wood scraps were burned in the fire pit. We were both busy doing chores around the farm not so much in preparation for the incoming blizzard as for winter itself. Over dinner we were both rather proud of ourselves and even made a few toasts of wine in self congratulations for being so organized and ready for winter.
Note I said winter, not blizzard. At midnight there was nothing, and I crawled back into a warm bed smiling about the fluff of impending doom.
By daybreak, though, the fluff had called my bluff as winds howled and horizontal snow sliced across the windows. Drifts were thigh high in places. We simply could not see past the edge of the lawn, which was further than we could see in at least a couple of complete white outs we had in our first winter here. “Know what we forgot?” asked Rebecca at one point. “The snow shovels are still down in the barn.”
So I was mistaken. This was a good, old fashioned blizzard, a day when those with the right frame of mind realize our modern world has come to a basic halt. Schools were closed. Our five mile stretch of country road was barren of traffic. Birds laid low in the cover. Neither the chickens nor cats dared venture outside. Our garden, a patch of summer life that will sustain us for months, sat cold and dormant; Rebecca’s arched arbor was an arc of dead, shimmering leaves in the mist of blowing snow.
When I came back inside to the warmth of this old farm house, where those before us likely found refuge from similar blizzards since 1912, I came to a sad realization: We have no “blizzard meat!”