Outdoors the sun-glitter hurt her eyes. She breathed a deep breath of the tingling cold and squinted her eyes to look around her. The sky was hugely blue and all the land was blowing white. The straight, strong wind did not lift the snow, but drove it scudding across the prairie.
The cattle were standing in sunshine and shadow by the haystacks—red and brown and spotted cattle and one thin black one. They stood perfectly still, every head bowed down to the ground. The hairy red
necks and brown necks all stretched down from bony-gaunt shoulders to monstrous, swollen white heads.
“Pa!” Laura screamed. Pa motioned to her to stay where she was. He went on trudging, through the low- flying snow, toward those creatures.
They did not seem like real cattle. They stood so terribly still. In the whole herd there was not the least movement. Only their breathing sucked their hairy sides in between the rib bones and pushed them out again. Their hip bones and their shoulder bones stood up sharply. Their legs were braced out, stiff and still. And where their heads should be, swollen white lumps seemed fast to the ground under the blowing snow.
On Laura’s head the hair prickled up and a horror went down her backbone. Tears from the sun and the wind swelled out her staring eyes and ran cold on her cheeks. Pa went on slowly against the wind. He walked up to the herd. Not one of the cattle moved.
For a moment Pa stood looking. Then he stooped and quickly did something. Laura heard a bellow and a red steer’s back humped and jumped. The red steer ran staggering and bawling. It had an ordinary head with eyes and nose and open mouth bawling out steam on the wind.
Another one bellowed and ran a short, staggering run. Then another. Pa was doing the same thing to them all, one by one. Their bawling rose up to the cold sky. At last they all drifted away together. They went silently now in the knee-deep spray of blowing snow. Pa waved to Laura to go back to the shanty, while he inspected the haystacks.
“Whatever kept you so long, Laura?” Ma asked.
“Did the cattle get into the haystacks?”
“No, Ma,” she answered. “Their heads were . . . I guess their heads were frozen to the ground.”
“That can’t be!” Ma exclaimed.
“It must be one of Laura’s queer notions,” Mary said, busily knitting in her chair by the stove. “How could cattle’s heads freeze to the ground, Laura? It’s really worrying, the way you talk sometimes.”
“Well, ask Pa then!” Laura said shortly. She was not able to tell Ma and Mary what she felt. She felt that somehow, in the wild night and storm, the still-ness that was underneath all sounds on the prairie had seized the cattle.
Laura’s future husband Almanzo also sees the world around them as almost a living thing,
- “But he had a feeling colder than the wind. He felt that he was the only life on the cold earth under the cold sky; he and his horse alone in an enormous coldness.
“Hi-yup, Prince!” he said, but the wind carried away the sound in the ceaseless rush of its blowing. Then he was afraid of being afraid. He said to himself, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” He thought, “I won’t turn back now. I’ll turn back from the top of that next slope,” and he tightened the reins ever so little to hold the rhythm of Prince’s galloping.
From the top of that slope he saw a low edge of cloud on the northwestern sky line. Then suddenly the whole great prairie seemed to be a trap that knew it had caught him.”
And Laura’s father is the same way, he hears the strange voices, too, and he sees the sign. And he works hard to keep the darkness away from his family. Pa rose with a deep breath. “Well, here it is again.”
Then suddenly he shook his clenched fist at the northwest. “Howl! blast you! howl!” he shouted. “We’re all here safe! You can’t get at us! You’ve tried all winter but we’ll beat you yet! We’ll be right here when spring comes!” And there you have it…it’s been a long winter, but we’ll be right here when spring comes.
Here’s Footprints in the Snow by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys
1/3 cup pistachio Kernels, roasted or roasted
1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 t capers
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 T tarragon
juice of half a lemon (or to taste)
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
In a food processor or blender combine the nuts, capers, tarragon, salt and pepper. process until coarse and crumbly.
Add the lemon juice and water and process until as smooth as possible. With the processor or blender running, add the olive oil slowly in a thin stream, and continue to process until the mixture is completely smooth.
Taste for salt, pepper and lemon.
I am so enjoying reading your account of your winter and I can almost feel the cold. Here I’m hanging out for Autumn and cooler days, I am fed up with being constantly hot and sweaty! This pistachio sauce sounds delish, I must try it out soon. Stay warm… spring (& fresh asparagus) is on its way!
I saw a photo of a baby wombat drinking a cold drink to beat the heat wave! Crazy! Hard to imagine but strangely hopeful!!! If only we could share. I’ll send you a big shipment of snow.
I love your post. I love winter. It is winter and winter is being winter.
I hear what you say about hardships. Recently I fell and hurt my ankle ( not in the ice, but a silly fall out over the threshold onto the balcony.) I felt vulnerable. Bruised legs, malfunctioning left ankle.
I have too much to do! I have to feed the birds and the feral cats in the shed. Care for the dogs and my aging parents. It is painful to walk in crusty snow!
I read a recent obit about a young boy, a cigarette boy, who survived the holocaust, running away from nazis on an injured leg. I borrowed his spirit. My troubles were nothing to his.
The snow is snowing, but we can weather the storm.
This is a challenging winter, for soft Jerseyans, even for those of us who love winter.
I hope your ankle is okay! If you need anything, give us a call. And we’ve been feeding the birds in the backyard, too. I could spend hours watching. We had a crow out there today, pecking at the seed!!! It’s not rare to see a crow, but it is rare to see one skulking in the backyard with the sparrows and juncos. Beautiful!!
Reblogged this on IAm Synt and commented:
Wonderful. Thanks for the soup from Ratatouille!
Oh Claire, this was exactly what I needed to read today! I am so tired of being cold and of wearing layers and dirty wet boots and hats. I have actually thought about how people survived winter before running water and electricity and tried to let that bolster me. Thank you for bringing us words from that time itself, and for your words, and your delicious food creations.
Thanks, Lisa! I’m sick of it all, too, but I’m baking and trying to write and trying to avoid leaving the house, so it’s not so bad.
You can read more of The Long Winter here…
Click to access Laura%20Ingalls%20Wilder%20-%20(06)%20The%20long%20Winter.pdf
I got sucked in yesterday, and read nearly the whole thing!! There’s lots of music in it, because they don’t have anything to do but sit by their stove and sing.
Ha ha! What a silly mistake. I meant pistachio KERNELS of course. Or shelled pistachios. Thanks for pointing it out.