Tom Clyde: The end of a winter that wasn’t
April 1, 2018
I took the snow blower off the tractor yesterday. It seems a little early, but the fact is I haven't had enough snow to blow for weeks. The only reason I've started the tractor at all is to use the front end loader bucket as a high-class wheelbarrow to transfer firewood from the big pile to the rack on the porch. And then it got so warm that I quit making a fire at night. This winter never got started.
The ruts in the driveway were becoming enough of a problem that I thought I'd switch from the snow blower to the grader blade. If it did snow again, the blower would choke on the gravel when it bit into the ruts. And it's not much use on slushy snow anyway. To be on the safe side, I decided to use the big front end loader, and delay the switch over a little longer. The tractor I normally use for snow removal is a mid-sized Kubota with a heated cab and Bluetooth connection to my phone so I can enjoy the music while clearing the roads. The John Deere is about twice the horsepower and would be the preferred machine, aside from the fact that there is no cab. Seventy horsepower of snow blower in your face is less than ideal — been there, done that.
The John Deere hadn't been started all winter. I never needed that kind of firepower this winter. The batteries weren't dead, but they were comatose. So when it wouldn't start (and part of the plan was to actually start it, move a little oil through the system, and charge it up for a couple of hours), I went home and got the big battery charger. It has a setting that pulls enough current from the extension cord plugged into the wall to start almost anything. On the high setting, it will dim the lights from here to Heber. The tractor fired right up, and as I climbed off to disconnect the battery charger, it fell about 3 feet, landing with a sharp corner right on the knuckle in my big toe.
The cursing that followed was enough to clean the corrosion off the battery terminals, so that job's done. I graded the roads until I got too cold, sitting in the wind on the open seat, and declared partial victory. My toe is the color of an eggplant. There is a gash in the top right where the bellows of my tele-ski boot flexes and bites into it. All of which pointed to the decision to drop the snow blower off the Kubota and finish grading the other roads in heated comfort.
The cursing that followed was enough to clean the corrosion off the battery terminals, so that job’s done.”
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It's been that kind of winter.
Last year, I spent 63 hours on the tractor plowing snow. This season, the meter shows 8 hours, and a fair amount of that is the wheelbarrow work. The snowplowing over the two winters was different by a factor of 8.
But spring is here. The cranes are back, setting up an unbelievable ruckus every morning at dawn. The geese are on the ponds, and a full complement of songbirds from the redwing black birds to the mountain bluebirds are out and about. I've already seen potgut squirrels out in the pasture.
My plan to raise raspberries is moving ahead about like the plan to start the John Deere. The yard, which normally should be covered in snow, has dried out enough that I was able to plow up a pretty good-sized garden plot to plant the berries in. I'm going to experiment with three different varieties to see which produces the best. The first batch of bare-root plants arrived. After planting them in pots in the house, they appear to be as dead as Monty Python's parrot. So I have great expectations for the other two, which should be arriving any day now.
A woman in Francis raised raspberries for several years. They were the most beautiful berries you could find. The anticipation went on all summer. Every time I'd ride my bike past her berry patch, I'd check out the progress — leaves, buds, flowers, tiny specks of red, and then the full, rich berries. I'd pack the freezer with them every fall. She had a weedkiller or fertilizer mishap that killed her entire patch, and decided it was just too much work to start over. So for a couple of years, I've either had to take my chances on the roadside stands, where the berries on top look great, and one layer down, they are either moldy or already jam, or buy the flavorless berries at the grocery store.
If only I knew somebody who had some farmland, and the machinery to plow up a garden… So I guess we'll see what happens with that project.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.