Smokes and wildflowers


Cow-Calf Commentary

KIMBALL, Neb. – I took a part time winter job this year, as I always do.
Well, almost always. Last year I was fighting a bone infection so I spent the winter on my backside.
Which is why I like to take a winter job – easier to stay off the backside.
Anyway, I’m now a part time convenience store clerk working the night shift.
Just after midnight the other night a fellow came in the store. I’ve occasionally seen him walking around town. Gimping around is probably a more accurate description of his means of locomotion. For some reason – and I have no knowledge as to why – the fellow is on the rolls of the local unemployed.
Anyway, he came in the store just after midnight to ask if I could help him out. With what, I asked.
“Well,” he said, “it’s Christmas (and indeed it was), and I wondered if you could buy me a pack of smokes.”
So I did.
The gratitude he expressed was considerably more effusive than I expected.
Some good food for thought there. I’ve never been in a position where 20, class A cigarettes were the difference between a happy and an unhappy
Christmas.
Yep, good food for thought.
In December, when Arctic air grips the world in an icy fist; when chores are done in swaddled layers of clothing and still the stinging cold bites at fingertips and ears and noses; when gravid cows trade fat
for survival…
In December, wildflowers are part of the future. Or perhaps, part of the past. They exist only in memory or in anticipation. Oh, the seeds and dormant plants are present, hunkered down against the winter, husbanding a tiny spark of life.
In December, wildflowers are only potential wildflowers. New roots, stems, leaves, buds, petals, stamen and pistil, aroma glands, tiny seed-factory ovaries – all of these are safely locked away in molecules of DNA.
But they’re there.
Though it’s hard to remember what spring feels like when you’re chopping ice or feeding hay in sub-zero weather, the annual season of rebirth is on the way. Already the days are getting longer, the sun is standing higher in the southern sky each day, tickling our High Plains landscape with ever more warmth. There’s still plenty of winter left, though. As the old saying goes: “As the days lengthen, the cold will strengthen.” It takes time for even the sun to reverse a cooling trend that began late last summer.
But spring is on the way and will arrive, according to the calendar, in only 82 days. At 10:15 a.m. on March 20, to be precise.
This could be a tough spring. It got dry last year, and a very warm autumn kept plants using water up until the very first day of winter, depleting more and more soil moisture. The precipitation forecast through March is up in the air.
To return to “normal” soil moisture conditions, we will have to have a good deal of snow melt in the spring, as well as timely and adequate spring rainfall. Will that happen? There’s no way to know. We’ll have to see what the future actually brings.
Not only the wildflowers, but the entire ecosystem will be challenged when winter passes and spring arrives, bringing warmer temperatures.
Livestock producers will have to carefully monitor spring green-up and make herd management decisions. If an adequate green-up fails to appear, as it did in 2002 and again in 2012, many producers will be faced with the choice of continuing to feed hay or to sharply reduce herd numbers.
Regardless of whether the grass greens up, there will be wildflowers. If conditions remain exceptionally dry, they will be few and far between, but they will be there. It’ll be interesting to see how the shortgrass prairie ecosystem develops this spring.

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