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It’s that crazy time of year

Column by Hal Walter

Mountain Life – April 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

I NEVER SAW the horseshoe puzzle flying toward me as I sat reading the Wet Mountain Tribune in my living room. But I sure felt it when it struck me in the temple, causing a momentary blackout and a small but steady ooze of blood.

What’s a horseshoe puzzle? Well, it is two 0-pony size steel horseshoes welded to two pieces of link chain strung through a metal ring. The game is to remove the ring.

So how did something like this come to be flying in my living room? Well, it’s like this. My son, who will be 4 this month, likes to play with doors and such. He had been opening and closing the door to the armoire whenever we wanted to watch TV. So I found a small bungee cord, hooked it to the door and then to the horseshoe puzzle hanging from a corner post at the top of the armoire, which, by the way, is about 6 feet tall.

So there I was, sitting in one of Harrison’s toddler chairs at his little table where we had been eating a snack. He got up to play with the door while I finished reading the paper. Apparently what happened is that the horseshoe worked its way over the top of the post and then the bungee cord flung it downward at an angle and into my noggin.

People who live nearer to medical facilities might have this sort of thing checked out. But with time and gasoline being what they are, we just move on to the next chore, which in this case was editing copy.

It seems like I get injured in some minor way on almost a daily basis, but this was the first time in recent memory that it actually brought tears to my eyes. I howled in pain and Harrison joined in out of sympathy. That’s when I realized how glad I was that the horseshoe puzzle had struck me rather than him.

However badly that hurt, it was nothing compared to the injury recently sustained my wife, who came home with groceries in hand, and didn’t realize the walkway was iced over until she saw her feet at eye level, which is also nearly 6 feet.

She landed on her upper back, fracturing and dislocating one rib and simply dislocating another. We found one of her shoes out in the snow a good distance from where she landed. With any luck, she should be feeling better when springs rolls around, say in late May or early June.

It’s the crazy season to be sure. After fighting the snow, wind and ice for months, I know from experience that we may be past the subzero stuff, but winter itself might only be half over. You know you’re in a world of hurt when a quick trip to Pueblo, which is decidedly unexciting, seems like a vacation to Jamaica.

On one such trip to return my visiting mother who was sharing a ride from Cheyenne with a friend, I left here in a whirling ground blizzard only to find light breezes and mild temperatures in the Steel City. It was Stupid Bowl Sunday and I did some light shopping because our neighbors Peter and Nancy were coming over to watch the big game and I planned to make chili con carné.

ON THE WAY HOME I actually stopped near Pueblo Reservoir to briefly feel the sun and warm breeze. The Subaru thermometer indicated it was 51 degrees. I got back in the car and finished the drive only to find that the ground blizzard had not let up while I was gone and in fact had gotten worse, icing the highway and drifting over the county road.

I needed to do some chores at the ranch I manage, and against my better judgment tried to drive through the drifts. I was stuck in a matter of seconds. After fighting my way out the door, which was blocked shut by a snowdrift, I found my scoop shovel in the bed and went to work. After some effort I managed to get the truck free but found I could not back it out without immediately getting it stuck again.

The only choice was to try to drive forward and reach the top of a gentle hill that had not drifted over. I took the little bit of running start I could get, and was soon hopelessly mired again. I shoveled some more and then managed to spin the truck about another ten yards forward before it became stuck for good. I hurled cursewords at it and threw down my shovel in disgust, but the truck just sat there.

I had a pair of running shoes with me, and so I pulled them on and picked my way through the tire ruts and back to the main road. It was two miles to my neighbor Vince’s house. He has a tractor and a plowing business. I found his wife Linda at their barn. She said she’d send Vince and his tractor my way, so I started jogging back uphill, barely beating Vince back to my truck.

It didn’t take long for Vince to plow a lane through the drifts and pull my truck free. I fed and watered the horses and drove home, only to find a nearly impassable series of drifts had formed in the last 100 yards before my own driveway. Since it was downhill, I gunned the motor and plowed on through, fishtailing in the wind-blown sugar snow.

WHILE BROWNING THE BEEF for the chili, I thought how this sort of day full of weather-related challenges had become quite unremarkable. It had just become a normal part of day-to-day life, the unwritten rule of living here. The past months were one long blur of subzero temperatures, frozen equipment, blowing and drifting snow, dicey driving, shoveling, county plows that took days to arrive and treacherous footing. I was sick of it.

I usually begin to freak out about winter on June 21, when the days begin growing shorter. This feeling of dread generally worsens the rest of the summer and reaches a crescendo when the last of the aspen leaves fall in October. This would be a great place to live if all you want to do all winter is sit and watch football. But I’d rather be outside.

Perhaps the people of money have it right — this is a great place for a vacation home. And I guess that’s a reasonable notion if you happen to be a person of money. But I am not.

This year something different has happened. I started dreading next winter before this one was even near being over, long before I could crack the usual “April blizzards bring May lizards” joke.

The thing is, there’s no good answer to the problem. Winter has always been a problem here, and it always will be. Selling out comes to mind, and I’ve lived here long enough to have some equity if we are to believe the realtors (according to The Walter Manual of Style®, always lowercase the ‘r’).

However, a quick peek at indicates there are more than 600 others who would like to sell their houses in the greater Cluster County metroplex.

The big game had already started when it occurred to me that I hoped our guests knew better than to bring their car. But then I had to laugh when I saw them drive up with their snowplow attached to the front of their pickup.

It was really nothing out of the ordinary.

Hal Walter cultivates prose and burros on 35 acres in the Wet Mountains.