Like a lot of kids, I enjoyed playing in the dirt. I loved making mud pies and sand-castles and building up the earth toward the sky. When winter came, the desire to pile snow into the heavens and construct towers of ice and build walls to tunnel through was often times stronger than my instict for survival. How many times did mom call me in on the verge of frostbite?
Growing up on a farm in northern Nebraska, I learned to control our International 966 bucket loader early in my teens. Likewise, Grandpa’s cantankerous—and more ancient—Oliver tractor with its swaying front mount grappling fork was often mine to command.
And in Nebraska, there was plenty of snow to pile up.
Once, while stacking snow high into the air, I ran over a frozen lump of mud and the Oliver swayed off-balance. I leapt to the right, the Oliver falling out from under me to the left.
My heart jumped into my throat.
I hit the ground without breaking anything, but the old tractor wasn’t so lucky. Careening onto its side, landing upside-down with a series of clanks and clangs, the engine bawled with pillars of smoke and streams of oil that drained out onto the ground.
My heart was in my throat as the thing coughed itself to death, but my fear was mostly about what was still to come rather than what had just happened. I was too young, still too convinced of my own immortality, to worry about the close shave with death I’d just experienced. No, I was a lot more worried about my dad killing me when he saw the topsy-turvy heap.
Obviously I survived, but the memory was sharply in focus in my mind the other day as I cleared more than a foot of freshly fallen snow from our quarter mile long gravel lane here on the Missouri acreage. This time I had a newer John Deere and several more years of experience under my belt. But the thrill was still there as I raised the loader high…and the sense of balance that—once learned—you never forget.
Once more I had the opportunity to get out and simply play.
Yeah, on the one hand it was cold and a bit of a chore to realize that unless I spent a few hours outside, we weren’t going to be able to buy groceries for a week. But on the other hand, giving free reign to the 16-year-old inside, I shoved together makeshift Egyptian pyramids, piled high my own Mt. Olympus, and carved an Oregon Trail through a treacherous wilderness.
It was gratifying work. And even more so as, during the past few days, I’ve watched it all melt away, revealing an unscarred roadbed—confirming that I hadn’t been so carried away that I wrecked anything.
I’ve had my share of winter, and more than my share of snow: In Nebraska, Wyoming, and Missouri. I’ve been stuck, blind in blizzards, trapped in snowdrifts, and snowed into the house.
But in the end, the sun always comes out, and (I always remind myself) if I can just make it to the tractor, we’ll just see who gets pushed around!