You had to be living in a cave to not know that frigid Siberian air was about to land on us with a thud. Every weather forecast was telling me the bitter cold air and heavy winds were going to make it dangerous to even cross a street. To put salt in the wound, it rained the night before and the entire world was one very slick, smooth, shiny sheet of ice. Ice that told me it wasn't a matter of if I was going to fall, but simply a matter of when and how many times.
As I hooked the horses to feed that night, I marveled at how tough they were. They had frosted whiskers, frosted eyelashes, frosted ear hairs, and frosted tails. But they were snorty and happy to come in out of that ferocious wind. When I had tied everyone that had come in I stood in the center of the barn with a remaining collar still in my hands. Miss Bette had not come in the barn.
I walked outside expecting to find her around the corner but she wasn't there. She must be standing in the round bales out of the wind. So I wandered through the maze of round bales and called for her. No Miss Bette to be found. My heart started pounding in my chest. Even though I was freezing on the outside, I was sweating under my clothes. Where was Miss Bette? My mind told me calmly, "She's out by the poplar tree. She went out there to die."
Searching high and low
I grabbed halters, lead ropes and collars and headed up to the house for a flashlight. Back out in the pasture, I walked the fence lines and the area back by the poplar tree. I couldn't leave her out there by herself - not that night in the terrible, terrible blizzard.
I zig-zagged the pasture, walked the dry run, and retraced the fence lines - no sign of Miss B. I walked the hay bales once more and still could not see her. Going back into the barn, I grabbed a manure fork and turned the handle to the ground.
Back outside, I began to poke the snowdrifts around the round bales like I was poking a cake just out of the oven. She had to be in there! She wasn't in the pasture, the gate wasn't open, and I hadn't seen a break in the fence! Miss Bette had to be in the snow in the hay bales!
I poked and poked and called to her. "Miss B! Miss B! You need to show me where you are! Miss B! Miss B!" I realized she probably couldn't hear me in the howling wind but I had to do something! I felt so very helpless! I couldn't find her and she would freeze to death in the storm!
A glimmer of hope
I worked my way back to the last row of round bales. Putting the flashlight under my chin I was able to use both arms to poke in the drifts. Then I saw something. I dropped the fork and aimed the flashlight. One huge brown eye had blinked. Miss Bette was right in front of me - completely buried in a drift of snow. Dear Lord! I knelt at her head and told her that she should hang on. I needed to get some equipment to get her out of the hay. You see, she had fallen on the hay that was on top of that sheet of ice. And when she went down, she had landed on her bad side - the side that had been caught in that cultivator years ago. She needed to be rolled over so she could get herself up! The snow, I told myself, was a great insulation to keep her out of the wind. I would not hear what my mind was muttering in the background.
A double struggle
Using all the lead ropes I could find, I tied them together to make a huge "V." Then I tied the ends to each of her lower legs. I placed the "V" over my chest and grabbed a wooden fence post. I pulled with strength I didn't even know I had. I was desperate and Miss Bette was dying! I pulled and pulled and looked back - the snow wasn't even disturbed. Miss Bette wasn't trying to help and there was no way I could turn her by myself.
My mind raced! My truck wouldn't work - it couldn't get through the drifts and would only spin on this ice covered with hay. I knelt by Miss B's head one more time and told her I was going to get the tractor. Hang on!
The old Allis-Chalmers didn't even click. Dear Lord! I ran into the house and started calling. I called Rick, but no one answered. Alan's tractor wouldn't start. No answer at Matt's. No answer at Howard's. Brian had a tractor that would start but it would need to be plugged in for two hours. I told Brian we didn't have much time. Laurie said that Joe was on the road back from South Dakota. No answer yet at Matt's. No answer again at Howard's. I sat in my chair and prayed for the answer. What to do?
Time is of the essence
I filled my arms with quilts and went back out to the pasture. I unburied Miss Bette and covered her with quilts. Miss Bette would not die out here alone. If I had to, I would crawl in next to her and I would sing as we waited. Oh, Miss Bette, I am so sorry! Dear God, what do I do?
I pounded on her sides, her hips, and I tried to bend her hind legs. They were as stiff as boards. I then did something purposely to irritate her. I needed to see if she wanted to come back or if she wanted to continue on her path that she seemed to have started. I rubbed and pulled on her face and ears and she tossed her head at me and told me to stop it! I laughed at her! "Miss Bette! You're still in there! You're angry! OK, I'm going to call again! Hang on, Miss B!"
I covered her totally with quilts and threw snow on top of the quilts. I tried Rick one more time. It rang and he answered! Rick! I need help! Bring the skid steer! We both hung up and I ran back out to Miss B! I put myself right on top of Miss B. and pretended I was swimming in warm ocean water. My kicking legs beat on her hips. My flailing arms beat on her chest. My bobbing head irritated her and beat on her neck. Miss Bette struggled a bit under me and I was so happy to feel that! I "swam" on her until I heard the skid steer.
Without any talking, we rolled her over and she tried to get up. She fell down. Hard. Not a good sign. Rick moved some hay to give her some better footing - maybe she had slipped on the ice? We rolled her over again and this time she did the same thing. That hip and leg that had been under her were so stiff she couldn't even straighten them to stand. She fell again. Hard.
One more attempt and I could see Miss Bette was using up all of her energy. She didn't get up as far and she fell more quickly. We had to get her out of the wind so she could warm up and so I could rub on her to get the blood flowing. We had to get her out of the wind!
I put a halter on her and told her just to lay still. Not to worry. This would be scary but it would get her into the barn. Rick then gently backed up the skid steer and drug Miss B. in to the barn. Oh, that underside took a beating - the frozen manure, the frozen ice ridges! But she lay still and after a long haul she was in the barn.
For the first time I saw the leg that had been under her on the ice. My first reaction was that it looked like a turkey drumstick just out of the freezer. The hair was wet and frosted. The leg was rock hard - not muscle hard but frozen hard - and the meat was gray in color. I began to rub it and tried to get it to bend. I put the hoof in the center of my chest and pulled on her hips. Once again, I pulled for all I was worth and the leg didn't bend. More rubbing and more attempts to bend. Finally, the leg started to bend just a bit! Good! I continued rubbing and bending.
Soon she tried to get herself up. Those hind legs were too stiff and she would fall back down - hard. My fear now was that she would break ribs or a hip in one of these falls. Outside when she fell, she fell on snow and hay over ice. In the barn when she fell, she fell on frozen, rock-hard ground!
One more attempt to get up and she started to fall into the stock tank. Dear Lord!
A shaky rescue and recovery
Rick dove toward her and pushed her up against the wall. She steadied herself there and then got her legs - all four of them! - under her. She was standing - very, very weak and shaky - but standing!
For the first time in hours, I took a breath of relief. Forty-five minutes passed before she tried to move. And then she was so stiff-legged that she only shuffled two or three inches forward. But she moved all four legs - only inches - but she moved them.
I began the job of brushing off the ice and snow to help her dry off. She was soaking wet, and in this cold I knew pneumonia was the most logical next thing. The next four hours were spent putting two quilts on her - one on her shoulders and one on her hips - and then a heavy horse blanket over the quilts. I let them sit for a few minutes and then replaced the quilts with dry ones. The amount of sweat and melting ice coming off of her kept soaking the quilts. At 3 a.m. or so, she was still wet on her skin, but her coat was dry enough that I put two heavy horse blankets on her and headed into the house to thaw myself.
Moved to tears
Hunched in front of the pellet stove waiting for my jacket to thaw so I could unzip it, I realized that Miss Bette had come very, very close that night. Waiting in a snowdrift to be found. Just waiting. How desolate! Then the tears and prayers of thanksgiving began. Thanksgiving for that big, brown eye that blinked in the snow. Thanksgiving for the piles of quilts given to us by those who care. Thanksgiving for the sturdiness of that little workhorse. Thanksgiving for her willingness to come back to us once again. And most of all, thanksgiving for my neighbor, Rick. Without a mention of the cold, without a moan about the weather, and without a mention of the risk to himself or his equipment, Rick came up on this hill during the "storm from hell." And he saved a life. Miss Bette was surely to die in that snow bank had it not been for Rick. I hung my head and said a deep prayer of thanksgiving for my neighbor, Rick.
It has been a few days and Miss Bette and I are both recovering. She still has a blanket on her for warmth and her legs are very, very stiff. I'm sure her one side is bruised and sore from being dragged over the frozen ground. Her bad leg is swollen and cool but it is warmer than last week and she is starting to move a bit more easily. Her gums are a good pink color again. She is eating and thinking about drinking some water. And I hug her several times a day. I whisper in her ear that I'm glad she came back to us and I tell her of all the work we have yet to do together. She lets me whisper to her and then she pulls her head away, turns that same big brown eye to me, and flicks her ear.
We are pals now - not the showy kind, but the kindred kind. We have something in common. We have come through the storm that turned into a night of thanksgiving.
Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and Miss Bette and the rest of The Herd