Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spring Run-Off on the Ranch

When the spring solstice finally warms our days, the 400 hundred inches of snow that fell during the winter has to go somewhere. There’s the runoff from the Zirkel Wilderness that will flow down into the Elk River and through our valley to the Yampa River, then on to the Green and the Colorado Rivers offering sustenance to all those below. Then there’s the run-off on the ranch that goes down the driveway and barnyard; and the melt in the yards and meadows beginning beneath the snowpack and finding its way into the irrigation ditches. Most everyone around here calls this affectionately, not the run-off or spring in northwestern Colorado, but “mud season.”

During mud season, Pete carves out little diversions ditches to drain the many puddles in the driveway and barnyard so the ground dries and the pot holes don’t deepen. Pete bravely begins springtime chores at the barn while carefully managing to avoid the green and brown manure soup that is created by the mix of warm temperatures and the frozen pack of manure in the corrals where livestock were kept and fed all winter. If he ventures out into the mix, he risks losing a muck boot and having to return to dry ground without it.

The dogs, confined for so many months to our daily runs and snowshoes, now run through the wet spring yards and meadows and puddle-bedecked barnyard. You would think Griz, the herding Blue Heeler, Border Collie Mix ranch dog, would be the one to run pell mell through puddles unfazed by the mess he made. But it’s Emma who runs at top speed straight through any or all puddles, concerned only in reaching the barn ahead of Griz or to head him off in a chase to another destination. Each time they come home Pete and I are faced with not just a dewy dog, but a mud soaked dog from paws to underbelly and beyond. If they were just dusty, the house would endure as it does all summer long. But these dogs are such muddy liabilities at that moment, they must have a bath, usually in the mud room, but sometimes a regular bathtub is required.

Next to the kitchen, perhaps the most important room in our house is that “mud room.” It was built precisely for this season. It is there I most hate spring. When Pete arrives from being out doing chores, his muck boots land on the floor ladened with the muck of the season. Whenever I clean the mud room, the tidiness lasts for a couple of hours. Between dogs and humans, the undoing of winter lands there on the floor and I am continually cleaning away the remnants of winter’s snowpack mixed with the earth and the messy nature of raising livestock.

I often equate April with this room and the discipline it requires to maintain order there. Some days it defeats me and I let it go. Other days I am a formidable opponent. This is my mud room and the mucky earth will not rule. The broom and mop come out and I am in command. Once clean, I stand back and think, “It will be over soon. I’ll make it.” The simple dirt of dry ground come summer will seem inconsequential and mud season will fade quickly behind me. The brilliant comforting greens of the meadows will emerge and the tulips and crocus will peak out from beneath the earth moistened by the gift of spring's run-off.

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