Age brings wisdom in winter wonderland

Age brings wisdom in winter wonderland By Bob Karolevitz Snow drifts are a South Dakota reality.

Those of us who live in the country are dependent on our vehicles to get to town, and that means those drifts can be formidable barriers.

In our case, it's about a mile from our garage to the hardtop road where the snowplows go. There are at least three places where the snow piles up so high that we can't get out until the drifts are cleared away.

All of which brings me to the gist of this column.

What did the horse-and-wagon homesteaders do when the blizzard struck? Were they self-sufficient enough just to wait it out? Or were they panic-stricken to be marooned by the storm?

Today we've got four-wheel drives and cab tractors to conquer all but the worst accumulations. We demand immediate access to the city. We want the mail to be delivered and the school buses to come through. We don't want to be separated from the health care givers, even for a few hours.

Now my question is: Were those old-timers tougher than we are?

Electrical power means we've got heat pumps and furnaces to keep us warm. There's a television for entertainment, and many of us have rural water so we don't have to depend on a well.

Even our livestock have electric tank-heaters to keep the ice from forming. We should be relaxed � but we're not.

We worry about the wind-chill factor which the pioneers never heard of. They just knew it was cold, that's all.

The television meteorologists tell us there's another Canadian Clipper coming our way, and we get all shook up in anticipation. We want to know about a change in temperature so we can get our long johns on.

I guess Phyllis and I are like most of the rest of the folks. We finally got a 4×4, and our survival kit would almost suffice for a fortnight with Admiral Byrd in Antarctica.

We've got candles, candy bars, toilet paper and safety matches. There's even a small vial of rubbing alcohol to help us start a fire. Phyllis has loaded the Explorer with extra blankets, sweaters, jackets, gloves and boots. And she didn't forget the snow shovel either.

Like Boy Scouts, we're prepared!

You'd think we were going out into the wilderness instead of just the seven-mile jaunt into town. We don't have to go through tundra or Zhivago land, and there are lots of farm houses along the way in case we get stranded.

I suppose it's because we're getting older that we're now so safety conscious. Maybe I should get a cell phone after all; and a snowmobile wouldn't be such a bad idea either.

When we were young, we didn't think twice about heading out into a storm. It was an adventure, not a dangerous occasion to be avoided.

I can remember � I think it was back in 1947 BP (Before Phyllis) ��that I took a shortcut in the dead of winter through the Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation in Montana. I was miles from anywhere in deep snow as I followed what apparently was just a wagon trail.

There were times my trusty post-war Kaiser was barely able to make it between the trees. When I think about it, though, I don't recall being all that nervous, although I was mighty glad when I finally made it to the village of Lame Deer.

Now there's a good road where I shouldn't have been then. If something would have gone wrong with my car or I'd been stuck in a drift, they probably wouldn't have found me till spring. And I didn't even have a survival kit!

All Phyllis could say when I told her about the incident several years later was: "There's no cure for stupidity!"

No question about it, I was stupid. And there were other times I was equally dumb. Now, however, I no longer take chances like that.

I wonder if Phyllis's miniature horses could pull a bobsled?

© 2000 Robert F. Karolevitz

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