The tires on a car passing our farm the other day had a message for me.
From the treads of those tires came a steady “shhhhhhhhh” as they rolled into contact with the snow on Eimon Road’s aging pavement, an invitation for me to stop and listen to the countryside as the season’s first heavy snow fell.
The sound covered even the car’s engine noise as it descended the ridge’s grade while on the way to County Highway G. Responding to its first invitation, I stopped momentarily in the early morning cold and dampness to consider how the vehicle’s engine might not even have been running, leaving the tires to make its only sound. That was possible, I knew, because of stories I’d heard from the neighborhood guys about how, as children, they’d coasted down the ridge on their bicycles for more than a mile before (most often) stopping at Highway G.
But as it passed, I heard the faint engine noise — quieted as though, like me, it had heeded the tires’ message to only whisper.
Finally, the car was around the curve east of our house, leaving silence even its hushing message disappearing into the falling snow.
And then there was no sound, not even the otherwise ever-present drone of the Interstate highway a few miles to the east.
There were no sounds echoing around our rural ridges and coulees – no pheasants crowing, no songbirds chirping, and no migrating geese honking.
There were no tractors humming and no cattle mooing.
Sounds that we hear on our farm nearly every other day had disappeared.
It was that early season snow, I knew, that drank the sounds into the depths of each of the gazillion snowflakes falling. They seemed to fatten themselves on the sounds they inhaled, landing on me and the trees and the grass as grotesquely huge and bloated flakes.
The snow was full of the fall sounds that our crisp country air normally allowed to dance across the ridges.
The quiet wouldn’t last, of course. But when later snowfalls covered the countryside with a thicker duvet, the crackling-dry winter air would echo even the slightest sounds for miles.
Later that day, the temperature would return to where it had been the last few weeks. Later that week, the temperature would return to where it had been a couple months earlier. But that morning the muffling hush created by the snow served notice that things soon would change. The change might not totally occur until the end of December, but that snow reminded me that the change certainly was on its way.
The quiet was notice that there would be changes in the way we act and think about the world around us.
It was notice that we need to help each other, too. I thought about how that need motivates guys such as those Knights of Columbus members at St. Raymond’s Catholic Church out in the Foster area. They’re the guys who each year sell belly-warming rosettes to raise money so they can provide coats to families who can’t afford them.
I thought about “Pajama Grandma” at Whitehall whose work keeps children warm while they sleep.
I thought about Fred and his people at Pigeon Falls who so conscientiously work on the Toys for Tots program to help make more children’s holidays happy – and the U.S. Marines who each year work so diligently to get that program off the ground.
The quiet also was notice that the winterizing we didn’t get done in the past few weeks had better get finished.
It reminded me – and likely plenty of others that day – that I need to glance at the LP tank’s gauge to assure that there’s as much fuel in there as I expect.
It was a reminder that I need to check to assure that emergency kits, ice/snow scrapers and snow brushes were in the vehicles. And it reminded me to assure that all the vehicles and farm equipment were winterized.
How much more there might be for me to do, I thought, but not nearly as much as there would be for the real farmers who are my family and neighbors. Theirs are challenges about which I only reminisce and observe these days; every day, those farmers meet winter’s challenges head-on with “bring-it-on” attitudes.
The snow continued to fill the air and ground with fluffy whiteness as I turned to go back into the house. There, I noticed a different sort of chill on my feet. The wet of morning dew or rain had often soaked through my shoes in recent months, but that didn’t compare with the momentary iciness I felt from the snow.
The calendar says it’s still fall. That morning, though, it was winter because nature made it winter – forget the calendar.
And it was quiet because nature wanted us to listen.
— Scott Schultz