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SNOW, MAN by Ken Keckler DVM

SNOW, MAN by Ken Keckler DVM
Originally posted on 12/15/10

Snow. Lazy, lacy, fluff, lilting softly down, quietly stacking up on power lines and tree limbs, and filling in the nooks between branches of brush. The gentle wind gusts, sending marshmallow sheets cascading from above. Like displaced cotton plants, the bushes harbor scattered balls of cold fleece, as if a distracted dog groomer had left poodle puffs everywhere. The world is made clean and pure as the soft, white, blanket sparkles in the sunshine, like someone scattered millions of tiny, glittering jewels across the hills and fields. Children and adults laugh and play in the powdered sugar as they try to catch the flakes on their tongues.  

                                 The scenic view from our office.

Yeah, right. This is Cleveland, Ohio. The bitter wind howls and whips the ice/snow mix into billions of stinging projectiles aimed at any exposed skin. Ears and fingers first turn red, then become numb, as your frozen nose runs like a faucet (until it crystallizes in your nostrils). Don't worry: your extremities won't stay numb- they'll HURT when they thaw out! Mountains of heavy, wet snow stack up on trembling buildings until the joists groan and give up, leaving a ragged hole exposing the indoors to the uncaring gray sky. Cars tilt in the ditches, tires useless against the ice and burying themselves in the snow. Towering cliffs of whiteness line the edges of driveways and parking lots as plows attempt to bring us back into usefulness. And it's unpredictable, due to this wonderful phenomenon called LAKE EFFECT SNOW.

In northwest Ohio where I grew up, if it was snowing at my house, you could be sure it was snowing in the surrounding area. Here, cold Canadian air blows down across (relatively) warm Lake Erie, picking up water vapor, only to dump it as snow when it reaches land. Bands of squalls can occur, with a blizzard in close proximity to sunshine. It's almost supernatural to drive from clear blue sky and dull brown grass berms into a sudden white-out with five inches of snow on the road... and possibly back to sunshine again. (Although it's more likely to remain cold and snowy.)

                       Scenic view from our office 2 days later

Seeing people with brooms attempting to remove snow from the roofs of indoor arenas is disconcerting. Less disconcerting than having the ceiling fall in, though. Years ago, Al Werkmeister was my assistant. We were working at an older barn, when Al noticed several of the center braces for the roof of the indoor arena were displaced, and not supporting anything. After alerting the barn owner, we watched as he worked, standing in the elevated front end loader of his tractor, jacking up the roof and replacing/securing/reinforcing the two-by-fours. On our next visit, we were each presented with a bottle of wine in appreciation for Al's sharp eyes. Since then, I have made it a point to be more observant. A large local arena had a partial collapse several years ago: luckily, the creaking moans were heard early enough to move horses and get people out. The sight of mangled girders, beams, and aluminum give a sickening feeling, even if they have fallen "harmlessly" away from stalls and our companions. The barn was rebuilt, and better than ever, but the new, different colored, metal supports are a reminder to be vigilant.

                                                 Chagrin Valley Farms

Northfield Park racetrack has different problems when the snow piles up. Standardbred racehorses are incredibly tough, and the track has to be ready for them to jog or train EVERYDAY. The backside areas are cleaned with plows and front end loaders, but the limestone track is maintained with a large road grader pushing the snow to the outside edges. Trainers will typically "jog" their horses for four to six miles in any weather: I always marveled at them, hunched on the jog carts, feet propped in the stirrups, hands holding the lines, as the mercury sits at the bottom of the thermometer and the snow piles up on their helmets and shoulders. That's toughness and dedication. And that's winter racing. I've been there during races when it was snowing so intensely that you couldn't see the horses on the opposite side of the half mile track. As the horses are being bathed in the washracks inside the snow covered barns, and layered with blankets to "cool out", the steam rises to the roof. As it condenses and gathers, a chilly "rain" falls back to the floor in the linear patterns of the rafters. It only takes a few frigid drops down the back of your neck to learn to walk between the lines.
                                                          Northfield Park

We have trucks with snowplows, 4-wheelers, snowblowers, graders, front end loaders, tractors, antilock brakes, and four wheel drive. Imagine being Amish in this kind of a mess. Horse drawn plows, shovels, buggies with wooden wheels. I'd have to move south!
                                                     Winwood Farm

But, it snows elsewhere too. I'll never forget the blizzard of 1977: I had gotten home from school, but my cousin, Dawn (who was living with us) was stranded. Her bus driver had refused to come down our one lane country road with the tremendous drifts and blowing snow, (what a chicken!) leaving her at a neighbor's house around the corner, about a mile away as the crow flies. My dad saddled up my horse Lightning, bundled himself up in a snowmobile suit, and trudged out across the field to retrieve her. Darkness had settled in and visibility was at zero, snow thick and pelting. The only way he knew his whereabouts was when Lightning would step down into the ditch. (Obviously, he did not take a straight path to the neighbor's!) Somehow he made it there and back with Dawn without getting lost or freezing to death. That's what a good horse will do for you.

As I write this, Florida is sounding better and better. I'll likely have to settle for a good truck defroster and Jimmy Buffet on the XM radio.

Chin up, only a few more months to April. Then comes the rain....


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