Winter out here is about layers. The art of layering your ranch gear — busting out the long underwear, the jeans that can accommodate said long underwear, all the gloves, the mittens, the hats, the muck boots, the wild rags, the chinks, the chaps, the heavy socks. And of course there’s the never-ending debate concerning how to layer your layers. The crew can be particularly impassioned about their individual winter wardrobe systems. I still agonize every morning over which piece of my arsenal is ideal for Colorado’s infamously fickle weather – never totally sure if I’ll end up roasting in my thickest wool tights or cursing myself for leaving my toasty Stormy Kromer cap at home.
Then there’s the layers to the cold itself — brisk, invigorating bluebird days that build into howling grey windy ones that block out the mountains. I never knew there were so many degrees of “feeling cold” until I actually spent extended time riding in it, shoulders hunched as I try to curl into my own body while still somehow remaining upright. And yet, I managed to forget all this until winter slapped me in the face on the first frigid ride – how did the iPhone weather app not tell me to wear a full ski mask today?! Oh this sneaky season.
On a more recent cattle move, I was better prepared for inclement weather and could therefore enjoy the surprise snowstorm suddenly swirling around us, turning the Long Branch pasture into a snow globe filled with our crew, the herd and the soft silence of falling snowflakes. I experienced that overwhelming sense of wonder that only comes with winter on the ranch, as I sang Christmas carols to the cows. I smiled so hard it froze on my face.
At one point, Sam and I went chasing after breakaway broodmares through frosty sagebrush, finally guiding them to water around a creaking windmill while their hot, comforting breath hung in the air around us. It seemed the world didn’t exist beyond the old Reeble homestead’s crumbling fences. We loped through the dense fog making fresh tracks towards headquarters. It felt like riding on a different planet, especially when I recalled how that same road was lined with tall sunflowers this summer.
Being outdoors in this weather draws us all inward. We gather at the ranch’s “hot spots” – particularly the leather shop with its cozy wood stove so close to the hitching post. Smoke curls from the chimney just as steam rises from the recently unsaddled horses out front. We try to knock the cold mud off our boots, stomping in as we laugh about how our layers – or lack thereof – failed us yet again. We always linger longer together in the winter – and that may be why it’s actually the warmest time of year on the Chico.
-By Becca Frucht