“In civilized surroundings a plains blizzard is bad enough; in a wild country, a blizzard is more appalling than a tornado, for the latter may be dodged, but the blizzard is everywhere and sets its teeth into a man’s vitals, wherever he may be.” Billy Dixon March 17, 1875.
This quote by famous buffalo hunter and military scout, Billy Dixon is one that many people can relate to, especially those who have endured winter conditions that describe the northern plains and mountain regions of America. But even here in the plains of Texas a sudden arctic cold front can diminish conditions from balmy, spring like temperatures to that of the abysmal if not bordering on deadly.
When my sister, brother and I were children back in the 1950’s, I recall well the winter winds that blew across the badlands. The house where we lived on the League ranch was “airish”, to say the least, with windows and doors that literally moaned and whistled at the peak of wind gusts during these great storms. Cracks in the wooden floors allowed the wind to creep into the house causing the green linoleum floor covering to rise visibly, a cause for concern for our parents who worried about the possibility of pneumonia in the three kiddos running around in our skivvies like we had good sense! Soon my mother insisted and eventually purchased some carpet material to mitigate the ventilation issues with the floor! Ah, those good ole years!!!
Memories associated with the times are many…like placing snow chains on the pickup tires to better access the pastures for feeding cattle, or seeing dozens of dead birds scattered over the floor of the barn, all having froze to death as the temperatures plummeted in the night. And finally, seeing my dad slip on his snow covered boots by the kitchen door while singing the jingle, ”ya’ll come to see me when you can”, as he headed out into the snow and ice to feed the cattle on the ranch.
Perhaps some of my most vivid recollections of winter occurred after I purchased my first personal vehicle at the age of 17. I was so proud of my “experienced” 1966 Bronco Roadster with its canvas top and zip up plastic windows! Life was good during the summer season as ventilation was essential because air conditioning was not even in the equation of life for this young buck. But mesquite limbs soon took a toll by shredding the delicate plastic material to leave the windows open to icy winds of the coming winter. Conditions got dicey in a hurry after the first cold front swept over the land as freezing rain and snow in ones lap can be uncomfortable for even a young guy who thought he could endure most anything! Weary of having to remove snow drifts covering my textbooks during road trips while a student at Texas Tech University, I came up with the bright idea of sewing gunnysacks in place of the broken windows, an invention that made winter travel tenable although wind driven snow still found its way into the cab on occasions.
During the first three years as a professional predator hunter, I lived in an old half dugout shack on the Pitchfork ranch while trapping coyotes and bobcats for a livelihood. Although I had finished my studies at Texas Tech and rewarded myself with a new 4-wheel drive Chevy pickup equipped with windows that would actually close airtight, my little line camp was much like my Bronco in regards to ventilation. With only a fireplace to warm the dugout on those cold winter nights I always knew when a bitterly cold dry norther had settled on the land as by morning the dishes beside the wash tub were frozen together by the extreme temperature inside the cabin. But when moisture accompanied the winter blast, my little dugout was toasty warm, insulated by a thick blanket of snow covering the thin tin roof.
As my profession turned from hunting to photography in the early 1980’s, my view of severe winter conditions took on a different meaning. With camera in hand I pursued these frosty occurrences with an energetic purpose, backpacking into canyons and upon mountain crests to document the intrigue and beauty that describes a Texas locked in the icy grips of winter. Energized by creative passion and a fascination for extreme weather conditions, the past 30 odd years of chasing the evanescent winter moment has been rewarding. Pour yourself a glass of wine, throw some wood on the fire and come with me on a winter tour across our beautiful Texas plains.