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By Staff | Jan 21, 2011

Questions commonly heard around our house at this time of the year include “Will this winter never end?” and “Tell me again: WHY do we live here?” and “How far is Key Largo?” and “When’s the next flight?

Regarding the “why” part, I patiently and repeatedly explain to my wife that we endure these winters because it keeps out the riffraff. A person has to want to live here.

Plus, beastly winter weather filters out those silly folks who believe that man can live on salad. Here in the frozen North, it’s survival of the fattest.

Back when I was a kid, every single winter – without exception! — closely resembled an expedition to the North Pole.

I recall chest deep snow, howling winds and temperatures normally associated with Siberia. And that was just in my bedroom. Conditions were much harsher outside.

And outside is where we spent most of our time. This was an era when conventional parenting wisdom held that children were invariably better off out of doors. Are the kids fighting? Put them outside. Is your child convulsed by the croup? Send him outside.

Does your teenager have what appears to be a terminal case of zits? Get him outside!

And since they’re outside, they may as well be doing something useful such as chores. At least that’s how it worked at our place.

Everyone at our dairy farm participated in the family activity called chores. At chore time we swung into action like a well-oiled machine, albeit one that revolved around a fleet of rusted and dented 5-gallon buckets.

At about the age of 10, the task of throwing out silage somehow fell to me.

Throwing out silage involved – surprise! – throwing silage out of our silo, which measures 50-foot tall by 16-foot in diameter. It was the first measurement that made this chore such a chore.

In addition to filling the silo, we also put up a pile of silage which was fed first. We thus often didn’t open the silo until well into winter.

Opening the silo meant climbing that chilly chute with a twine in one hand. The other end of said twine was tied to the silage fork, an essential tool for throwing out silage. Scooping silage with your hands would have been quite time-consuming, to say the least.

Anyone who has ever ascended a silo chute knows that the wind is nearly always blowing up the chute. This causes bits of silage to swirl around and invade your eyes and mouth and underwear.

When I finally crawled into the silo I would usually be spitting out silage bits. I cannot understand why cows like the stuff; silage tastes like pickled bad breath.

Every evening I would clamber up the silo chute and begin to toss out silage. The wind worked powerfully against me, often blowing silage back up the chute faster than I could throw it down.

I might pause for a breather and mull things over and it occurred that I was responsible for the lives of 10 people: if I didn’t throw out silage, our dairy cows wouldn’t give milk and we eight kids and our parents would all starve.

As the Arctic winter deepened, silage would begin to freeze to the concrete staves. I would strive to keep the walls clean, but a silage fork is fairly feeble in the face of ferocious frost.

A tiling spade then had to be hauled up into the silo. This spade was used to hack a slot that allowed doors to be removed. As the silage froze inexorably inwards, the diameter of the silo inexorably narrowed.

I felt like a prisoner who was digging an ever-shrinking dungeon.

Winter thaws were welcome but also hazardous, as my towering silage walls would begin to weaken and tumble.

Much of the fallen silage was still permafrost, so it had to be hacked into smaller pieces before being sent down the chute.

I would sometimes watch the goings-on at the bottom of the tunnel and try to eavesdrop on the murmured conversations.

Hands would scrabble into view as my siblings packed silage into 5-gallon buckets. It looked as if gloved spiders were stealing the fruits of my labors.

At such times I might drop a chunk of frozen silage down the chute. The chunk was usually caught by the updraft, causing it to tumble and thunder against the steel tunnel.

But sometimes the projectile would fall straight and silent. Its sudden impact would elicit startled mutters down below.

This was all I had for entertainment during my silage throwing chores. That and perhaps daydreaming about such places as Key Largo, where, I presumed, silage never freezes to the walls of their silos.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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