A sheep rancher caught in a blizzard sees his courage rewarded and his faith justified.
Farmers don’t get “snow days.” When I awoke to a howling blizzard that morning, I knew it was going to be tough getting to the sheep. Fifteen miles of open prairie stretched between me and their winter feed ground. But even in the middle of a blizzard like this one a shepherd doesn’t leave his flock for long.
“I’m going to wait for Wilmer and Nora to drive by,” I told my wife, Wanda. “It’s not smart to get on the road by myself.” I often traveled with my neighboring ranchers in poor weather. They had even farther to go to reach their cattle.
I waited at the kitchen window until I saw Wilmer go by in his John Deere tractor, with Nora following in their truck.
“Be careful,” Wanda said.
I ran out and climbed into our four-wheel drive pickup. Squinting through the windshield, I strained to see the trail Wilmer left. The storm dumped snow in his tracks almost as fast as he made them. Grinding in low gear, my pickup bucked along until it couldn’t go anymore. I was stuck.
Pellets of snow stung my face as I pushed the door open and reached in the back to grab the scoop shovel. Up ahead Nora shoveled out her own truck. We all dug until the trucks were free, and then drove until we got stuck again. Then we shoveled some more.
Mile after mile we fought our way through the storm. Hours had passed since we set out. My fingers were numb and my legs ached. Daylight was fading as we passed the old schoolhouse by the road.
Wilmer and Nora stopped. I had to accept the truth too: I would never get to those sheep in this storm. Lord, take care of them until I can, I thought.
I looked back at our tracks. Snow filled them completely. The road home was now impassable. We were stuck in this blizzard.
“We have to get to Johnny’s!” Wilmer hollered from his tractor.
Johnny was another rancher. He was away, but Johnny always left his basement door unlocked for emergencies like this one. We could get something to eat and warm up by his furnace. Maybe the storm would let up. The weather could change on a dime on the prairie.
It didn’t take us long to reach Johnny’s mailbox, but his house was still half a mile down a country road buried in snow. I leaned out the window of my pickup. “We’ll have to walk!” I called to Wilmer and Nora.
We parked the tractor and trucks, pulled our caps down around our ears and set off in the snow.
We tromped through the drifts. With the storm spitting snow at us, we couldn’t see Johnny’s house. We had to set our bearings by instinct as we moved together in the whiteout, picking up one heavy foot after another and dropping it in the snow, making a crooked path toward Johnny’s farm.
Snowdrifts surrounded the house. Finally we fell through Johnny’s basement door, cold, hungry and wet.
“I’m gonna call Wanda and let her know we’re safe,” I told the others as I pulled off my frozen coveralls.
Nora opened the pantry. It was past five o’clock and we’d left early that morning. We were hungry.
We warmed up over canned chili and talked. Wilmer worried about restarting the tractor. A heater next to the engine kept the oil from getting too cold to start. But the heater had to be plugged in to an outlet to work.
We could barely get ourselves through the snowdrifts surrounding Johnny’s house. No way we could get the tractor close enough to the outdoor outlet.
“The schoolhouse,” Nora said. “It’s right on the road. We can get close enough to that outlet.”
“But how will we find our way back to the road?” I said. “Our tracks are long gone and it’s dark.”
We could get lost in the empty prairie. I remembered asking God to take care of the sheep. But what about us?
We all knew Wilmer was right. We had to move while our engines were still warm. At least the snow had stopped. Nora would stay behind while Wilmer and I went back out.
I put my damp coveralls back on. Lord, please go with us. If ever we needed a shepherd to guide us, we needed one now.
I stepped out of Johnny’s basement. Empty prairie and snow in every direction. Too much snow to make out one tiny mailbox, or even the vehicles, in the distance. As I looked out ahead of us, the moonlight caught a funnel of whiteness rising above the snow.
Wilmer and I looked at one another, puzzled by the grainy shape. We moved toward it. Just ahead was another. And another. They were staggered in a crooked path—the path we’d made with our footsteps on the way to Johnny’s!
Each footstep had pushed down and compacted the snow as we’d plunged through the drifts. The lighter snow that had fallen on top was now being stirred up by the wind.
Mini geysers of white powder shot up toward the sky, while the wind whipped around them, blowing the loose snow away to reveal our buried footsteps. We’d follow our own path back!
We picked up our pace. The swirls of snow looked just like angels, white and otherworldly, leading the way.
Leading the way—like a shepherd leads his flock. We made it back to the tractor at Johnny’s mailbox. We drove it to the schoolhouse, and plugged it in before heading back to Johnny’s in my truck.
Our beaten path through the snow was easy to follow all the way to the basement, our “camp” for the next four days. And the sheep and the cattle? A good shepherd took care of us all and kept us safe in the storm.