Tough Skin

Friday brought very balmy, warm weather, the likes of which Oklahoma had not seen in a few weeks. While folks up north were experiencing the “Siberian Express” hurtling down the plains and bringing bitter, below freezing temperatures along with it, I was enjoying the last hours of our unseasonably warm conditions. I intended to make the most of the warmth by preparing for the bitter cold that was forecast for this weekend. I set out twice yesterday in search of some of the last of the cat brier vine for Emma and Ronnie deer, knowing that, after the arctic front arrived, cat brier and any greens would be scarce.

Of course, I had clipped down most of the brier I had found on our place throughout the summer and fall. Anything I discovered now was more invasive, too high in the trees to reach, or in thickets too difficult to cut through. So yesterday, I called my neighbor to the north, asking if I could cut a few vines I had located across the fence from our property. Fortunately, he was just fine with me eradicating the thorny mess from along the fence we share. As I began clipping though, I realized what looked easy to get to from my side of the fence, was a snarled mess of thorny vines tangled within itself on his side. Sharp needle-like points pierced my hands through my gloves, and a time or two I became ensnared in the vine, with thorns grazing my legs through my jeans. By the time I finished, my hands were aching from being stabbed again and again with what I suppose is a bit of toxin from the thorns.  But none of that mattered at the moment. I knew Emma and Ronnie would flourish having this last bit of nature’s nourishment, and I was glad to harvest it for them. A few thorns were not going to get the best of me!

Emma and Ronnie have enjoyed nibbling cat brier all summer and fall this year. Finally, the winter months make the pickings slim.
Emma and Ronnie have enjoyed nibbling cat brier all summer and fall this year. Finally, the winter months make the pickings slim.
Emma and Ronnie enjoy Purina AntlerMax mixed with a fruity deer attractant, and a little corn. A generous stack of alfalfa sits alongside the feed bucket.
Emma and Ronnie enjoy Purina AntlerMax mixed with a fruity deer attractant, and a little corn. A generous stack of alfalfa sits alongside the feed bucket.

Yesterday morning, as I headed out to do chores in the 34F temperature, with wind gusts to 30 mph, I knew I was experiencing the warmest part of the day, and from here temperatures would plummet steadily with increasing wind and a bit of snow arriving by late afternoon. When I reached the deer pen, I noticed Emma and Ronnie had eaten all of the leaves from Friday’s cat brier vine, so I supposed I would get a bit more if I could find some. But by the time my other chores were completed only thirty minutes later, my hands and feet were frozen. I knew I would have to go inside and warm up a bit before setting out on a brier run. When I got in the house and checked the temperature online, I saw it had already dropped to 30F outdoors with a 17F wind chill.

As I entered our home, where warmth greeted me as soon as I stepped foot in the door, I remembered the winters of my youth. My Dad was one tough fellow in the winter months. He was the one to carry the load of doing most of the morning and evening livestock chores – though I do remember Mom saying she took care of the lambs that were born in the middle of the night so that Dad could get some much-needed rest. Dad was the person who ventured out to start cars, and scrape ice and snow off of the windshields. He moved snow with the tractor if much had fallen during the night. And if a car, truck, or tractor would not start in the bitter Nebraska temperatures, he was the mechanic who worked in the cold until the problem was solved. He had no heated garage to work in. Our out-buildings were for animals, not vehicles. So when the cold got too much for his limbs, he came in the house and stood on a rug by the door so he wouldn’t mess up Mom’s floors with melting snow or muddy tread marks, and he thawed out only long enough to be able to work with his hands again. In later years, the folk’s had a wood burning stove near the front door, and Dad really loved the warmth of the radiant heat it put off. It allowed him to warm up quicker and seemed to be more satisfying. Many times his nose dripped in the cold, and the mucus froze on the tip or just underneath. His eyes were red in the corners and his ears were a brilliant red underneath his bright orange, ear-flap cap. I smiled as I pulled off my own ear-flap cap this morning, thinking I was not so different from my Dad. I was coming in to warm up and then heading back outside to finish what still needed to be done.

Spirit rakes bark from a tree with her lower teeth.
Daisy rakes bark from a tree with her lower teeth and eats it.
Daisy and Spirit often feasted on tree bark and dead leaves in the winter months. This is the old apple tree, which died this past summer.
Daisy and Spirit often feasted on tree bark and dead leaves in the winter months. This is the old apple tree, which died this past summer.
I learned a lot from following Daisy in the winter months. Deer nibble on all sorts of shrubs, thorny vine, and berries.
I learned a lot from following Daisy in the winter months. Deer nibble on all sorts of shrubs, thorny vine, and various berries.

I did not last long out in the elements when I returned to cut brier again early yesterday afternoon. The temperature had dropped to 27F, feeling like 12F with the wind chill. I first sawed a limb from an elm tree that had just a few green leaves hanging on in the bitter wind. Next, I quickly ventured to the pecan orchard where I found only a scant amount of cat brier. Just as soon as I had dropped it over the fence into the deer pen, Emma and Ronnie took to nipping off leaves as if it was some grand treat. I placed the elm branch on top of a row of elm limbs I had piled up in their pen to give Emma and Ronnie the experience of woodland cover. Seeing them enjoy the greens made me feel warm inside.

All the way back to the house, my fingers throbbed and my feet felt like frozen clubs as I walked. Still, I had it easy here in the south. This not-often-experienced cold weather would ease off in a few days and we would be back to normal 40 and 50F temperatures. The snow would melt quickly and I would enjoy more pleasant conditions to work in. I could not help but feel a sense of pride as I walked back to the house. I came from a tough people of the north. They were generations of plainsmen, farmers, and early settlers who survived on little. My folks raised us kids to work hard without complaining. One did not question what had to be done – if there was a task to complete or a job to do, there was no argument or whining. Responsibilities took priority. We learned to rely on wit and common sense to get us through tough times. We are people with tough skin.

And that is my wish for Emma and Ronnie – to be resilient in hard times, and to utilize the tough skin that Nature provided them with. Daisy deer showed me she was tough and resilient, and could rely on her instinct to survive – and I know that Emma and Ronnie will too. And as they venture out to find their own way, I will have to rely on my own tough skin, and trust that God/Universe will provide what they need…

A tender moment of mutual grooming between Daisy and her fawn Spirit.
A tender moment of mutual grooming between Daisy and her fawn Spirit.
In the winter months I often took Daisy an apple snack when I saw her down in the canyon at the feeder. The red duck hunting jacket and my brown ear flap cap are still my favorite winter threads.
In the winter months I often took Daisy an apple snack when I saw her down in the canyon at the feeder. FD’s old red duck hunting jacket and my brown ear-flap cap are still my favorite winter threads.

© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


49 thoughts on “Tough Skin

  1. How warm was it? My gosh, the rest of the country is freezing, including here in drought So. Calif where it’s 29 degrees outside right now. But finally we had some good rain, maybe an inch where I live. I love the photos, so filled with the warmth of love. ❤

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    1. That is REALLY cold for your area!! It was 4F here when I got up this morning and at noon it has warmed to 15F. Emma and Ronnie are just fine. I was so thankful that FD went outside to do chores this morning. I’ve been feeding the birds and squirrels out back. I just marvel at the wild things. Keep warm and cozy, Paulette.

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  2. We’re not nearly so cold as you, but when the front rolled through last night here at the edge of Galveston Bay, we dropped from 79 to 39 in just a few hours. We’re at 41 now, with a stiff wind, but tomorrow the wind will be down to 25-30 mph, so that will be better. I can work on the docks down to about 40, although I can’t varnish below 50. But I’ve been provided for, too — I have an inside job for this week, in a nice boat with a nice heater. I can do a two or three hour stint outside in the afternoon, but still get a full day’s work in.

    We both grew up with people who taught some of the most important life lessons possible. You help people because they need it, and you work because it has to be done. If we only could make those the rules of life for everyone, this world would be better off.

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    1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have the reputation for being the tough cookie Aunt in the family. It is a title I wear proudly, and wish that today’s kids had the work ethic I grew up with. I never complained about it nor did I question hard work. We understood responsibility and necessity of work to be done. I suppose it is our own doing that many of our kids and grandkids are soft. We wanted them to have a better life, but I think we failed them on the work ethic note.
      I think the temperatures will warm quickly this next week. Tuesday we are back up in the 40’s and after that the 50’s, which is normal for winter here. I’m ready for it… I bet you are too! Keep warm and toasty!! 😀

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    1. Will do, Tom!! ha ha! They were doing well this morning when FD took feed to them. Ronnie likes to play the “antler” game, rubbing his little antlers on FD’s hands and against his legs. Both deer seem to do well in the cold, and they look good. I’m anxious for them to be free. This last month is the hardest, watching them pace the fence.

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  3. I remember those cold Midwest temps. Growing up in Iowa, I had my fill of sub zero temperatures and worse wind chills. We had a cold front for about a day and are now back in the 50’s. I’ve learned I cannot deal with the cold like I used to. I love the picture of Daisy and her fawn.

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    1. I have gotten kind of soft myself, having been away from Nebraska for nearly 27 years now. Do you still have family in Iowa, and do you venture back often? I make the trip once a year if we do not have wildlife to care for. I try to visit family in the warm months… there is nothing fun about ice, snow and big burly coats!! ha ha!

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      1. I do have family there and we go to Iowa nearly every summer. Tried going for Christmas a couple of times and regretted it, too cold, too much snow and the worry of the roads. But I love it in the summer.

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        1. The summer is lovely up north. I love the earthy smell of crops growing, irrigation motors humming… but not those big bugs that fly from the fields and smash on your windshield!! ha ha!

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  4. The photos in this post are especially beautiful with the special effect of the snow flurries passing over them. I read this with a lump in my throat and a smile in my heart. It is one of life’s sublime realities when we can transcend our own limitation through the spirit of memory of a loved one. It took me back to my own Dad who also was a tough skinned guy. He was hewn tough through an abusive upbringing, war and his own desire to support his family. I always wanted him to know that I could see this, but it was as if he was so thick skinned he couldn’t take on board what I was saying and he would deflect it with a lecture or some other diversion. I think eventually he might have understood that I loved and respected him, but he just couldn’t allow himself the ‘indulgence’ of basking in it. I remember when he would come home from working out in the cold all day long in Southern Ohio, he would lay down on the floor so he didn’t get dirt on the furniture, and fall fast asleep in seconds. Thank you for bringing back the memories for me in such a beautiful way, Lori.

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    1. Oh my, Ardys… you have just done the same for me. My Dad had a very strange growing up, and I believe it was the underlying reason for his rage and anger. I was fortunate in his last two years to be able to mend fences. We understood each other – a stroke changed his entire personality, and he became open to just about everything and everyone. And you mentioned laying on the floor – my Dad’s father did that same thing for the same reason and fell asleep almost instantly!! We kids were pretty little and we’d get to snickering because Grandpa snored loudly. Grandma would always discover us and shoo us out of the room so we didn’t disturb him. I don’t think we could have awakened him, he was sleeping so hard. I think that nap after lunch each day was an important way to recharge the body. Work outdoors was difficult back then. They did not have the conveniences farmers have today.
      I think it is so important to express love an understanding to our elders. They leave us such a legacy… and it’s a kind thing to thank them for that.

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      1. My Dad softened a little after having advanced prostate cancer. They put him on female hormone treatment and Mom and I would notice sweet little things he would say or do after that. He lived another twenty years but the Parkinson’s disease somehow embittered him again. He had a hard life. I’m so glad you got to mend some fences Lori. xx

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  5. We’ve been spoiled the past couple of years with no snow on the ground until late January, but this year the snow and freezing chill have come early. I’m sure Ronnie and Emma are enjoying the cold temps, but probably not the wind chill. I just love reading your post not only because they are interesting but because you always educate me! I never knew that deer enjoyed eating cat brier, or that Purina made deer feed haha!

    My dad is a lot like yours. He was always outside in the early mornings and late evenings breaking ice for the cows, feeding them hay, and laying straw down for them to bed. By the time he was done with chores us kids were up getting ready for school while he was starting vehicles and scraping off the ice.

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    1. The wind, especially if accompanied by driving icy rain is not a friend to the deer. Daisy and her fawn Spirit made it through many ice storms and snow one year and they seemed to do just fine. There was also a year where it was dry and extremely cold where they both suffered conjunctivitis from the dry conditions and debris in the air. I was lucky Daisy let me rinse her eyes with colloidal silver water each morning to clean the green mucous off. Poor Spirit wouldn’t come near me, but her eyes weren’t as bad – perhaps Daisy groomed her. Deer are very tough it seems. I am always amazed at their resiliency.
      That first year away from home after I graduated high school was a real eye-opener for me. I had to scrape my own windows, gas up the car and keep the oil changed. I did not realize all of the nice things Dad did as I was growing up, until I had to do those things myself.

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    1. Love and kisses back to you, Henrie! I really love your creative side in your holiday arrangements. I wish you had a bigger audience with more exposure. Your front door is BEAUTIFUL!!! 🙂 Merry Christmas to you, dear friend! 🙂

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  6. We share this common sisterhood, which you penned so succinctly:

    I came from a tough people of the north. They were generations of plainsmen, farmers, and early settlers who survived on little. My folks raised us kids to work hard without complaining. One did not question what had to be done – if there was a task to complete or a job to do, there was no argument or whining. Responsibilities took priority. We learned to rely on wit and common sense to get us through tough times. We are people with tough skin.

    Lori, I love these sentences about us “tough people of the north.”

    You are so right.

    Our temps in Minnesota will make a 20 degree temperature shift from minus 23 yesterday to the above 20s today.

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    1. I have been following your weather – I have a weather app with Faribault on my list of locations, though I opt out of most “alerts” since I’d probably have the annoying alert signal going off all of the time! It helps me keep in mind, and pray for, those who must deal with some greatly frigid and blustery weather conditions.
      Like you, I am proud of my family heritage of settlers in the northern plains. I know you and Randy raised your children much as you both were raised, and that has to be a wonderful feeling, to pass on the legacy of a tough people. Northerners are also people with warm hearts, who help and share during this bitter cold season. I remember so much of neighbors helping neighbors and checking on shut-in’s during blizzards and long periods of inclement weather. Ah, the memories. 🙂

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  7. The various and interesting comments, including what they bring out in your replies, sent me back to reread the original piece more carefully because I realized that I had missed something important. It was the description of your father coming in from the cold. I had slighted that the first time through because I thought the entry was working outside, about beautiful and sensitive animals, about getting ready for winter. Which it was, of course. The memories part sort of sneaked in, but didnt go unnoticed by alert readers. Now I’m thinking about my own father. In fact, those thoughts float around a lot, for I have more time (retired) and spend much of it helping my fatherless teenage granddaughter grow strong grow strong and resilient, though I make a mess of it too often, what with my own stubbornness and my confusion about the way kids are growing up theses days–away from nature, away from . . . Well, you’ve heard all the complaints, im sure.
    “I smiled as I pulled off my own ear-flap cap this morning, thinking I was not so different from my Dad.”

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    1. I hit send accidentally. meant to add before the quotation (which summarized a lot of my thoughts about my own father and about my hopes for my granddaughter) something about how encouraging it is to hear stories that show goodness within family struggles, and to know that the way we influence each other doesn’t always become apparent until later. So I’m smiling with with you and the others as I read.

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      1. Hello Albert! Thank you for such a wonderful and thoughtful comment. Yes, I wish now I could tell my Dad how much I appreciated all that he did for us… that we didn’t have a clue about as kids. I am sure he and his generation had the same frustrations with us kids, that we have with our own children and grandchildren (for me, nieces and nephews). We hope they “get it” at some point. It’s wonderful if we see that realization come to fruition. My Dad died 18 years ago… and though we were able to mend fences in the end, there is so much more I understand now. I hope somehow he knows that, and that his spirit feels the tremendous love and appreciation I have for all that he taught me and showed me about living life well.

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  8. This is so beautiful: “They were generations of plainsmen, farmers, and early settlers who survived on little. My folks raised us kids to work hard without complaining. One did not question what had to be done – if there was a task to complete or a job to do, there was no argument or whining. Responsibilities took priority. We learned to rely on wit and common sense to get us through tough times. We are people with tough skin.”
    Used to be a common experience for so many – and we never realized it was such a great gift to us.
    Smiled at your description of your dad standing on the rug so as not to drip on the floor – and the wood burning fire.
    It was 82 here one day and then the winds and cold arrived with highs of 40 (Still warmer than you – but boy do I remember how welcoming the farmhouse’s wood stove was when I was little)
    Enjoy as the season runs

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    1. It was a great gift – the way we grew up and the things we experienced and learned – wish I had known back then how well hard work and being tough would serve me in my life. I love that I understand now, and I take time to think about the gifts bestowed on me and thank people every time I get the chance. Dad has been gone 18 years now, but I call Mom often and I try to tell others who influenced me how much it means. There is so much to be thankful for in remembering where we came from and how it helped us evolve. 🙂

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  9. My favorite photo is of Daisy eating berries and this for the most obscure reason; you can see the little dimples in her fur where her whiskers grow out! She also looks so contented.

    I often moan about my father’s parenting skills, and yet, I can get the greatest satisfaction from being able to perform some task that I know other women my age simply cannot do! Those lessons, hard taught, then become empowering to me.

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    1. Oh Lynda, I understand your thoughts on your father’s parenting skills. My dad was no patient, kind teacher. He yelled and cursed a lot, and didn’t often explain things. What I learned was probably the hard way, but I can say for sure I never forgot anything he taught me!!
      I remember the day I photographed Daisy and Spirit walking through our woods at a leisurely pace. It wasn’t long after that photo that Spirit laid down, and after a few more minutes of Daisy nibbling browse, she too laid down. I sat in my own little spot near them but like deer do – leaving a little room and looking in different directions to watch for predators. They chewed their cud while I nibbled on some almonds I’d brought along. I think I could tell you about every walk I have had with Daisy. 🙂

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  10. Hi Lori, From Christmas Eve to Boxing Day at least, we will be experiencing temperatures from the low to high 30sC in Castlemaine.
    I am thankful I don’t have to contend with clearing snow from the driveway or rugging up against the frigid temperatures you have described.
    Give me a lovely, hot, dry summer with low humidity any day!

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    1. I am more a girl of summer. Like you, the hot, dry, low humidity is perfect for me! Winter never lasts long here in Oklahoma, so it won’t be long before spring arrives along with the rain and warmer temperatures. I wish you a wonderful holiday season Margaret! I always forget about Boxing Day!! Ha ha!

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  11. I absolutely loved loved the bit about your dad and mom. Our parents went through so much when they brought us up and we’ve had life gifted to us virtually on a platter. Took me back many years and I recalled how my dad and mom must’ve toiled when we never realised they did.
    On another note, I love the picture of you donning the ear-flap cap! Wish we had such winters here to make us “dress-up”.

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    1. That’s funny, Mandeep! I really detest having to put a big, burly coat on in the winter – it’s cumbersome. And that ear flap cap, though warm, smashes my hair down, and doesn’t allow the best of hearing. Thank goodness our winters here in the southern United States do not last long.

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  12. Oh, I love the mutual grooming shot. So adorable. I’m reading E.B. White’s Collected Essays right now, which makes me think of you and your charges. Have you read much of his stuff? I think you would enjoy his essays on farming, particularly “Death of a Pig.”

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  13. Just a quick gallop by to wish you a bright silent night

    Waiting for sunset on Christmas Eve is like standing toes-over-the-edge on a high diving board.
    Every year we’d cruise casually by the window to keep an eye on the sun’s progress until it was officially evening.
    Then the shout “Christmas Eve Gift!” would ring out.
    You see, the traditions says that the first person to voice that phrase on Christmas Eve to another would be graced with good fortune and joy all the next year.
    (And of course, whomever was first won. Everything was a contest…)
    It’s more difficult to be first now with caller ID.
    As all those who have become my friends in blogland are spread widely across time zones, I’d like to wish you all “Christmas Eve Gift” now.
    And as I already feel so fortunate to have such wonderful readers and writers in this neighborhood, I wish to share any phrase acquired good fortune and joy with you in thanks.
    No matter where you are or what you are guided by, hope you have a very merry Christmas and a new year full of adventure and joy.
    Peace on earth and goodwill towards all creatures great and small.

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    1. What beautiful memories and words of Christmas well-wishing. I feel the same comfort – surrounded by wonderful readers and writers in this fold. Christmas does not feel real this year – Friday we lost a nephew who had just celebrated his 21st birthday. He was fragile and faced many challenges in his life, yet he was a gift to our family… of love, and happiness. This season we come together as a small group to comfort my sister and her family, and perhaps our Christmas will be more meaningful in a sense. Stripped of the superficial-ness of the season, we ground ourselves in love and compassion. There are many reasons to rejoice the season… but close-knit family and friends is to me, the greatest gift of all. I love your last line, my dear friend: “Peace on earth and goodwill towards all creatures great and small.”

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  14. I loved the description of your father – he reminded me of my grandfather actually. The toughness of them. What a beautiful passage that was. Beautifully written. And you and Daisy her collar matching your jacket. What a gorgeous shot. Much love – c

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    1. Thank you, C. I miss those days with Daisy. I haven’t seen her since September. I hope she is enjoying life as a wild deer. Yes, it’s good to be tough. I am proud to be from that kind of stock. I think you are too. 🙂

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  15. I was just deleting emails and came across this post that I had saved and forgotten about. I can’t believe it was back to December 18th, 2016. Anyhow I am glad the comments are still open. I think you went above and beyond to get the orphans natural food. And yes, the thorns on the briers I believe, contain toxins. I have been stuck more times than I care to remember as I pruned or pulled the vines off fences. When Billy Bob my goat was still living I fed him greenbrier vines and he ate those like they were divine. 🙂

    I was out in the cold when the freeze came down to Texas (several times) but I’m not sure if it was during your time of severe cold. I didn’t stay long. I’m too old for being out any longer than about 20-30 minutes.

    The pics are great and they really add to your posts.

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    1. Hello Yvonne! Now that spring is here, it won’t be long before those greens and briers start leafing out again and the deer will thrive in their new environment. Nature sure does provide all that they need… even if it isn’t so appealing (all of those thorns!!) to us humans! 😀

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