Code of the West for Winter

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snow covered road and treesWinter is upon us and we all know in Jackson and Swain counties that the possibility exists for winter cold and storms that can change our daily routines. Frozen pipes, impassable roads and cold homes are all a great likelihood. Therefore, it is time to revisit some lessons from the “Code of the West” that may help us and others this winter.

The “Code of the West” was first chronicled by the famous western writer, Zane Grey and others. The men and women who went westward during the expansion of the United States were bound by this unwritten code of conduct. The code’s values of integrity, honesty, stewardship and self – reliance guided their decisions, their actions, and defined their survival. Even though Jackson and Swain counties are not in the rugged Rockies of the West, we do live however in some of the most rugged country of the East. We are Western North Carolina, a region that does experience blizzards, severe cold, high winds and at times a duration of each of these winter conditions for weeks at a time. Our area was once pioneer country just like the west was a hundred years ago. Even though it seems like those pioneer days have long past, we still retain a degree of isolation and independence, while being community – minded. These rural characteristics define our lives and require us to follow the loose principles of the “Code of the West.” Consider the fact that the nearest emergency services may be more than 15 miles away and that the road you’re driving on today might be impassable when sever weather strikes tomorrow. This may be challenging, but the fact is, this is a part of rural living, and it is likely the reason we like living here. Please re-consider the principles below:

  • “ Reciprocity is the Rule.” Being neighborly is a two-way street. The road you help plow this weekend from a Saturday/Sunday snowfall helps everyone in your neighborhood get to work safely come Monday. If you have the equipment, plowing neighborhood roads and neighbor driveways could be a lifesaver for many, including emergency vehicles. Make sure you keep watch on the elderly, pets and livestock and those in need during severe cold snaps and snowstorms. Be vigilant. Your task this winter is to watch out for others like a Fire Warden did for wildfires from the Fire Lookout Tower, plain and simple. Please keep a pulse on your community best you can, while taking care of yourself also.
  • Work Together.” Rural residents who come together often have more success as a community than those who go it alone. Working collectively makes light work for everyone, while giving you and your neighbors individual freedom. Adjacent landowners can work collectively to help with delivering firewood as an example or going to the grocery store for those whom can’t get down in the winter weather
  • Be Prepared and Self-Reliant” Consider that the nearest emergency services may not be able to reach you for sometime. It could take a couple of days to reach you if a major snowstorm strikes such as the “Blizzard of 1993 or snowstorm of 1996.”  Have extra food (non-perishable) food that doesn’t have to be heated, clean water and prescriptions on hand that lasts from 3 days to 3 weeks. At these times the only help you’ll have is yourself. For your vehicle have snow chains or cables (better yet have winter tires on your vehicle), flashlights, shovel, multiple blankets, sand, extra heavy clothing (especially wool; gloves and hats) and extra food/water in your vehicle is another example of being prepared for the worst of winter. Also, please remember while driving, “Take it Slow on the Snow!”

snow covered sceneIn general, the “Code of the West” reminds us that respecting our neighbors, maintaining self-reliance, and being neighborly are the roads to individual freedom for the community. The friendly wave between you and your neighbors as you pass each other on the road each morning is more than just a wave, it is a symbol of our rural living or “Code of the West.” It is a promise to “Take Care of Others and Ourselves.”.

Please contact the Jackson or Swain County Cooperative Extension Centers at 586-4009 or 488-3848 or email for more information. Submitted by Robert J. Hawk, County Extension Director, Jackson and Swain County Cooperative Extension. Article content from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension and Colorado State University Extension.