Lucy’s Loppet

March 21, 2017

Lucy came home from college for spring break thrilled with the new snow and jumped into Saturday’s big local Loppet ski race, postponed from earlier in the season. Her racing season is over and she is tired. Her coaches have instructed her to rest. Lucy knew if she entered the 25K she would be tempted to race it, but she thought it would be fun to ski the 50K marathon (31+ miles!) simply “for a workout.” (I know, I know.)

Luckily, one of her best friends and training buddies, Nina, was also home from college and wanted to do the same. No pressure to go fast or beat each other. They just wanted to ski.

Lucy packed for this race as if she were going on a long hike.

The race announcer has known both girls since they were children. He surely could see that they were skiing easily side by side. However his job was to drum up suspense. Referring to them by their last names, he would say into the microphone, “Now Lucy is fighting ahead and gaining the lead!” or, “Now Nina pulls away!”

The girls laughed to themselves. They were casually discussing when to stop for water.

In the photo above, Lucy and Nina are emerging from the single-track tunnel under the road.

As planned, the girls crossed the finish line together, holding hands, just as Lucy did years ago with another friend in the 25K. In the automatic timing, Lucy was half a second behind Nina, with 3:27:31.

These days, the girls are so fit, and so few choose to ski a race so long and grueling, that they came in second and third overall!



That Moment You Know You’ve Been Following Media Too Closely

March 20, 2017

Last night I was waked up by a chorus of howling and yipping that sounded as if it were right under my window. I struggled up on my elbow and checked my watch: 2:10 AM.

Coyotes, my brain said. I wonder what they are howling about?

FAKE NEWS! replied my brain.

Part of me was reassured by this answer — Oh, OK — at the same time that another asked foggily, No, what?

I was still smiling as I fell back asleep.

*   *   *  

Today Lucy and I head to Vermont for a long day of appointments. I am packing Kleenex. What a tenacious virus this has been! Tomorrow school starts again.

The Blizzard of 2017

March 15, 2017

We knew snow was coming, but after a couple of years of promised storms passing us by, everyone in town had doubts we would really get the 10-12 inches they were predicting. Still, just in case, Nick spent all Monday putting up new ice and water shield on the back roof.

The snow started Tuesday morning. The flakes were so dry and tiny, it was easy to pay no attention. Mindful of the forecast, however, I mucked the barn and filled the water buckets so everything would be ready if I decided to bring the cows in early. Then I sat at the dining room table with my mug of chicken broth and my box of Kleenex, and got lost in accounts of prisoners of war starving to death in Manhattan in 1776.

When I looked up it was 1:30 PM and snow was blowing past the porch, a fog of white. Only a few inches covered the ground, but the tiny snowflakes were so light they were hanging in the air. Deciding the cows would probably like to come in out of the wind, I climbed into my coveralls and headed out in my truck.

I pulled onto the highway and I was shocked. It was a white-out — blowing snow so impenetrable I could barely see the icy road directly in front of my truck.

I was even more appalled when I reached the farm and discovered that Nick and Mike were working at the house. I knew immediately that they’d made the same mistake I had. Looking out the windows at a few inches of snow, they’d dismissed it as a concern. I drove down to the barn, hurriedly let the cows in, and tossed everyone hay. Then I texted to Nick that he and his father needed to leave as soon as possible. Nick knows I am a worrier, but I insisted. He texted me later that it had taken his father more than two hours to get home. “Dad said it was a wild ride!” Soon afterward the county highway department closed the roads.

But the farm animals were snug in the barn and I was safely at home with the dogs and my books. As Charles Ingalls would sing, “Let the hurricane roar!”

It did. The tiny flakes were now adding up at an unbelievable rate. Walking the dogs before bedtime, Toby was swimming underneath the powder like a snow mole, and even Stash was floundering in snow up to his ears.

It appears we got a bit over three feet overnight. This is our Honda. I’d swept it clean just before dark.

The plows were out all night long. This morning Stash kept me company while I dug out the truck.

I was worried when I drove down to the farm that I might have to hike in on snowshoes from the highway, but Mike had already plowed.

Of course, the barn paddock electric fences were buried and useless.

The water trough was below the level of the snow.

I decided I’d keep the cows in. After their breakfast grain I began mucking stalls. Moxie looked at me and indicated she’d like to go out.

“You really don’t want to, Mox, but I won’t stop you.”

Moxie plowed through the snow with the resolution of a tank. Then she seemed to have second thoughts.

“Hmm. Maybe I should reconsider.”

However, once the Boss Cow was out, Elsa and Mel Gibson were bellowing that they too wanted to come out to play. Wading in, they bucked and snorted and explored.

I threw them some hay to munch while I freshened their beds.

I’m an old mom. I know toddlers get tired of playing in cold snow faster than you think. Sure enough, in just a few minutes they were mooing at the door.

“Can we come in yet?”

When I opened the gate, they rushed down the aisle to their box stalls with dry straw and lay down with sighs of contentment.

Even cows know that’s the best way to enjoy a blizzard. From inside.

Geek Week

March 14, 2017

DH is headed to China. Lucy is back in college. Jon and Amanda are leading their lives in Connecticut. For a week I am all alone. (Except for the two dogs, the barn cat, the cow, the heifer, the bull, the eleven sheep and ten lambs, the two geese, the six hens, and the rooster.)

It is my school vacation. Usually at this time of year I’m juggling lambing and calving while attempting some out-sized farm building project. However, this year the calves are due in June. Lambing has unexpectedly ground to a halt. I am sick with a vicious sinus cold that won’t quit. And now, for the next two days, they are predicting a blizzard carrying over a foot of snow.

I have decided that all of this adds up to God telling me to rein in my Puritan work impulse for a little while and have some self-indulgent fun.

For me, one of the things I enjoy most is historical detective work. I simply adore following research trails. Today, with the internet, I can reach into library and museum collections across the country, Canada, and England. How fabulous to be discussing 18th century shoes with a cordwainer (shoemaker) at Colonial Williamsburg! How exciting to get emails from the British National Archives in “Kew, Richmond, Surrey”! What fun to search Revolutionary War newspapers, now digitized, and to have so many 18th and 19th century books scanned by Google and available free for download!

At this point, however, I actually have done most of the research needed for the story I’ve been plotting. (There are a few holes left: I’ll keep them like Easter eggs to reward myself during the tough patches.) My next task is to organize this information and analyze it. I have to take notes on all the books, diaries, letters, newspaper clippings, and maps, and then massage the information into a useful, coherent whole. This will take a lot of time. The work is less thrilling than the research but also satisfying as my notebook becomes filled with material.

My story is set in the area of western Connecticut in which I grew up. Many people forget that the American Revolution was a civil war (also, in New England, a religious war, but that’s another kettle of fish). Unlike the later Civil War, the American Revolution had no geographic lines, no North vs. South. The Revolution pitted not only neighbors but families against each other. It is heartbreaking to read the hand-written battle reports and realize that the dead and wounded of the enemy could be so often identified by first name because the protagonists grew up in the same town or were, in fact, kin.

Many of the supporting characters in my story will be fictionalized versions of real people. Above is part of a chart I began over the weekend to keep track of just a few of the complicated relationships in this corner of a small village in Connecticut. Now I have laid out on the dining room table the first stack of files and books I hope to annotate in the upcoming days. I am trying to be disciplined: to make all my notes on Revolutionary New York City; then all my notes on Fairfield County; then all my notes on the timing of a colonial farm year; then everything on ladies’ clothing, and so on.

The snow is falling, the dogs are snoring, I am brewing a cup of tea and can’t wait to dive in.

Yesterday I wrote to an unmet research friend in Canada (with whom for the past year I’ve been sharing discoveries from the British War Office papers) to tell him of this unexpected time alone, with no outside responsibilities except the animals.

Mike immediately wrote back, “Enjoy your Geek Week!”

Going Out in Style

March 13, 2017

This was the fourth and last time Lucy qualified for the nordic Junior National Championships. In future years she will be in the U23 category and no longer a junior. She has simultaneously aged out of her club ski team. I’m wistful for her, as this local group of boys and girls has been such a friendly, supportive, joking crew.

However, what a way to go out. It’s hard for a non-sports-person like me to comprehend an event like this. There were hundreds of competitors from all over the country, including a huge contingent from Alaska.

In the two distance events Lucy finished in the top ten, qualifying as “All-American” for the second and third time. She skied her leg of the relay with the second-fastest time in her age group. So she has both medals and satisfaction.

Lucy also was chosen to carry the torch to light the cauldron to mark the start of the championships. This honor was something of an error. It was supposed to be a local Olympian who carried the flame. However there was a mix-up and when the time came for the hand-off, this gentleman was nowhere to be seen. The flustered local announcer recognized my girl standing nearby in her jeans and leaned into the microphone:

“And noooooow, Lucy H— will carry the torch to light the cauldron!”

Lucy was startled but happy to oblige.

Yesterday I drove her and some of her friends to catch their ride back to college. The intense week is over.

Shearing and a Mystery

March 11, 2017

The sheep are shorn! Yesterday felt like a long day. It was a wise decision for me to forego worming and hoof-trimming.

After driving Lucy to her ski race, walking the dogs, turning the cows out, and mucking the barn, just standing for 3.5 hours at Roger’s elbow — ready to take the clippers or pass them back (“Scalpel!” “Yes, doctor!”), bag fleeces, and rake up dirty wool tags — was about all I could manage between bouts of coughing and sneezing.

Roger is always quiet, patient, and calm. He seems to hold the sheep effortlessly, and even the frightened yearlings who’ve never been shorn usually relax under his hands. After he sheared Royal, my big ram, he kindly trimmed his feet. (I’ll trim the rest when I’m feeling better.)

As each sheep was shorn, I slipped over her/his head a collar and nametag. These are hard rubber neck straps from the Netherlands (61¢ each, but shipping from Europe brings them to $3) and nylon neck tags from Ketchum Manufacturing ($2.10 each). Ewes have black tags, rams red. I could have purchased simple numbered tags for $1.10, but I spent the extra $1 apiece to have my sheep’s names engraved. This was a frivolous expenditure on my part, and one I’m glad I made some months ago, as dollars are so tight I could not justify it now.

I’ve always wanted my sheep to have nametags. Many years ago a big breeder on our sheep list wrote contemptuously of “backyard breeders with six sheep with names.” I have eleven sheep, and they all have names. My hope is that my ewes will stay with me for a decade. I see them every day for years. Of course they have names.

They also all have eartags, and I can remember their numbers (“11, that’s Cider”) and most of their faces. But nothing is as easy for me as reading. So this is another of my experiments. I’m not sure it will work. The collars are snug on my bigger ewes even without a wool coat. We shall see.

Meanwhile, with the heavy wool removed I was shocked to find that the three ewes that I assumed were due to give birth any day have no udder development. In my records, Magnolia, Petunia, and Larch were all bred in early October and potentially multiple times after (the repeated blue smudges that made me lose track last fall). What could be going on?

It’s a mystery. I have never had such a long and strange lambing season. My ewes almost always become pregnant on their first breeding. Magnolia has twinned every year since she was two. Petunia had triplets last year.

What was different this year? I could only think of three things.

  • The girls spent the summer grazing on the farm, rather than at Betty’s.
  • I supplemented them with alfalfa pellets.
  • The hay I bought last fall from Rick (“I’m giving you second-cut for the same price as first-cut, and you know why? Because you’ve been such a good customer for so many years!”) turned out to be 1/4 inedible chicory stalks.

But would any of these have affected Royal’s fertility or the ewes’ conception?

I have now researched all three variables and have discovered that feeding legumes — alfalfa is a legume — can reduce conception rates. I fed alfalfa pellets through the end of October. Sigh. My mother used to quote my grandfather: “Live and learn, die and forget it all.” (I’ve never been sure of the exact meaning of this motto but have always found it vaguely comforting.)

It’s possible that these three girls and even one of my ewe lambs, all of whom had blue crayon marks, were bred again successfully in November or December. It could be that they are pregnant now, and due at the end of April or even early May. Who knows?

I imagine they know. But they can’t tell me.


A Windy Setback

March 10, 2017

As weather fronts collided yesterday morning the wind grew powerful. I believe the gusts were about 50 mph. I could barely stand up. When I latched the paddock gate open so the cows could leave the barn, the force of the wind ripped the 2-inch eyebolt out of the wood and slammed the gate shut.

More seriously, the wind peeled all the expensive ice and water shield off the back of the house roof. When I saw Nick at 4 PM, he was tired and discouraged. The howling wind conditions were not safe for him to be on the roof but he’d tied on a rope and gone up anyway.

The setback was not only one of time (which is also money) but of money in ruined materials. Nick said distractedly that he would have to replace the ice and water shield with something less expensive. I’m juggling expenses to the last nickel but I’m going to see if I can possibly cover the difference between the two grades of replacement material.


 *    *   *   *  

I am sick and miserable. Sneezing, runny nose, coughing to the point of choking, not sleeping.

Roger the shearer comes today. He has to be booked so far in advance, I can’t reschedule. Normally on shearing day while Roger shears, I worm the sheep and trim their hooves. It’s particularly helpful to do this on shearing day because Roger will always kindly take a few extra minutes to tip the big rams on their bottoms for hoof trimming — a feat that is beyond me, although I am bigger than Roger.

However today I am so exhausted I think it may be all I can do to muck the barn and shuttle the sheep through the various stalls on their way to and from their haircuts. I’m forgiving myself in advance.