Twelve Hours of Thaw

I had a written plan for yesterday, a quiet day at home finishing up my last reports, doing loads of laundry, and wrapping Christmas presents on the dining room table. Instead I woke up to discover that the temperature had climbed from below zero to 45° F overnight. Everything was melting and dripping in the thaw. Here was a last opportunity to accomplish a few chores left undone before the grip of winter cold.

However the window for action was already closing. By 8:00 AM the temperature had dropped back into the thirties and the wind was beginning to pick up. It was due to be -10° by nightfall, and everything melted now would be sealed in ice. Forget reports, laundry, and wrapping!

First I shoveled a path to the farm apartment. Jon and Amanda are coming up Thursday or Friday for Christmas and I didn’t want them to need crampons to cross a twenty-foot-long, two-foot-high ice bank to the front door.

Next I shoveled snow out of the basement of the future house. I know I haven’t told you about that project, and I will. However, for now you can picture a full basement with floor joists and plywood flooring set on top. It had snowed before the plywood was laid and so the basement was full of snow. I knew that snow would thaw and refreeze to be a skating rink. I shoveled it out by the wheelbarrow-load, removing about three-quarters.

The wind, carrying tiny ice pellets, rose steadily as I worked. The builders had nailed a 28 x 48′ tarp over the plywood flooring above and the tarp snapped ominously. I texted to the builders. No response. Finally all the nails tore free and the tarp blew off, scattering the boards laid on top. I could hear the roar of the sliding lumber from below.

I climbed out of the basement and onto the now icy platform. The tarp was held only by one corner. It snaked in the wind, streaming east like a tangled giant flag. With all my strength I tried to pull it back, into the wind. As wind billowed out the blue plastic, I was almost lifted airborne. My boots slid on the ice toward the edge of the platform. OK, not a great plan! I dropped the tarp, texted again to the builders, and moved on to the next chore.

Back in 2009, Allen and I had built my run-in shelter using panels from a torn-down pole garage. The panels are now at least forty years old, and possibly older. They are worn and fragile. The design was never intended for cows to lean comfortably against. Now several of them had sprung away from the posts.


Moreover, they were held out in the sprung position by chips I’d used as bedding for the run-in. With the ground frozen, I’d thought I’d have to live with the problem through the winter. However, yesterday was my chance.

I spent over an hour with my pick-axe, chopping out the half-melted chips and dirt down the length of the run-in. The cows watched with interest.


(Next summer I will cut off the rotted bottoms of these panels where the chips have rested, and replace them with a treated 2 x 10 nailer in each bay. It would be nice to think about replacing the shabby panels entirely, but while they’re not beautiful, they’re functional — and that’s all I need.) Once the bedding was out of the way, I was able to shove the panels back in place and secure them with Timberloks.

After changing out of my sweaty clothes, I crept into town over the icy roads to deal with my truck. Last week the garage that towed the truck had called me. A man read out a long list of everything that was wrong with the vehicle, which did not include the locking up of the wheel (they did not know why that was happening). I might even need a new front axle.

I said, joking, in a kind of disbelief, “It sounds as if you think I should just scrap it and buy a new truck!”

The voice replied colorlessly, “We do not make recommendations.”

I haven’t finished paying for this truck and cannot scrap it. Damon picked up the truck for me and took it to a private mechanic who fixed a few things. I spent ninety minutes after work one day driving to the dealership and buying a “right rear shackle mount brace” which had rusted through. (Of course the brace was marked price: $129 and I was charged $254. I reminded myself sternly that local businesses have to survive, but wished for my tranquillity of mind that they’d had the foresight to remove the tag.) Between them, Damon and the private mechanic figured out that the issue with the wheel locking up was due to the Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), which was, in fact, locking. To diagnose the exact cause, however, the truck must go to a garage with a computer. It has an appointment for Tuesday. So far, the meter is at $800 before dealing with the faulty brake system. Sigh.

My next chore was dealing with the faulty water hydrants at the barn. I’d used a propane torch to thaw the outside one on Saturday (I’d had no choice — I’d emptied the trough by the bucketful to water the animals the night before). Now the pipes were thawed and I needed to tinker with their settings to try to keep them from freezing in the future. I worked on each one for half an hour, with no luck. I believe both need to be taken apart completely and have new rubbers installed on the underground plungers. In the meantime, I wrapped each one in a heat tape.

While working in the snow, I had listened to the tarp billowing and snapping on the basement up the hillside. Now I had an idea.

Walking around the basement, I threw all the lumber back up on the east end of the platform. Then I climbed up on the platform again and began slowly pushing the 2x10s along the tarp toward the west end. Sliding on my knees, I tugged the tarp low, not allowing the wind to get underneath and pull it away. Within forty-five minutes, I had the tarp secured again across the entire floor. As all the grommets had been torn out, I used scraps of lumber and 16-penny nails to tack it to the frame.

I did barn chores and drove home. Lucy had texted and would need a pick-up from her ski race. I put potatoes in for dinner, fed the dogs, and set out again. It was snowing and windy. The roads were terrible.

Ninety minutes later, we were home. I cooked sausages, made a salad, and we ate dinner. I fell asleep holding my book in my lap.

This morning it is -15° and the old timbers of this house are thudding in the cold. DH left at 4:30 AM for business meeting in New York City.

Again, I’m planning a quiet day at home finishing up my last reports, doing loads of laundry, and wrapping Christmas presents on the dining room table. We’ll see.


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