-24° F

January 15, 2018

Wind chill -40°.

I have to be at work before 8 AM so it will be a hustle to get everything done early in the dark and cold.


No Heroics

January 13, 2018

The thaw yesterday was incredible. Two feet of snow had vanished in the rain and wind by the time I got home from work. The geese were happy. They splashed in the puddles while I mucked the barn. The chickens strolled the grass looking with foolish hope for bugs. I kept a watchful eye for the coyote as I trundled the heavy wheelbarrow in and out.

I straightened sagging fences, pumped up the truck tires, emptied our trash and recyclables, and drove to school to pick up four bales of mulch hay. I restacked bales of shavings that were in danger of getting wet in flooding. I re-bedded the stalls, filled mangers and water buckets, and brought in the cattle and sheep.

By the time I threw open the door to the sheep addition to start mucking, it was dark and my energy was spent.

Some of the light bulbs have burned out. I gazed down the gloomy, 320 square-foot expanse of heavy work waiting for me and my pick-axe.

I have worked alone for so many years that I can drive myself through almost any tough chore. Moreover I knew the job would be much easier in the thaw. But in the time left, I could at most make one foot of progress. My bad knee was aching. I’d been up since 3:30 AM. It was time to start dinner.

I leaned the pick-axe against the wall and closed and bolted the door.

This morning it is snowing. Tonight it will be -20° F again.

The Answer to Barn Cobwebs

December 30, 2017

Every summer, my cows come into the dark barn (I put covers over the windows) in the heat of the day to escape the flies. However, some flies follow them in, and spiders follow the flies. Every fall, after the spiders die, one of my jobs is to sweep down the spider webs. For the last two busy years this has has been on my list, and has not been done.

I have always hated this chore. Even mucking deep bedding is preferable. Spider webs are made of strong, sticky filament and in addition to flies, this stickiness traps bits of hay chaff and thick, thick dust. In agricultural circles, this is known as “fecal dust.” When you brush down cobwebs in October, clouds of it fill the air. It surely is not healthy to breathe. I wear a mask but my hair and glasses are soon coated. Meanwhile the sticky webs wrap the head of the broom like dirty cotton candy and must be regularly pulled off. The sweaty, dirty job seems endless.

This summer my friend Charlie told me he removed cobwebs from his wife’s horse barn with a leaf blower. I was charmed by the mental image of cleaning the barn by shooting an air gun from a safe distance. I figured it would be worth investing $35 in a corded blower to be able to cross off this chore — and I would own the tool forever more.

The blower arrived from Amazon. Finally the day came when I could take a moment to try it. I plugged it in and pointed it at the cobwebs.

They merely swayed gently in the wind like dirty Spanish moss.

Belatedly I realized that Charlie and I, though each working part-time with large animals, inhabit different worlds. Charlie has built horse stables that are fancier than my home. Any cobweb he was confronting was tiny, new, and fragile. My cobwebs were industrial strength and had formed colonies.

Sadly I left them on my list. Two years ago, to encourage myself, I had broken down the job:

cobwebs: Moxie stall, calf stall, heifer stall, sheep stall, lamb stall, sheep addition, aisle, stanchion, tack room

But my aversion to the chore was stronger than my normally insatiable desire to cross something off. It still did not get done. The ceiling by now was disgusting.

Yesterday afternoon, while the animals were out and I was mucking the barn after it had warmed to -1°, I looked up idly at the cobwebs. They were frosted with condensation — “the breath of patient cows,” my mind quoted E.B. White automatically — and glittering in the light. In their creepy way, they were almost pretty.

Then I realized suddenly with a shock: the cobwebs are wet. The dust is frozen. I ran for the broom.

The cobwebs fell to the floor in damp, dirty rags. The frosted dust dropped in an icy shower, too heavy to stay in the air. In forty-five minutes I had brushed clean the entire ceiling. It was so satisfying that I promised myself I’d do a second round in another month to catch any stragglers.

I was elated. I was a genius! The way to deal with barn cobwebs is to attack them when they’re frozen!

Of course, I’ve done barn chores twice a day, every day, for fifteen years . . . and I’ve only just figured this out.

Enjoying Ethan

December 29, 2017

The high yesterday was 10 below zero. I spent much of the day outside waddling through chores (including dealing with a flat tire on the truck) in many layers. It was a relief to come into the house to warm up with soup at lunch.

I haven’t had much time to read but I’m enjoying dipping into the first of my Christmas books, Inventing Ethan Allen by John J. Duffy and H. Nicholas Muller III. This is an academic book devoted to untangling the many myths surrounding the “hero of Vermont.” I have long known that Ethan Allen was a land speculator and a thug, even a terrorist, before the Revolution and that he and his lawless mob (later romantically dubbed the Green Mountain Boys) stole credit from Benedict Arnold in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775. However, I had no idea of the yards and yards of fiction draping Allen.

It’s very fun to read that instead of his famous claimed rejoinder to the question of by whose authority he took Ticonderoga (“In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!”), folks on the scene recalled him saying, “Come out of there, you old rat!” and “Come out, you sons of British whores!” Similarly, as Allen was not a member of the Continental army at the time, but the leader of a gang, he wore no dashing uniform or riding boots, as always depicted, but most likely a homespun shirt or smock, buckskin breeches, and a pair of new shoes.

I’ve always thought that Ethan Allen and Norwalk boy Isaac Sears, who led the New York City mob before the Revolution, were twins separated at birth — both charismatic bullies who seized headlines, power, and fame. But Ethan had the advantage of a genius for self-promotion that kept him constantly writing, so despite his misjudgments and disasters at every turn, he left a jovial paper trail of complete lies to enhance his reputation. Today there are fictionalized statues all over Vermont and in Washington, D.C., books, and even a chain of furniture stores in Ethan Allen’s name. Very few have ever heard of Isaac Sears.

As I always tell my students: If you want to be remembered, write.

* * *

-22° F again this morning.

It’s A Good Thing

December 23, 2017

… I like work. There is so much of it.

Above, Flossie and the geese supervised yesterday for the ninety minutes I mucked the barn between other chores.

I remind myself often that I’m very lucky to be busy and needed. There is no danger I will sit around aimless and depressed. I also think that it is helpful that I know so much history. When I find myself hankering for a break — a bit of “me time” — I am aware this is a concept that would have been unknown to most people in the last millenium.

I do hope I can get to a point where Sundays can be a quiet day of church and re-centering. I am going to try to get us to the candelight Christmas Eve service tonight.

Lucy is still sick. I have taken her to the doctor; it is flu. Though she had a flu shot in the fall, the shot was bungled this year and was useless. The doctor told us she would have a fever for a week and then a lingering cough for two more. Huddled in blankets, coughing and blowing her nose, Lucy’s mood has been miserable. She is supposed to go to ski team trials on Tuesday night. We shall see.

I cut down a small balsam for a Christmas tree; it’s so scrawny DH thinks it can only manage one string of lights and 1/4 of our ornaments. Still, we will decorate it today, and next year I’ll pick out a tree months ahead of time. I wired the old stereo and the 90s CD player temporarily in the living room. Unfortunately I cannot locate the box with our Christmas music. Few places sell CDs any more, but I did find Frank Sinatra at the drugstore for $4.99. Young Frank sounds uncannily like Bing Crosby, our favorite Christmas carol crooner, so we’re set. I picked up the repaired truck and today I will pump up the low tires and take all the trash of the last two weeks (currently piled on the porch) to recycling. I am thawing our turkey in the kitchen sink. I am wrapping presents and packing a basket to take to Jon, Amanda, and baby Ami next week. I have hung tarps from the basement ceiling joists and behind it, I am working on a homemade surprise for DH and Lucy.

Snow is lightly falling and Christmas is coming! We are blessed!


December 22, 2017

Yesterday, the first day of winter, was beautiful, clear, cold, and blue. And the shortest day of the year.

Lucy is still miserable with a fever and coughing. DH is still buried in stress at work. I am busy trying to find our Christmas things in all the boxes, create some festive cheer, and lift everyone’s mood.

Today I will take Stash and my father’s saw, cut down a Christmas tree in the back acres, and drag it home through the snow. I will dig out our old amplifier and speakers — my grandmother bought the set for me when I was fifteen — wire them temporarily, and play carols. (Someday I want to upgrade beyond the 1970s, but not today.) I will set up the Nativity and hang the strap of sleigh bells on the door.

Last night before bedtime as I walked up the hill with the dogs, the temperature was 7° F and dropping. Orion with his shining belt was swaggering over the top of the house.

We have 100 days of cold still ahead but as I looked at the warm yellow light shining in the windows of our new home, I thought: we’re over the hump. Tomorrow the day will be four minutes longer.

Isn’t She Lovely

December 21, 2017

I am officially besotted (from afar) with my granddaughter, Ami.

Amanda’s mother, Judy, who is kindly staying with the new family to help out, posted these photos.

I am in love.

Amanda is recovering slowly from the difficult birth and still has a number of restrictions, but they are finding their routine. Ami is a contented baby who rarely cries.

Sadly, Lucy still has a high fever and cough so we had to cancel today’s plans to go to Connecticut and will try again next week.

I can’t wait to snuggle this munchkin!