freeze/thaw/freeze

it’s early march, so the cold, bony death’s-hand fingers of winter are rightly squeezed inexorably around us. this is usual stuff. but for two weeks, we had spring. i mean, 70ºF spring. snowdrops spring. mud season spring. that’s serious stuff. one day, the grackles were back. a couple of days later, a bemused red-winged blackbird was haunting the feeders. horses were un-blanketed, water tanks were unplugged, and the thermostat was adjusted and doors thrown open.

this is end of april weather, not end of february weather. february in vermont is full-on winter, the worst of it. the shortest month, but the one that feels the longest. day after grueling sub-zero day for what feels like years. this year, we had spring instead.

and we were all uneasy.

everyone i met looked a little bit hunted, unsure in their shirt sleeves, casting furtive glances around like they were waiting for the other shoe to drop. smiles were forced. this early spring weather brought out shiftiness. in true yankee fashion, we caught ourselves enjoying the sun and mild breeze and scolded ourselves back into dourness. because this windfall of weather is wholly undeserved. we know that we pay for our incomparable summers with brutal winters. having a mild, short, or easy winter is a cheat and probably consigns us all straight to hell.

as i write this, it is 1ºF. the wind is blowing, so there’s a significant windchill. the trees are cracking and popping, their frozen, brittle, sap-full branches threatening to snap in this sudden cold. the deck, the ground, the forest: everything is moaning its complaint. everything squeaks and creaks and makes a big fuss.

except the people. the people are kind of quiet because the forecast for next week is for more spring and it’s only march. do we embrace the spring? do we worry that we should’ve started our tomatoes indoors in mid-february instead of on town meeting day (the first tuesday in march), which is the traditional date for getting out the seed flats and filling them up with garden hopes? do we get out the rakes and wheelbarrows and start putting things back together after a foreshortened winter? will we get two feet of snow as soon as we do? and what about next year? and the year after? is this our new normal?

 

victory garden

it has been many years since i planned and planted a vegetable garden. we have always had something in the way of a garden, even if it was just small one. a few years ago, we had a wet, rainy summer that rotted almost everything. mildews and invertebrates and plain old standing water put the kibosh on the whole thing. that was after several summers of putting up increasingly vicious fences to keep the hens from poking holes in the tomatoes and gutting the eggplants. at the beginning of july, which is the height of the growing season, only a few weedy stragglers remained and we called the garden a wash (no pun intended). without constant weeding and tending, the nasty things took over and went wild. crabgrass, horse thistle, smartweed, pigweed, and any other ghastly garden invader you can imagine threw a big party in my carefully amended garden soil. by fall, there was sod. in the spring, i went out and looked at the garden plot with its thick, meaty sod and just threw in the towel. since then, it has only gotten worse. there is milkweed in there now. comfrey. so many things that will not go quietly into that good night. a season under black plastic is the only hope for reclamation.

but this year? i am determined. i am happily perusing the seed catalogs. i will have fresh green beans, bush and pole! i will know the joy of fresh zucchini! only death will keep me from the hedonistic pleasure of a fresh tomato, still warm from the sun! if i have to plant the perennial beds full of veg, i will overcome. and in between weeding and tending those, i will finally put down that black plastic i bought in 2015, because a life without a vegetable garden just isn’t one that i’m interested in living.

haiku 1.16.17

battalions of twigs
standing stalwart, wreath’d in frost
like smoke in sunlight.

roses

i am not a good listener. it’s not that i’m not interested or sympathetic; it’s because i can’t really do two things at once and my brain never stops working (just ask my insomnia). so, as someone is talking to me, i’m having rapid-fire reactions that makes me a. lose the train of the story and b. think of something that i absolutely must say. i’m also pretty terrible at being observant and reading body language and doing lots of things that other people don’t really have to think about. as a result, i have a terrible memory and lose a lot of experiences. i go for long walks, get home, and realize i can’t remember anything that i did or saw along the way. i often have to remind myself to look around, pay attention, soak something up in the moment.

we had a quick, warm thaw this week: two days of temperatures around 50ºF. snow melted, roads turned to mud, manure – oh, god! the manure! a thaw in january is usual in the northeast. it’s difficult to smell warmth on the wind, fight through muck and soft ground, have all the bad things about spring without any hope of the good things to come. not for a while yet. we’re now having a hard refreeze. everything is either bare ground or iron-hard ice.

tonight, as i did chores, i was in my usual groove. everything is done by muscle memory: hang the goat feed buckets on the wall, unstack the horse feed buckets, scoop feed into the buckets from four different feed bins, get the rubber pans for the horses, dump grain from bucket to pan, hang goat buckets on the fence, take down the goats’ hay net, etc., etc., etc. i don’t have to think about any of this. i do exactly the same things every evening every day of the year and the arms know what to do. my brain goes off on its own and does whatever it feels like doing in the meantime. once i’ve hayed the horses and rehung the goat net, checked the water tanks, and raked up the ground, i go and sit to wait for the horses to finish eating. i have to take their dishes away when they’re done or they’ll drag them off into the pasture in the night.

this waiting game is something that is nice when the weather is fine. it’s forced downtime, time to just sit and think or not think and just listen to horses and goats chewing. when it’s cold and blustery (and dark, since it’s always dark for evening chores in winter), it’s a penance. i often don’t sit at all on the bad nights; i jump up and down, run in place, anything to stay warm. tonight was somewhere in the middle: bitterly cold, but calm and quiet. i sat for a bit, but i got cold and bored and had to look around for things to occupy myself with. i grabbed a bucket and went to the faucet to fill the goats up. the faucet was frozen, so my task was in vain, but as i turned back, i was absolutely spellbound by the soft yellow light pouring out of the shed onto the munching horses, glancing off the hard, icy ground and creating a beautiful golden haze. i didn’t even have to scold myself to stop and enjoy it; i had no choice. i stood with my face to the rosy yellow glow and just watched happy, smug horses munching and sighing, they as content as i.

the spell did slowly dissolve as the horses finished their dinner and went carefully to their hay, across the icy pasture: pick pick pick. my spotted gelding chose the wrong line and ended up bunny hopping up a small, icy hill to keep from losing his footing. the mare and the bay gelding picked a better, longer line. none of them have had a good trot in days. they navigate carefully, slowly, circumspectly when the ground is this treacherous. the reflective patches on their blankets disappeared in the darkness, i flicked the light switch, and the magic was over.