mist rising from snow
into warm air like the ghost
of winter still moored.
mist rising from snow
mist rising from snow
into warm air like the ghost
of winter still moored.
winter storm stella is winding down as i write. we have about two feet of new snow: nice, light, fluffy powder, but blown into every crack and crevice it can blow into by a swirling northeast wind.
the horses look like snow monsters, like candy-colored tanks with long, jagged, ivory icicles hanging from their manes, jowls, and flanks.their blankets crackle when they move as the ice cracks and shifts. morgan, the dunderheaded bay gelding, has snow matted into his long, wavy mane. his normally dainty neck is massive under a heavy layer of hair and snow. the two appaloosas have short, silky manes and look more normal, but they’re probably colder for it.
i clambered up over the fence panel to shovel the goats out of their hut. they don’t like wading through the deep snow, especially jenny, whose legs are shorter than the snow is deep. i made a trail from the door of their den to the water bucket and the hay net. edward “helped”, by which i mean he bit my butt, scratched his head on my elbows, and wrapped his jaws around the metal handle of the snow shovel. i was half sorry he didn’t stick, the rotten stinker. i climbed back out and threw some grain down their gullets, then bunged some grain into the horses, too. the wind was spooking them and blowing in their faces. i watched them play musical dishes while i sat shivering in the shed, the snow blowing in my face, too. the cobwebs on the ceiling were hanging low with snow and even buckets and junk at the very back of the shed, 14 feet from open air, were covered with a thin dusting of rod-shaped snowflakes.
the nags finally finished eating and i dragged their dishes into the shed so they wouldn’t get buried in snow overnight, but i had to drag myself back outside before bedtime to chuck some more hay at the horses. there was another foot of snow. the goats were tucked into their house, butts to the doorway. the ponies were even more outlandishly misshapen with their loads of snow. i fed them up, shoveled until i thought i would drop, and collapsed into the house.
i will sleep soundly tonight. i hope the weather evens out so my outdoor pals can do the same soon.
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?
a single snowflake
then a dozen, a million:
battalions of twigs
standing stalwart, wreath’d in frost
like smoke in sunlight.
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.
winter is the season when every part of your life comes into sharp focus. every flaw in your life, every small thing that you’ve brushed aside, saved for later, or fixed “good enough” comes back to bite with cold, sharp little teeth. you plan for the worst and still come up lacking. snowflakes become avalanches, light breezes become blizzards. one broken cog will take down the whole machine. winter is the hardest row to hoe.
the bitter cold of january has arrived and brought a pack of problems with it. every insentient object hates the cold as much as we do. fenceposts fail, but are frozen fast and can’t be replaced. tank heaters that have worked all winter suddenly go on strike. everything creaks and teeters and threatens to tear free in a stiff gale.
i was wasting time tonight: watching trash on netflix, refreshing twitter, curled up under a pile of blankets with my dog, and thinking about going to bed. i heard a suspicious sound outside and went to investigate. what i found was three horses raiding the birdfeeders, three 900-pound birdies wrapped tight in their winter blankets, which insulate them from cold winds and wet snow, but also the stinging zap of the electric fence. they’d plowed merrily through the wire and headed straight for the bird feeders, guzzling up several pounds of black oil seed and just smiling when they saw me. getting them back in with a few flakes of coarse, over-ripe hay was simple and putting the fence back up was no problem, but i know that they know that the fence won’t bite and they’ll be back out again. maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, maybe not for another week, but they’ll be out again, their cozy, warm blankets insulating them from all nasty things, including captivity.