Monday, January 12, 2015

Winter's Beauty

I have always loved winter. The cold, the ice and snow, all of it. Many people have teased me that this would change once I started farming. But I still find winter absolutely stunning. Maybe part of its beauty is that it is so much harsher than the other seasons, so we grasp at any small thing to make us feel better.
A full moon rises over the pond.
The upper Midwest is just now thawing from our second subzero streak of winter. We've woken up to subzero temperatures almost every day since New Year's Eve. A few nights ago, I had my most trying chore time yet. I got started later than usual, so it was already full dark by the time I had a full muck bucket to empty on Poopsicle Peak. I have a little system rigged for winter where I pull the bucket through the snow like a sled, but a fresh snowfall meant my path wasn't clear. Since the snow was so light and fluffy, I thought, to heck with it, I should still be able to power through that. Wrong. The overflowing bucket o' poo tipped over no fewer than 3 times. I had to march back to the barn, grab a shovel, and try to shovel up spilled poo mixed with snow. In the dark, in subzero weather.

Then, Caesar unexpectedly came at me while in the sheep pen (but I was able to think quick and grab a horn to actually stop his head from making contact with my knees), everything was messier and harder than usual, I was sore and tired and all the usual complaints. But as I was heading back inside, I happened to look up. The night sky was AMAZING. All those little pinpricks of light winking at me, the Milky Way all aswirl. I instantly forgot how sore I was. I forgot about the poop spilled all over my path to the manure pile. I even forgot the cold; I must have stood in awe, taking it all in, for a full 5 minutes.

I'm often arrested by sights like this, and I don't think I'll ever stop being amazed by nature. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets, fantastic moonrises, awe-inspiring galaxy views, an eagle soaring overhead, otter prints on the pond. . . . I love how farming forces me to be more present, to notice and really take in nature and its rhythms.
Pileated woodpecker in the backyard.
So while it's not exactly fun to bundle up two or three times a day and go out into the arctic air, it hasn't been terrible. In fact, I feel way more acclimated to winter than ever. Beyond noticing how beautiful even harsh winter days (and nights) can be, a few more things that have helped:

The right clothing.
Remember when you were a kid and it was more important to look cool than wear a hat or gloves at the bus stop? Fortunately, livestock couldn't care less what you look like. To do chores in winter, I wear thermal leggings, real wool socks (Darn Tough and Farm to Feet are my favorite brands), a ribbed tank top under a thermal long-sleeve (if it's REALLY cold, I'll add a hoodie on top of this), my insulated coveralls, a ski parka, a hat, my -20F-rated Muck boots, and insulated gloves. Do I look a little silly? Absolutely. Do I stay warm? Yes. In fact, the other day it briefly got to about 4F while I was doing chores, and I got so hot I had to take off my hat and unzip my parka.

The right equipment.
I have heated water buckets in each pen in the barn (and a heated water dish for the barn cat too!). It may seem ridiculous to pay $40 or more for a bucket. But I think it's equally ridiculous to trek to the barn every few hours to manually bust up ice clods in your livestock's water. Don't make winter harder on your or them than it has to be. Just get the buckets.

Being present.
To keep yourself and the animals safe in this weather, you can't just numbly go through the motions of chores and hustle back indoors. In fact, I find that I'm spending even more time outside than usual. This is not only because frozen poop takes forever to scrape off a concrete floor and hauling water buckets through snowbanks is a feat of athletic daring (or stupidity), but also because I'm paying extra attention to the animals. Is anyone shivering? Does anyone seem stressed? Are there dangerous icy patches that could cause problems for anyone? Training myself to notice things has really increased my appreciation of outdoor time. Sometimes the tiniest thing can make your day! And no matter where you live, I guarantee there is something beautiful and worth noticing right out your front door.

What are your favorite tips for enjoying winter?

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