It’s been a wild winter. A mild December lulled us into believing we would get a break this year. Silly, silly us. By the end of February–when we often have a thaw, but not this year–our daughter had missed a record sixteen days of school because of cancelled busses. We even saw the weather website post ‘Blizzard Warning,’ which was a new meteorologic category for many of us. In the midst of this, our physical access to the outside world was throttled.
I’m stealing from Peter’s letter/essay that he shared with several family members in February about the experience.
My Personal Groundhog Day
I sometimes tell students the proverb: “There’s no such thing as bad weather—just poorly prepared people.” That perspective has been intercepted and tasered the past two weeks. Even slightly decent weather has been an exception.
When one lives in a town with modern conveniences: public snow removal, the hydroelectric grid, and functioning fuel and food systems, winter is very manageable. But in a rural area like ours—especially off-grid and far from the road—a stormy fortnight can do more than make you glum. It can make you glum, exhausted, anxious–even desperate.
To be forced to worry about all four needs—heat AND food AND hydro AND road access—would be devastating. Even being faced with two of those four factors moderately at-risk is quite concerning. And if on life-support, only one need to grapple with is worse than two or three of moderate concern.
Along the front line of needs, we thankfully don’t have to worry about heat because our heat “only” depends upon processing firewood before the winter ogre emerges. Also ahead of time, we stash food in the freezer and pantry. Throughout much of the year, power production tends to be good as long as the sun shines, the wind blows, and our generator starts–all of which usually occur. But for years, our bugaboo has been our ability to access the road in winter.
No tractor means no snow-clearing and sometimes no access. No access means gradual desperation. Fear of desperation leads to planning and payments. Living rurally on anything other than an acre requires significant money. Tractors are especially expensive if your livelihood does not pay for them. Years ago, a farming neighbour recommended,”Get something with 60 horsepower and four-wheel drive.” Not being farmers, we ended up with an old 40-something horsepower unit with only two-wheel drive. We hoped and prayed it could handle our Goliath of a driveway. For years, it did.
To wrestle the driveway brute if the Massey got sick, we bought an admittedly expensive walk-behind, two-wheeled tractor–like a rototiller on steroids. We reasoned that it could help with Erin’s market gardening, it could help manage our property, and it could step in as an emergency back-up to our four-wheeled tractor. It has started to pay us back numerous times by fighting back snowdrift monsters.
Out the window is a sea of white. The chickadees and nuthatches take turns grabbing sunflower seeds from the feeder. Every once in a while the blue jays and woodpeckers flap in and push everyone aside. Then they leave, or are more often startled off by the dog, and the small birds return. Meanwhile, I sit here and watch it all unfold.
It’s my time of year for quiet and retrospection. A time to look over the past year’s experiences and notes, and to think about what went well. Also it’s the time to look at what could be improved upon this coming season. Which is a nice way of saying, “What just plain failed, stank or drove me nuts last summer?” But with a little more distance and perspective. Continue reading “Starting again”
Keeping chickens warm and safe during a Bruce Peninsula winter is challenging. This is only our third year, but each year we learn a little more. It helps that our birds are pretty hardy; especially after surviving last winter’s frigid temperatures.
We like to keep our birds outdoors as long as possible into the fall. They are fine in the colder temperatures as long as they can get out of the wind and don’t get wet. We provide a covered area they can hang out in as well as their mobile coop. Yes, it’s an old truck cap. It works.
Things get tricky when the fence battery gets cold and has to be switched out with a warmer, charged one every morning. Man, that thing is heavy. Being off-grid, we are loathe to add any extra power draws during the dark time of the year. Charging a fence battery can use a lot of power we’d rather use elsewhere, like for lights and running water.
Traditionally, we move the chickens into the garage just before Christmas. This allows us the chance to get away for the holidays and have a chicken sitter. We know the birds are secure, and the sitter can easily tend to their needs and collect eggs. Win-win. Mostly. Continue reading “Chickens in the hoop house, finally!”
Well, it’s been a quiet winter so far here on the homestead. Nowhere near the spirit-crushing amount of snow and cold temperatures we endured last winter. Yet. Thank goodness. That was a challenge. We’ll see what February brings.
Still, this season does bring a change in daily life that we both look forward to and dread at the same time. Fire building we look forward to – constantly carting wood into the house, we dread. Snow is really great for skiing and snowshoeing; blowing it off the driveway is not so enjoyable. Walking the dog takes on new meaning. However, we all agree that snow days are awesome.
It’s our first winter with the hoop house. Paying attention to snow accumulation is the new pastime. We’ve only had one large snowfall followed by warming temperatures that made us a bit nervous. Heavy snow is the enemy. By pushing up and out on the plastic from inside the structure, the snow is persuaded to let go and slide off. I use a special broom with curved bristles (that I already owned) and a step stool for this job. I also use muscles that have been dormant a long time.
Winter around here means less sunlight which in turn means less power. The days are short and often overcast. The solar panels need to be cleared each time it snows. Our backup generator gets a workout. Not so much the vacuum and washing machine. And now it’s snowing again.
On the plus side, all of the seed catalogues have arrived! So I’ll pour another cup of coffee and settle in by the fire to plan next season’s vegetable selections. Then I’ll strap on the snowshoes and walk the dog.