Monday, February 24, 2014

No Hunt Today: Weather Life

After the morning chores were done and the farm was humming a content song—I decided to go hawking. There was no wind and just a slight snowfall outside. It was absolutely breathtaking. So instead of lighting a fire and sitting down at the computer to write, I grabbed my leather shoulder bag, slid into heavy canvas pants, and headed outside to the mews. It didn't take long to weigh and inspect Italics, make sure he was fit to hunt. I put on his hood and loaded him into the truck inside the safe carrying crate. I noticed the snow was picking up but didn't worry about it. I needed to stop for gas anyway and knew by the time I was done I'd know if the plan was safe to follow through with.

I had plans to hunt over at Patty's farm, which is in a beautiful open area. I already called and made plans with her and I think she was excited to come along for the hunt. But as I made my way along route 22 the wind picked up and a hard snow started to fall. I checked the weather when I got home and it looked like a system was passing through all day. It was calm here on my protected mountain but it is a lot windier in Patty's area and it simply wasn't safe to take the bird out. A high wind or sudden storm could mean losing the bird. So I sadly declined the invitation and headed home, trying to explain why I was baling on the plan. Patty was gracious as ever, but I think I disappointed her. There wasn't anything for it, though. So I brought the bird inside and set him on a perch in my office while I attended some emails. Then I fed him and made sure he had plenty of water and set him back in his comfortable mews. Later in the evening he'd get a second meal and some indoor flying time for exercise.

Weather is part of the game in hawking, but it's also part of the game in life here as a homesteader. Weather dictates everything I do. My life here at Cold Antler would be considered primitive to some, and not because I don't have an auto-drip coffee maker, washing machine, or microwave. What's so primal about my life is how much it depends on weather and how close to home I spend my time. These things are related. The only heat in the house comes from my wood stove, and if I want to be comfortable indoors it means keeping a fire going starting at the pre-dawn hour of 4:45 AM. At that time the house is around fifty degrees and a fire is welcome. I use the stove to heat not only me, but also a kettle for tea and humidifying. While the stove starts out I say my morning prayers and stretch a bit. I put a percolator on the stove and head up my morning coffee, too. It doesn't take long to have a warm blaze and a whistling kettle. That is a sound Merlin knows, and he can hear it just fine from his paddock gate. When he does he whinnies for his hay alongside Jasper. That means it is time for me to take one last sip of coffee before I head outside.

i feed the horses first of all the livestock, mostly because they are loudest and not all my neighbors on the echoing mountain need to listen to Merlin's roar. He and Jasper get hay and around 10-20 gallons of water to refill their heated trough. Then the sheep eat, followed by a trip to the barn for goat grain and mineral, chicken feeding, rabbit feeding and water bottle wrangling. I bring the frozen bottles inside and set them by the hot stove to sputter and whistle in their way and enjoy a second cup of coffee. And I know that all sounds ideal and such, but remember that this is a MOnday morning. I am not at an office or able to leave for vacation. My life is right here. The animals depend on me to keep this wintertide flow of water and green grass. At least two ewes and Bonita the Alpine goat are pregnant with youngins on the way. I am needed here, for care and heat and to serve the animals that serve me. That means feeding and weighing a hawk, polishing and treating leather horse harness and tack, keeping the dogs' and cats' bellies full and the general care and winter maintenance of barns and roofs.

There are nights I can't drive 6 miles away to spend a few hours with friends, because it is too cold. Heat means being here to tend a fire and keep pipe water moving. Earlier this week when we had rain and thunder and a day of melting snow it meant digging out and defrosting the sump pump hose to keep the basement from flooding! Cold Antler is my number one priority, my job, my family, and my whole life. And that's just not normal these days.

Sometimes it feels weird. To cancel dinner plans because the temperature was too low or to see friends leaving for vacations all over the world while I am here tending 6 acres of cold earth. In our modern luxurious lifestyle of cheap energy and transportation, staying close to home seems either crazy or selfish. Even the most understanding of friends get tired of it when they depend on thermostats instead of locust and Ash. But this is the life I chose. I created a life I adore right outside my front stoop. There is hunting, horses, hawks, riding, gardens, animals, campfires, cookouts, hives, dairy, and more just a few paces from the bed I woke in. How dare I ask for more? There is nothing I want on a plane or across the glove, nothing at all. Everything that is me is alive here, and thrives here, and on hot summer days when the nights are full of fireflies and distant thunder I am humming with the energy of satisfaction.

This life is anything but simple. It's a complicated hot mess most of the time and staying here in this home to pursue a creative life has been the most stressful fight of my life. But if you go into battle with gratitude and determination as your weapons, and acceptance of limitation as your shield…. you become unstoppable.

So I didn't hunt today. And I might have let down a dear friend. No adventures took place except the ordinary kind of lighting fires and writing stories and taking care of my dear animals. But it's Monday, and that used to mean a very different thing not that long ago. I am happy even when I am struggling, and for that reason alone I see a reason for morning prayers and high hopes.


Blogger Ohiofarmgirl said...

i dont think its weird at all. we sometimes cant go into town because its just too cold. there's too much of a risk - with the animals. also living so far out - a simple car/truck breakdown turns into an emergency if its too brutally cold. we farm nerds just have a different priority-o-meter.

February 24, 2014 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Yes but you live like me! do you think others think we are backwards?

February 24, 2014 at 2:43 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

While we seldom were homebound because of weather, growing up in a drafty old house from 1847 with most of our entertainment out in the woods or barn meant that I was always aware of the weather. I never had the experience of looking out the window and being surprised that it had started raining, because you heard and/or felt every change of Mother Nature's mood.

Today I do live w/central air and well-sealed windows, but I am affected by the natural world around me. One of my biggest pet peeves about our popular culture is the fact that most people don't have any connection to nature whatsoever! Sometimes the weather is an inconvenience, but that's it. They don't keep track of last-frost dates, or hear the first song of frogs in the spring, or smell rain on the wind. To me, nature, the Earth, is The Truth. There is nothing more real than that.

So, to answer your question, I'd say yes, most folks would consider you deprived and primitive. But...not most folks reading you here. :)

February 24, 2014 at 4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ones who would judge are the ones that don't matter! I'm all for accepting folks from all walks of life, whether it's from a life of luxury or a life of hard-scrabble. It takes all types to make this world tick. As Alison said, anyone reading your blog likes the fact you're living THE LIFE that many of them desire!
And while I have wood and electric (back-up) in the house, yes, weather does dictate our life. As does even going out in the summer. We have to round the critters up and put them in their dog/coyote-proof paddocks. We have to be home before dark to put them to bed (but that's such a great excuse for escaping social events!), and I'll always get up in the early hours to catch the woodstove cause there is NO WAY I'm waking up to a 50 degree house (because I'm a wuss!). But hey, even our pipes freeze in those crazy cold snaps. Our septic pipe froze last year - I spent a week using a cat litter container for a toilet and lugging it out into the woods (in the bitter cold) to empty it! :)

February 24, 2014 at 5:29 PM  
Blogger Ohiofarmgirl said...

i'm pretty sure they all think we are out of our minds

February 24, 2014 at 7:47 PM  
Blogger PansWife said...

I think you can have a wood stove and freedom too. Much of what you describe can be solved with proper insulation. I live in 1820's farmhouse (1200 sq feet). We mostly heat with wood. We started living here in 1992 and it took a Herculean effort to keep warm without the furnace. After we upgraded all the insulation (attic, Hardiboard siding, windows etc) it became easy to keep the house warm for hours with just a good wood stove going, and unless the temp went sub zero it lasted all night. We've never had a big income ( but no debt or mortgage) and we did this as we could afford to. If you have saving goals, insulation should be priority. All possessions, be they farm or city related, enslave us in some ways, but sometimes you can push the odds into your favor.

February 26, 2014 at 9:54 AM  
Blogger Alix said...

Similarly to PansWife you can have animals and freedom too. I grew up on a cattle ranch, and my parents still have close to 300 head of cattle (at 60+ years of age). Vacations were few and far between, but we did have them. My parents have cultivated relationships with neighbours so that when they want to leave for a few days they have someone who can look after everything - and then when the neighbour needs the same they help out. Obviously you have to pick your times - no vacationing during calving season or haying season - but everyone needs a vacation now and then! They even managed to take a 10 day trip to China a few years ago - so it's definitely possible.

In my experience most people in rural areas understand the lack of mobility most farmers/ranchers have - it's only city folk who have the 9-5/3 weeks of vacation/etc mentality. And even that's not 100% - anyone who has dealt with large/many pets, small children, or sick family members will have an understanding of the lack of flexibility/mobility certain lifestyles entail.

February 26, 2014 at 1:49 PM  

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