An Hour Warmer
I woke up the way I always do, under a pile of wool and sheepskins, my dog Gibson curled next to me under the covers. It is light outside, a break from getting up at 5Am for hunting. We are sleeping downstairs lately, a few paces from the wood stove. If it is really cold I make a mattress of sheepskins and blankets and sleep right beside the stove, but this morning we were on the daybed. Our combined heat sent steam up into the fifty-degree farmhouse air.
If you read this blog you know the routine that follows: coffee is set on the stove, the fire is rekindled, and nI get dressed in the armor that puts the fight in this dog. I slide on a camisole and long underwear top over my gooseflesh arms. I pull on thick riding breeches over my legs. Then I pick out a wool sweater to finish the first layering. All of this gear (save the riding breeches) was used or well worn. Over those go a work kilt and a canvas vest. A good hat covers my head and thick wool socks slide over my feet. I am ready.
Chores are done outside next. The world is LOUD outside. All the animals want to eat, and so they tell me in their own voices. The sheep baa, the horse bellows, the goats bleat, roosters crow, geese honk.... If it wasn't for Right to Farm Laws the police would be here for the racket, I'm sure.
As the house warms up so does my body. A wiser version of me would get up an hour earlier, and have a house and hour warmer, but I slept in till 6:30. So I go about the first business outdoors, feeding Merlin and the Sheep. The horse and sheep are closest to the house and a 60lb bale is taken off the back of the pickup and split into thirds. One third to the horse, one third to the sheep, one third to the goats which will be fed on the second trip outdoors. This trip is just the horse and sheep though. The animals munch on Nelson Greene's second cut and I prepare the grain mixture for the sheep. A third a bale won't be enough in this weather for six sheep, so they will get more forage and their morning meal. In a bucket goes corn, sweet feed, and mineral mix. They are fed and I note their water level (or in this case, frozen water level) and head inside to warm up a bit and have some coffee. This is the time to get one cup in, the dogs walked, the house a degree warmer. After that I head back outside to carry water buckets and refill frozen containers. The large ones for the sheep and horse are broken with a heavy maul. The smaller water containers come inside to thaw by the stove. It only takes about fifteen minutes for the ice around the edges to thaw enough to slide out the frozen bucketcicle. It is refilled and the animals are sated.
In an hour the pigs, sheep, goats, horse, poultry, rabbit and inside animals are fed. It is a cold bit of work, but enjoyable. The sky is gray and it is around eight degrees. When I come inside to enjoy my second cup of coffee I know that every animal has had breakfast, a warm place for a clean and dry repose, and water to spare. This is the magic that turns a loud farm of whinnies and bleats into a quiet place. Not even the chickens coo and cluck as they pick at grain and cracked corn. Noise is a wonderful thing but eating is better. I am not looking for a meal yet, and find myself growing less hungry every day. I usually wait till 2Pm to have one meal of the day, though I am trying to start with a better breakfast. I make a note to start tomorrow earlier with some oatmeal and honey. For today, just coffee and later... hot chai. I have words to deal with now.
I write for a few hours, working on the novel Birchthorn. Over 15 thousand words into that novel now, and it is coming along at a farmer's pace. I imagine it'll be finished by late spring at around fifty thousand words, a chunky novella. The new section will be uploaded tomorrow morning to the blog for the Kickstarter members. When that is done I update the blog a bit. A mention of the importance of Game Night inspired by a post I saw on twitter. The farm is quiet but the tweets can be heard.
After the writing was done the house reached a comfortable 58 degrees and it was noon. I turned on the little space heater in my small bathroom with a shower stall. I took a short shower and it was heavenly. Hot water is more appreciated after an hour in the cold with firewood and the smell of male goat pee and a few more hours sitting still at a computer. After the soak I gussied up a bit an then got right back into my farm clothes after the shower. I felt cleaner. My head felt clearer, too.
With creative work and chore work done I checked emails, which is pretty much an act of hope. I check to see if anyone has sent word of work, through signing up for classes and workshops, looking for design or writing freelance, and like that. No one had any word of income coming my way, so I set into small-time entrepreneur mode. I extended some discounts on sales, spoke with a possible show hog client who may need a logo, and posted some stuff for sale on craigslist. Then I started another tactic, checking with ad sales I am soliciting and folks who I have content agreements for. I scheduled some writing assignments for later in the week for myself. It's about an hour of business correspondance, all done standing at the kitchen computer, my 2002 eMac. That old computer in my farmhouse kitchen is how all money comes into this farm. Besides a few random voluntary blog subscribers through paypal, it was a day without any other income. Things being how they are, that is concerning but not scary. Not yet.
I never checked the weather though. That was a mistake.
I headed out to get the four things the farm needed most: hay, feed, fuel, and friends. It was around 1PM at this point and even though farm, blog, and writing work was done there was more to do outside the property. My trip in the truck meant I'd be seeing to all four I called Gibson and we headed out to the little two lane highway that our errands made.
The truck stalled on the way. Can't worry about that right now.
First trip of the day took us north to Hebron to talk to Nelson Greene, a tireless flirt and a sweet man. In his late 70's he has no problem at all hitting on me and goofing off. It's our schtick and I joke right back. What can I say? The man sells great hay. I figure in your late 70's you can get away with a lot, and he does, and I adore him for it. I loaded up hay quickly and then walked over to his shop where he was working on repairing an old Papa Bear, a beast of a wood stove. Now, it was in the high teens, and here was this giant of a man, welding a stove in the same work shirt and pants I see him in, in all weathers, and a thick cap. Most men his age were not out in their shops welding new walls on a wood stove, most men his age weren't outside at all. And most men would have scrapped that rusty stove for junk, but Nelson doesn't say no to any repair projects. We chatted and talked Border Collies and cattle (his old border collie, Sport, is a dog of legend around here) and he told me that someone told him recently about "cow tipping" and had I ever heard of it? I laughed and said only people who don't live around cows think they can tip them, but let them try. He shook his head and laughed, a dairyman his entire life and never once would he consider trying to push a ton of heifer over.
With bales in the back of the truck handed over I headed south to Salem Farm Supply. There I walked in with Gibson and we picked up a few things for the farm. We got 150lbs of feed, and some small errands inside. Gibson shopped on his own while I looked around at the holiday stuff out on display. Farm stores do not sell fancy holiday stuff. They sell lights and some hearty ornaments and tree stands. When at checkout the folks who run the joint showed me their "ugly holiday sweater contest" and brought out this hideously wonderful sweater. I grinned like the Grinch! They explained that when a local business is wearing it you are supposed to drop in a few bucks in their charity collection buckets. I laughed and said I just handed Nelson Greene all my cash and would be back later in the week. As I left they turned on a dancing Santa Hat which lit up and played carols. Gibson was certain this hat was possessed by a demon. His eyes got huge and I was worried for a second he would try and eat it. He didn't. He just backed up slowly out of the cash register area making the sign of the cross.
When we left the store building at Salem Farm Supply I walked over to the loading dock area where the grain is set into your truck. The man who brings out the grain is usually very terse. Not in anyway mean or disrespectful, just quiet and not into small talk. When he saw the bales in my truck, the load of grain, and the sky above swirling with the promise of snow, he suddenly felt chatty. "Getting ready for tomorrow?" he asked, smiling. I knew what that meant. I had a car full of feed, for many types of animals. I remembered I forgot to check the weather...
"How much?" I asked. He knew what I meant. How much snow was on the way? Usually I check the weather every hour or so, but the morning was a mess of monsters, money concerns, and cold weather. I didn't check the future because I was dealing with the bitter present. We talked for a while about the weather and I adjusted the day's plan because of it. When I got home around 3PM I would start chores early. I'd get the pigs a full fresh bale of bedding and extra feed. I'd make sure all the buckets frozen since the morning were defrosted again, ice broken, and comfort prepared well before dark.
I drove past Patty and Mark's place to see if they were home for a visit. They weren't, so I left their driveway and turned back south towards Cold Antler. Last trip of the day was to Stewart's, our local chain of gas stations/ice cream parlors and there I got some diesel and gasoline and coffee for myself. It isn't great coffee, but it's our coffee. I drink it with gusto.
At home the stove had all but gone out. Just embers and the temperature had dropped back to 55. I got a fire restarted with some dry kindling and pine twigs from the spruce trees outside. It lit up again in a second. I checked email and got a "maybe' about a design job and that was enough to buoy my spirits. I sat down and worked on some other design projects, one very important. I was doing some cards for folks donating to the Mission Nadia project over at Firecracker Farm. The Daughtons asked if I could make up something as a thank you for those who donate towards the adoption of Nadia. I share this here incase any of you would like to check it out, and support a worthy cause. Then it was off to chores again, afternoon, pre-storm, edition.
The animals were all ready for another meal. I repeated the morning routine and then spent some time in the pig pen. The four pegs out there were growing thicker and hairier. They were not at harvest weight yet, but coming along. I poured some corn into their feeding bowl, which they promptly spilled and started eating out of the dirty hay from last night's bedding. They were busy so I went to work moving in new hay, filling feeders and water troughs, and getting them settled for the snow. I sat in their pigoda and watched them eat. I tried to get better pictures but they are not still creatures. But you can see a side shot of the big male. He's around 140lbs I'd guess. Another month or two, then off to the folks who co-own them.
By this point it is dark and I am growing tired. A gal can only do so much. The firewood was still needing to be pulled inside for the night. The hawk needed fresh water and training indoors. I had been bringing Italics in for flight practice to the glove and lure training. After we work inside I set him on my fist and we watch a movie together. He is growing used to the dogs now, and used to me again after the long summer molt. I hope to be hunting with him again in a short while.
The day ended around 8PM, and yet I am still up. I wanted to write this, catch up with friends online (Guild raid at 8pm-10pm), and there was this post I wanted to share. IT matters to me that I can come here and share a Monday like this. A Monday with men fixing wood stoves in the cold, with pig pen pictures, with dogs scared of Santa Hats, and with the fine work of keeping all the balls in the air. Tomorrow is a new day, a snow day (expecting close to a foot) and I will need my rest for shoveling, roof raking, and that bowl of oatmeal I promised myself. But for now I am happy to curl under those skins again with my dog, and be warm, tired, fed, and happy. The house is 60 degrees and in that den it will be 80 degrees or better of solid rest, a good six hours or so. What a joy that will be! In my dreams I think of wonderful things, and it is as if I am there.
I'm glad I stayed up later than planned. This farm is now an hour warmer.