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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Stories from the Farm - the Different Faces of Winter

New year's greetings to one and all, and I hope everyone is getting used to writing 2016 instead of 2015 on all their documents! Speaking of transitions, when you live in a four-season climate like Ben and I do, there seems to be such a marked contrast between life in December and life in January. It's not just about the end of the holidays or about a new start although those transitions play in to the equation; it's about how we shift so abruptly from the warmth and gentleness of December's festive preparations and celebrations into basic survival mode of winter in January. I've experienced this transition all my adult life (and even written a poem or two about it). I've lived in this little section of southern Tippecanoe County for thirty-five years, twenty-five of them in a modest ranch-style home on one corner, and the past ten in a old yellow farm house on the next corner. I like to tell people we moved a mile down the road and a hundred years back in time. :) In all these years of country living, the shift in focus as we move past the holidays has always seemed abrupt - like jumping into a tub of ice-water!

Put Christmas away slowly

December dark and deep with verdant hues of gold and ruby,
Laughter mingles with the scents of baked ham or turkey in warm houses where
candles burn in windows, and carols drift over snow-covered, glowing branches.

The new year stretches out before us in stark, dark, frozen silence.

It hints at promise,
like the half spent candle floats
and flickers faintly in a clear glass bowl of water.

Once again we deal with the basic survival set, do
battle with the elements.

Yes, put Christmas away slowly.

As the days grow longer, gently fold
the last Christmas card away with its newsletter
into a torn envelope,
and lay it on the heap of Christmases past.

Winter winds bring us winter bouquets

More  of Junebug's writing at
This year is no different. December was extremely damp and wet. Sunless, in fact. No snow, however. But 9 days into January (and right on schedule) the winter winds picked up and the January temps dipped down to zero. This is when I brace for the usual onslaught of "winter woes." This year with all the rain in December, our outdoor faucet-handles locked up, our door-locks wouldn't turn, and the garage doors refused to stay shut. As a rule, the heating bill triples in January and the plumbing in this old house gets kinda slow and funky because the ground is either too frozen or too wet. In fact last winter some of the old galvanized plumbing between our outdoor pump and our indoor pressure tank which supplies the house with water rusted out. The cellar started to flood and we had to shut off the cold water to the side of the house which contains our laundry room and spare bathroom. So for about a month I was filling the washing machine with cold water from the kitchen sink until the ground could dry up enough for the excavators to dig up and replace the pipes. =:o Ah, the joys of living in an old farmhouse.

2016 found us emerging from a lovely, albeit somewhat hectic, holiday season and facing a hernia repair surgery for Ben the first week of January. All farm boys prefer to have their surgeries in the winter months with plenty of time to recoup for spring planting. It is now January 14th and Ben's recovery is going as well as can be expected for having a hole in his abdomen patched (ouch). But then one of our tires sprang a slow leak that won't seem to fix; and it snowed and of course Ben is not allowed on the tractor.

So I revisited the coping strategies of my single days (many years ago) and shoveled the walkways and backed the car and truck in and out of the garage several times to squash the snow drifts so that we could make it to Ben's follow-up appointment with his surgeon the next day. =:o

The other night when it was so cold, the internet was down and the electricity in the barn was dicey, resulting in partially frozen water-troughs for our mules and chickens. This morning my computer with its recently installed Windows 10 wouldn't boot. Our neighbor has been complaining of intermittent phone service. Recently I slipped on the ice and ended flat on my back staring up at the sky whilst visiting the bird feeders. At least a nice snow drift cushioned the fall. ;) In short, winter has a habit of unleashing a slew of gremlins. Of course over the years we've developed strategies to deal with these seasonal quirks. We leave cabinet-doors open so the water lines to the fridge don't freeze; we leave faucets dripping when the temps drop down into single digits; we cover the windows with plastic insulation (alas, this year I did not get around to that task, or to washing windows before Christmas - which is usually the time I like to shine and polish the house); and we double-up on supplies so we have enough food for ourselves and the animals should winter weather close the roads. Eventually I'd like to install a backup generator. But those can be quite pricey, so for now we at least have the old kerosene lamps. ;)

I've learned several valuable lessons over the years: one of them is that you can be comfortable outside year-round as long as you have the right clothes! Gloves, boots, and wool socks from the farm store as well as a warm, hooded jacket purchased from Goodwill on senior-discount day make all the difference between a nice, long visit in the barn when you go out to feed and, well, ... chapped skin, numb toes, frostbite, and the sniffles. The Goodwill jacket recently has replaced the wonderful, warm, rain-proof, stuffed, hooded, royal-blue broad-cloth and polyester-knit $50.00 coat lined with green- and tan-plaid fleece that I got on sale for only $12.00 from Sears in the late 1980's when Sears was still on the levee. The old blue coat now has a rip that goes from the top left shoulder all the way down to the bottom right hem. The bottoms of the pockets have long-disappeared into the coat's lining and the stuffing falls out and catches on the chicken-wire in the barn. It was the best, warmest, and at one time the prettiest coat ever made. It took me to work and to church in style and saw me through all nighters at the computing center while I was working on my degree but I finally had to let it go.

I've also learned that space heaters are nice and this year I tried water pipe insulation from Menards on our basement pipes.

memories of winters past
On my way home from work one howling winter evening in 1992, I got stuck in a snow drift on county road 500 east, which hadn't yet been plowed. I had to leave the car and walk to a neighbor's to call Ben who went out and shoveled the truck bed full of snow so he could come to my rescue. My hero! We finally made it home around 10 pm  that night and I took this photo sometime the next day.
A shot of Ben plowing out our driveway at our old farmhouse in 2012  with his old Ford tractor.

But I really can't complain. This summer Ben helped a good neighbor and friend fix his horse barn and re-fence his pasture. In return, Rodney has been coming every day, twice a day, to feed the mules and chickens while Ben recuperates from his surgery - so essentially I am the "back-up" plan. Today, as I write, we're having a January thaw. The ground is soft and the outdoor faucets work. Only patches of this week's snow remain. We were lucky this time. The chickens are happily free-ranging with only an occasional visit from me to scare off a passing coyote or fox. The sunlight feels warm and wonderful pouring in through the kitchen picture window, brightening the whole house, and reminding me that, yes, winter has many faces.

Yes, there are winter woes, but there is also "winter's rest." While the nights are long, all the trees and fields slumber; the squirrels occasionally come out of hibernation to visit their stockpiles; and the winter birds flock to the feeders on cold winter days. I actually welcome the opportunity to put the outdoors aside for a few months. Winding down from all the holiday preparations usually brings a big sigh of relief. In fact it's nice to be able to see past Christmas as you go through it - something that's taken me a long time to learn while juggling career, school, and family life. But now that I'm retired, I can see it. This time of year the house is still clean from holiday preparations; and because of this year's surgery, I have not yet taken down the tree. I usually leave some lights up until the days get longer anyway. The indoors is pleasant and engaging during these short hours of daylight, inviting me to also stop and rest; to observe the winter birds and the beauties of the winter landscape; to reflect and to work on indoor hobbies and indoor life;  and to dream of spring gardening. :)

Celebrating the comforts of hearth and home in January 2016

Have a sweet winter's rest! And stay tuned for more winter stories from this farm on Indiana's wind-swept prairie. As my grandmother was fond of exclaiming, "Spring will be here before you know it!"


Solstice Advent

of red peppers
hang in the kitchen,
shriveled reminders of summer's garden.
Scent of drying cornstalks fills the air.
brown grass, cracked earth -
reminds that it's August,
rough and grousty
like a sweaty beard
that needs shaving.
Shrilling crickets, swell of locusts,
buzzing wings, and peeper's chorus,
summer's music.
On starry nights
lace curtains float out
from moonlit windows,
breezes glide across our faces.
as we dream.
Fall looms,
school bus engine,
pace picks up,
good-bye to freedom.
No grass to mow,
no garden to pick,
No flowers to water,
or hummingbirds to feed.
No wine to sip on front porch evenings.
The world is bleached, and cold, and still.
Roll up your windows!
Turn on the music!
Bring out the lights!
Retreat to the indoors!

More of Junebug's writing at

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