Thanks to guest writer Tenzicut from Down to the Roots magazine for penning this off-grid diary:
I looked out the window this morning and saw the cattle at the fence waiting for their meal. I had not yet had my own. Before the cows started pushing on the fence, I got into the thick wool sweater from the second hand store, wool army pants I have had for the last 15 years, a heavy winter coat, a touque and my fur hat. Last to go on were the Sorrel boots. It is funny, but taking ten minutes to get dressed even to go outside for a mere five minutes, is routine at this time of the year. The memory of Summer is like a vacation a long, long time ago.
The first breath of the cold air as I stepped off the front porch filled my lungs and started me coughing uncontrollably. If you have never been out at those temperatures, the closest thing I can think of how to explain it, is that it feels like the ‘fur’ on the inside of your lungs stands up and freezes instantly. Your nose also freezes shut instantly.
I carefully walk across the driveway and across the area where in the summertime there is a large garden and raised beds, but at this time of year there is not a hint of what lays beneath. The path to follow is much nicer than the day before, when I was slogging through fresh laid snow well over knee high. I always laugh when I start to “grumble” about the hard work it is to walk though the snow to do chores and then I remember people pay good money to go to Gold’s Gym. I get the exercise for free and I am not stuck like a gerbil on a wheel in a room with a lot of hot sweaty people. Besides, the outdoors, albeit cold, was showing Mother Nature in all her shining glory. The sun was bright and reflecting from every tree branch which were still weighed down with the last couple snows.
As I grab the pitchfork to start chucking hay from the round bale to the cows, I realize I made the mistake of not putting my gloves back into my coat pockets. I have no gloves. Between every 2 forkfuls of hay pitched over the fence, I have to rub my hands together and put them in my front pockets of my army pants to warm up. As the cows look askance at me, I apologize and tell them I will try not to be so stupid again. “Daisy” my Jersey milk cow has a fringe of frost on her eyelashes and I wonder if I look like that too. It would not be the first time. Her red calf, is covered in a frosting of white.
Due to not having any gloves, the feeding of the cows took a little longer than anticipated. But it finally got done. Now finished with them, I sidetrack to the house to find any pair of gloves. My hands instantly thank me. Frostbite is a serious reality right now.
We have recently started to haul water in the 5 gallon bottles which stores sell for water coolers. We used to haul in 5 gallon buckets, but the boys found out and let me in on the secret that the bottles fit better on the toboggan and have no spillage. We have to haul water, feed and hay on the toboggan to all the animals as there is not a hope that a wheelbarrow can make it through the snow drifts. In fact, one of our wheelbarrows was left out before the snows and cold temperatures arrived a few months ago and will be stuck in place until May or June when the ground thaws. It is solidly adhered to the ground.
Although we have a new well, it is not hooked up and there are no lines to the barns until Spring when the ground thaws. We now give the turkeys and chickens water in large low tubs as it will freeze within 15 minutes or so in their regular caterers. We have to take the tubs out and beat them to get the remaining water, now turned ice, out, so they can be refilled. It is also a fine line with the poultry for their housing. If it is too cold, the barn must be shut up. We have already had one Rhode Island Red rooster whose comb has been claimed by frostbite this year. Which is why I mostly wanted close combed breeds. If the barn is shut up however, though it is large enough for three times the amount of birds and plenty of sawdust on the floor, the ammonia smell gets very overpowering. So when it is even as cold as it is as today, the barn doors and windows are open on the south side. The turkeys are shivering a bit, but I give them extra corn and peas and I think they will be fine. They have been through colder weather and as long as they have food and unfrozen water, they should get through this as well.
In the woodshed I check on the rabbit. Only one individual of our rabbit herd lives here currently, as the does are pregnant and stay at a friends house who has a better place to keep them at the moment. Our barn will be built sometime next summer. This male rabbit is doing fine. I always automatically look for various wildlife tracks in the snow to see if the fox has returned. He hasn’t. I grab a couple armfuls of wood and put them on the toboggan to haul to the wood sling down at the house, for our only heat is woodstove. The boys will bring more down later to make sure the sling is filled. In this weather, the sling only holds a day and a half’s amount of fuel.
Though I know most of these chores will have to be repeated in 12 hours, along with the evening chores, such as feeding the sled dogs and the odd little thing such as getting produce out of the root cellar I don’t mind this lifestyle (other than the very rare “Why do I do this?” when I am not feeling well). I know it is not the life for everyone — living in the bush in northern Canada. This land can be very harsh and brutal, and if you dear reader, think that this cold day was bad, it can get far worse. Though our winters are up to 8 months long, things such as the Northern Lights make up for it. I wouldn’t change a thing. I love our life here.
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