Welcome back to Magnetic North, where Mother Nature showed her Mommy Dearest face to us through the holidays and beyond.
It came to be called the Polar Vortex. A bracing name for being held in the grip of incessant snowy days at temperatures well below zero. Bringing all the attendant woes along with it.
My little part of the world got off easy. At first.
The pre-Christmas snow dumped a skinny 18 inches on the farm. But since the wind blew for three days and nights, I shoveled and blew those 18 inches multiple times in order to carry grain, water and hay to my critters.
The path to the barn was the toughest.
Since the expanse of yard is wide open to the south, the direction of the lake effect snow and wind, the 300-foot-long path drifted over time and again. And although goats are one of the two domesticated creatures on earth who can go feral and survive nicely, thank you - the other being cats - I feel compelled to make that trek at least once daily with vittles for them.
Their hay is stored in one side of my two-car garage, right outside my back door. Last year it was stored in the barn, so when I sprained my ankle doing chores in February, I merely opened the door between the goat stable and hay storage area and told them: “You’re on your own!” A fine solution.
At first. Come summer, the once towering hay bales had been trampled to a thick floor, the barn loft and its contents invaded and strewn about.
But it wasn’t all bad.
I finally found the Fisher-Price castle and purple dragon my sweet husband had “put away” in the loft 10 years before the birth of my grandchildren - they are now 8 and 12. And the hay mat covering the barn floor gave the youth group from my church a dandy project last fall.
Then there was the Polar Vortex. I could be wrong, but it seemed as though we had snow for weeks, even during the plunge into the nether regions below zero. So much for “too cold to snow.”
And so much for Christmas day plans.
A friend and I visited the Maple Hill cemetery that day with the intention of putting beautiful wreaths on our husbands’ resting places. (Why is it so icky to say the word “graves?”)
It was the first Christmas without them for both of us. So being with them in some way seemed quite fitting.
We brought snowshoes. Ladders would have really helped.
The one plowed road into the cemetery and past the little white Maple Hill Church over looking the harbor had 4-foot-high sides. Those walls of snow were hard-packed enough for me to wedge the toes of my snowshoes in and clamber up and over them. Only 10 or so feet to Paul’s grave marker. Ten or so feet in 23-oot-deep snow.
What was supposed to be a sweet story turned quickly into a contender for winner of World’s Funniest Videos.
Suffice it to say that I got my wreath on the metal rod sticking up over Paul’s plot. And while doing it I had the very real sensation of far-off chuckling. What we do for love!
The week leading up to New Year’s Day found our county sinking farther and farther down into the minuses. Highs were laughably reported in minus double digits. Snowbirds cruelly telephoned to see if we were OK. Give me a break! We know why they called!
My troubles of 2014 began Jan. 1 when I turned into a new ‘ driveway to welcome them to the ‘hood with fresh-layed eggs and a stollen I’d baked. Into the ditch I went. Lucky for me they were home. And super nice. We got to know each other well as I waited for the tow truck. But by the time I pulled out of their driveway I’d already missed a New Year’s Day party so headed home to feed the critters.
That’s when I found I had no water.
No water. And four 5-gallon buckets to fill twice a day. Not to mention MY needs.
Ah, but all that snow, you say. My daughter in California told me that it was so lucky I had - by this time - several feet of snow I could harvest and melt for anything I needed.
I won’t repeat what I said to her. But fact is that a spaghetti pot full of snow melts down to just over an inch of water. And there is always “stuff” in that water.
Again, luck was on my side, though. The former owner of this place tapped an artesian spring, routed it into our lower level into a huge tile and blessed all future occupants with emergency water backup.
And so, in the 48 hours it took me to find the rogue pipe - the one to the outside spigot that SOMEONE had removed the pink fuzzy insulation from - I did just fine.
Until the sink drain plugged up.
Now city folks get snarly when a drain clogs. But up here, in winter, after a few cosmic ha-has and with a nifty grey-water line given to freezing, one goes right from irritated to panic.
Finding all other drains open and draining well, I grabbed the tools of my trade - drain opener poison and a 2-yard long plumber’s snake and went to work. The poison proved worthless, so to the snake.
And voila! With only a few easy twists in the drain, the snake opened the clog! I patted myself on the back and yodeled a victory cry.
Then I perceived a wet sensation around my slipped feet. Water, poison water, yet, was pooling on the floor.
Again, that chuckling somewhere around me came. And with it a reminder of what Paul always told me: “You’ll be fine. You can fix anything.”
Well, I tried. I got all the parts, spend lots of quality time on my back upside down, head in a place where garbage and other creepy stuff dwells - Josh Grobin in the background helped - to no avail. At last, I did what my mother always told me: “Get someone who knows what they’re doing!”
Meanwhile, the snow continued. The path to the barn drifted and, eventually, the drifts sucked the power going to the electric fence right into their greedy depths.
The goats, all five, stood OUTSIDE the fence looking over the drifts at me. I stood at the back deck, new bale of hay on the sled. And I did the only sane thing. I bleated at them. “Come and get it!”
Shocked, they looked at each other and didn’t move.
“Come to me...” I bleated....”Or else!”
And so they did. Their path was serpentine, not straight. But then, they’re goats. And for over a week now, even though snowing every day has ceased and the daytime highs are actually in the positive double digits, I continue to put the hay by the woodshed just a few feet from the back door and the goats come to me.
Why didn’t I think of this decades ago?
The real proof that our deep freeze has abated came in the way folks would say hello and goodbye then and now. “How ya doing” and “Have a good one” became “Man, this is really somethin’ isn’t it?“ and “Stay warm.”
And the snowbirds don’t call to gloat, I mean, commiserate, so often.
In all, there is a sort of smugness that descends on us after nature gives us a going over and we are still standing, water running, drains draining, critters surviving. A hilarity at a sunny day showing up all the dust and dog hair. A catch in the throat at the Day-Glo peach and rose sunset over the harbor.
We have been in the whirlpool, the vortex, the roller coaster on its way down thrall and thrill of winter. And don’t we just love it?