Laughs, Lies and Pillowcases: My Winter Toolbox

Red Fox
Red Fox

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Welcome back to Magnetic North, where we ricochet between spring mush and winter ice within the space of a long weekend. I prefer mush. Sure, ice keeps the orthopedic surgeons fully employed, but mushy snow has it’s own treachery.

Case in point: last week we had a short-lived thaw. The expanse of deep snow was no longer crusty enough for a big dog like our yellow Lab, Scout, to walk upon. Instead, the snow took on the consistency of library paste…only without that yummy taste. Still rock-hard were the snaky little paths I’ve trodden between house and chicken coop and barn. Rock-hard, narrow and slippery as the proverbial eel. So in essence, what you have then is a greased balance beam flanked by a sea of goo…deep, cold goo.

I know from experience. My first trip out on that spring-like day found me soon on my backside, flailing like a June bug as I sank deeper and deeper into the mush. Scout stood by me, for all the good that did. My three white geese circled me, shrieking and flapping their wings. And the six goats began slipping under the corral fence and heading my way - “Oh, good. Mom is being funny again!” I don’t begrudge the critters a good chuckle at my expense. After all, we humans get through winter pretty much on just that kind of other-directed humor. It’s not wrong. It’s what’s needed.

Frankly, my winter survival tool kit employs laughing at other people frequently. But this time, as my jeans got soggier, my humor grew darker and, with a growl that sent my dog and geese running for their lives, I became vertical. Sheer fury flipped me from back to belly, then I wiggled hands, elbows, chin, knees and so forth into something of a downward-facing dog posture. From there, it was one very careful move to get back on the balance beam, I mean, the path. And then on to the chicken coop where my 13 hens, two roosters and four ducks would cluck and quack my praises as I scattered grain and lay mash around their newly-filled bucket of sparkling clean water. All this adulation and delicious eggs too? How could any effort be too great?

But as rewarding as the birds are, their coop presents its own challenges, ice or mush or mud. That day, as I set the water bucket inside the door to the run, I noticed new animal tracks around the wired perimeter. Fox? Again? Then I spied a hole big enough for a fox to crawl through about two feet off the snow line on the far end of the run. No problem. I keep wire cutters in my coat pocket and chicken wire in the coop. Within five minutes, I’d patched the hole and was on my way out of the run. At least, I would have been on my way out had the door to the run not been jammed from the outside. Some moron left a shovel leaning up against the doorframe and the thing shifted just enough to trap me inside the run. What to do now? Cut my way out and face making an even bigger patch? The prospect of that got my nanny again. Employing a woman’s mightiest weapon, I aimed my right hip at wooden door and “WHAM!” it gave way. I was out.

Two disasters down and who knows how many to go, it was on to the barn. I usually do the barn chores first, but that day I saved them for last because I had a new technique for dealing with my llama, Summer. Summer has something of a prima donna attitude about being groomed and given shots. Forget manicuring her hooves!
A fellow goat enthusiast who got suckered into the “Llamas make great guardian animals” scam clued me in. “Do this and I’ll guarantee you, she won’t move,” my friend said. And I believed her. Because she is a nurse who helped save my life once. And, because I know where she lives.

The technique is simple: put a pillowcase over the llama’s head. That’s it. Seriously. Of course, this requires having the creature somewhat confined, preferably on a lead tied to a stout tree. But sure enough, once I pulled that light blue cotton pillowcase over Summer’s head, she froze. Stood there like a stone monkey while I tickled her tummy, lifted her back foot off the ground and combed out one of her ten thousand dreadlocks. And miracle of miracles, when I removed the pillowcase from her gorgeous head, she just looked at me with those enormous brown eyes like, “Oh, it’s you! Got any grain?” I was so excited at the prospect of being able to care for Summer without risking life and limb that when I went inside the house and Paul asked me how I got so wet, I couldn’t remember.

“I hope you didn’t fall down out there,” he said, fixing me with THAT LOOK. “It was more of a gradual slide to the ground than a fall,” I replied. “No big deal.” OK, I lied. But again, whatever works to get us through these next few months is justified. The alternative is being somewhere else in the winter months. Someplace hot, crawling with people. And kudzu. Someplace where not even laughs, lies and pillowcases could save my sanity. But then, like most of us who love living here, I find that sanity is highly overrated.

Airdate: February 26, 2011

Photo courtesy of Jaanus Silla via Flickr.

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