Winter tracking

Waking to an outside temperature of -25 C this morning, I kicked into a different gear. When it’s that cold (about -12 for readers who use Fahrenheit), we try to head straight outside with extra food for the chickens. I was particularly grateful this morning for the fact that we finally got a water heater hooked up in time for this winter; not having to handle the water on these sub-zero days is rather nice.

Reggie came out with me this morning, and hardly seemed to notice the cold. He took his time to check out whatever scent may linger in the snowprints of various small animals that have tracked across our hillside. I love the pale blue tinge to the snow at that time of day, and the soft warmth of the light coming from the east. It was worth it to slow down a little and pay attention. It always is.

black-labrador-retriever-following-scent-in-snow

black-lab-in-winter

black-lab-sniffing-animal-prints-in-snow

black-dog-in-snow

And then it was winter, sort of

It’s been a funny old winter so far. After a couple of good snows in November, we had a curiously un-wintery December. We chopped down our Christmas tree early in the month in very muddy conditions, and welcomed a grey Christmas day that felt distinctly unseasonal. We did go for a long, rambling walk through our woods with the dog that day, and there wasn’t even the slightest hint of snow to come. The new year brought a strange combination of snow, rain and then freezing rain, leaving a glistening carapace on absolutely everything in sight.

It looks like it’ll be the kind of winter that will be hard for placing memories and milestones. I know that my youngest did manage to fit in a bit of sledding with friends, but I’m already unsure of exactly when that would have happened. Probably November, which seems eons ago.

A different point of view

RC buggy by frozen pond

Today was the last day of school before Christmas; it definitely wasn’t the last day of work for my husband or me, but it was certainly a milestone. The household will have a different rhythm for the next couple of weeks. We’re all hoping for more snow in anticipation of some snow shoeing, snowy walks and maybe a backwoods ski.

Our older boy, however, is really hoping for some nice cold temperatures and a hard crust on our land. He’s a budding mechanical engineer and in his spare time he scratch builds remote control vehicles, amongst other things. Reviewing the latest images on my camera tonight, I found a series of shots taken down at our pond. The landscape is so familiar, but it’s transformed by the subject matter and my son’s perspective. It’s a great reminder that we share a love for this place, but how we see it is defined by who we are.

RC buggy on frozen stream

The fuel that keeps warming you

Dead elm tree in segments

We live an area affected quite significantly by Dutch Elm disease and the Emerald Ash Borer. Anyone familiar with pictures from our land will know that it’s dotted generously with dead trees standing amongst the living. For the most part, this represents wood that we will get around to harvesting as and when we can.

Heading into this winter, we were aware of a large elm behind our house that really needed to come down. We also knew we wouldn’t tackle it on our own. It was simply too close to the house and we’re just not that experienced with felling trees. We called the experts in, and one morning they came, felled it and cut the trunk into 16-inch lengths. Sadly, I was out the morning this happened, and I only got to hear about it afterwards from my husband and our youngest son. Apparently, the tree made a fantastic ‘whomp’ when it hit the ground, shaking even our concrete house. I wish I had been at home for that!

Later that day, Reggie had a blast exploring the tree that was now laid out across our back lawn, a broken echo of its former self.

Dog exploring fallen tree

dog-exploring-under-branches-of-felled-tree

If you’ve never tried to split elm, you don’t know true frustration. It’s a fibrous wood that hangs on and puts up a fight. This was definitely the year to invest in a better axe than the one we’d been using, and my husband put in the research before making a final choice. It’s from Fiskars and it’s every bit as good as the reviews said it would be. Part one of the clear up was splitting those 16-inch lengths into logs for the woodstove and hauling them over to the chicken coop where our outdoor wood storage sits.

Father and son at wood splitting time

Fortunately, our youngest loves to use the handcart for hauling just about anything, but especially wood. Which meant that cutting up the thin branches for kindling fell in large part to me.

Clipping branches

Our older boy came home from a shift at the library in time to help out with branch clean up and raking.

Clearing up after a felled tree

Happy to help in his own way, Reggie snagged bits of branches here and there and generally kept the mood fun.

Dog with a stick in his mouth

Wood is that amazing fuel that warms more than once. It warms when you cut it down, again when you split and haul it for seasoning and storage, again when you carry it indoors (when perhaps you also split larger logs before burning), and finally when it burns. How good is that?

First snow

First snow of the year

Just last weekend we were outside doing a final clean up of a felled tree and the attendant firewood before the snow flew. And fly it did, a proper snow on Monday, November 17th. A full two weeks ahead of last year, which was already early for where we live. Last year’s snow was heavy and never left; this year’s start to winter has been pretty fierce, but it looks as though it was a little too early. We’re promised a melt and warmer temperatures at least one more time before winter truly settles in.

Boy walking in first snow

That first snow is so special to children and I loved watching my youngest son through the window as he gingerly made his way outside for a first play before school on Monday. Making the year’s first snowprints.

First snowprints in November

That first day was pretty, almost magical, every branch in sight feathered with the stuff, the air only just cold enough for a snowfall. By the next day, the temperature had dropped and the wind was biting, but blue skies returned. Along with shoveling routines.

Boy shovelling snow

Snow does have a way of transforming ordinary objects into something otherworldly. It makes you look at everything afresh, even an old, much-patched aluminum canoe.

Silver canoe in snow

Meanwhile, our chickens are tucked up for the long months ahead, just getting on with business as usual.

Rooster crowing

P.S. I can’t even begin to imagine what the residents of Buffalo, New York are doing with the epic snowfall they’ve just been walloped by.