It seems like months since the temperature was above freezing, but it was only a week and a half ago. The warm spell, with highs in the low 40s, was short lived, lasting only a couple of days. Then, right back into the freezer we went. My thermometer read 14 degrees below zero this morning, and itís time to add another layer to my attire. Iím setting new records for the amount of firewood being used in the woodstove. Every time I glance at the firewood that remains, itís like seeing it in time lapse—the pile grows smaller by the day. When the temperature is above 30 degrees, I use only about a third as much firewood—so yeah, a thaw from time to time would be nice.
Ask any farmer—when the weather gets very cold, there is always more work to do. Dealing with ice and thirsty livestock can be a challenge. A thousand unexpected surprises can pop up for the morning chores. Frozen barn door, frozen silage, frozen pipes, a broken drinking cup, flooded walkways, and donít forget the frozen manure spreader! Those are just a few of the many annoying surprises that come with extreme winter weather.
There are also many fond memories under this old hat, that take me back to a barn in a frozen setting, long ago. I remember the light bulb that shone down on the high piles of snow around the barn. I was a very young boy, following my aunt along a dark path leading to the barn. A soft yellow glow came from all the windows, giving me a hint of warmth somewhere beyond my frozen breath. We walked into a feed room and then slid a door open to the barn and stepped in, sliding the frosty white door behind us.
For me, it was like stepping into a whole new world that I had never seen before. All my senses jumped into action at the same time. All those huge yet gentle brown cows, lying in soft, golden straw. Lady, the collie, got up from her warm spot next to a cow, and trotted over to greet us, her tail wagging. The smells were fresh and earthy, but to me, most of them were unrecognizable. It took me a while but I figured out where most of the interesting new aromas were coming from, especially the smell of fresh cow manure. The smell of freshly opened bales of hay, ground corn, and oats, and a shovel full of something that smelled very sweet, from the silo.
A polka band played from a dust-covered radio on a shelf near the door, and the cows rattled their stanchions as we walked by. Then came a sound like someone shooting a water pistol into a metal pail. I soon could see it was my uncle Charlie on the far side of a standing cow. He was sitting on a small stool and leaning headfirst into the hindquarters of the cow with a pail under her legs. At first, I almost expected to see him squirting two water pistols into the pail, but I soon caught on to what he was doing. It was the first time I had seen such a thing, but it somehow looked very natural. Besides, my head was swimming with all I had seen so far, so nothing could surprise me.
That whole experience in the barn so many years ago is one that I never forgot. It was an adventure that inspired me to let farming into my life and has stayed with me to this day. It gave me a whole new perspective on what life is really like in the winter.
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