Winter sucks. As a child growing up in a suburb outside of Denver, CO I became accustomed to cold and snow; 4 years of living on the Eastern Plains 40-ish miles southeast of D-town I learned just how cold winter wind can be. Blowing snow that scratched your face until it bled, more akin to dermabrasion than precipitation, seeping though every crack of the house and every seam in our clothes. It got pretty damn cold, sure, but nothing compared to what Old Man Winter has unleashed on us this year.
The cold is very different here in southwest Michigan. The humidity adds a bone-chilling depth to the cold that makes it so hard to shake off. Our move from Colorado to Michigan actually took place in December 2011 and began at about 7pm MST, and at one point our daughter Ivy’s hair actually froze to the inside of the car’s window as she slept. My toes got so cold my knees ached, and the possibility of breaking down in rural Nebraska and being stranded in that cold was a huge worry. When we finally made it and tucked kids into beds the next night, not even a hot shower could chase the chill away. The rest of the winter was cold, dotted with blizzards and resulting school snow days here and there. The winter of 2012 had its moments but really wasn’t bad. This year, not so much. That miserable drive in December ’11 was a weekend in Cancun compared to this winter.
The coldest temp I’ve seen so far during this ‘polar vortex’ was -37*F. The towels and old baby blankets that we rolled and used as extra draft protection all froze to the windows- inside the house. Our water pump in the barn became so brittle the metal handle snapped, and most of our buckets cracked as the water in them froze and expanded. The kids layered on socks and multiple sweatshirts and drew in the frost on the windows even as the furnace churned away. We kept the thermostat at 66* to conserve our fast-dwindling propane, adding more covers to the beds and wrapping blankets around the kids’ shoulders. They looked like miniature hobos gathered around LEGOs instead of barrel fires. The snow continued to fall and the drifts continued to build, doors froze shut and our driveway remained impassible no matter how many times it was cleared. Our huge German Shepherd had to dig for several minutes in order to make himself a spot to crap without his butt in the snow while the barn cats tiptoed across the surface looking supremely annoyed. Mama Cat and Fearless made themselves a nice snug cat condo inside a loosely-tied bale of straw and were probably warmer than we were in our beds at night.
We burned through 20 bales of hay in a month and added fresh straw to the goat pens daily, furry circles with ears and horns curled up in pockets in the piled bedding. They slept in windrows and, for once, allowed the chickens to snuggle up too. Colonel Sanders the rooster will lose most of his impressive wattles to frostbite damage despite being moved into the barn. Baby Henry reluctantly wore his goat coat and sweaters, bounding around Pixie’s kidding pen as the wind howled away through the barn’s soffits. If force of will alone could raise the temperature it would feel like July around here by now.
Winter sucks, this winter especially. But it’s going to end. Every day the kids and I look at the forecast for the upcoming ten days and rejoice at any projected rise in the mercury. “It’s almost over, Mom” they assure me when I worry aloud about our animals in the barn. When I declared open season on Punxsatawney Phil they jokingly ran for their boots, ready to go groundhog hunting. As rough as this winter has been, we are still so blessed. We haven’t lost power at all (for once!) Our propane held out until the truck could get through to refill our tank. Thanks to our freezers, food storage and preference for cooking from scratch we didn’t run out of anything all that vital. Aside from one white-knuckle 360degree spin-out on black ice we didn’t get into any accidents. Despite multiple fake-outs (as always) none of our uber-pregnant mama goats delivered in the arctic temperatures. Although their cabin fever has to be worse even than ours, we haven’t lost any animals to illness or freezing (knock on wood.) Our roofs have held and our old furnace has chugged on like a boss. We’ve been given a pretty good look at just where we need to concentrate our energy in preparing for future winters and which priorities need to jump straight to the top of the list (two words: WOOD STOVE.)