Maria will tell you that I am relentlessly scatter-brained about many things, but not about winter. I am a Winter Scholar, a specialist. I start reading the Farmer’s Almanac as soon as it comes out, I talk to farmers all the time, I sniff the apple trees for clues and watch the deer – both are said to know what kind of winter is coming.
The forecasters all say this will be a hard and nasty winter, the farmers, for once, agree and so does the Farmer’s Almanac. No reason not to be prepared.
I spent some rugged winters in Hebron on the first Bedlam Farm, and if not for a faithful and vigilant dog, might have paid for it with my life. I remember crawling across an ice pack from the basement to the pasture with a hose wrapped around my neck in four feet of snow.
Those winters taught me never to under-estimate winter, leave it for the last minute, or be too distracted to prepare for it.
Maria is not obsessive about winter, she is a woodland elf and gets very distracted by her art. She doesn’t often take the long view. Nothing keeps me from planning for winter, pestering all kinds of people about it, plotting and scheming to get ahead of it.
This process takes careful planning and the constant search for good hay and good people and relentless telephone harassment to get them to come before October. Up here, the good people are always busy, and their work lives are unpredictable. I have perfected the art of genial nagging, I believe I have to make it easier for them to come than to put us off.
Mostly, it works. I only work with people I respect or love. They can handle me, but they know they will have to come or there will be no peace. Maria laughs at me about this, but I have sworn that we will never run out of hay or firewood in the winter.
This week, after a dozen phone calls, Jay Bridge came to the house and installed a new frost-free faucet, our back-up emergency outdoor water supply should the line to the barn freeze up, as it did two winters ago. Jay spread a lot of duct tape and heating wires around as well.
Monday, Vince Vechio is coming with his son to dump a truckload of gravel into our pole barn, and replace the gravel we dug out over the summer, shoveling manure and such. He will also smooth out our gravel driveway to prevent the runts and potholes than can wreak havoc in snow and ice storms.
Brian and Sandy Adams have brought us 120 bales of hay and stacked it in the barn. I will order another 300 soon, we do have a hungry pony and four large and hungry new sheep.
Jay also did some insulation work in the basement to keep the water pipes to the barn from freezing as they did in that awful winter of 2014.
I started ordering firewood in June, and we have seven cords of dry wood stacked in the woodshed and under tarps out back. We almost ran out of wood last winter, that will not happen this winter. Jay also came and repaired some cracks and problems in our slate roof, they can worsen in the winter.
Greg Burch brought three truckloads, Tyler Lindenholl, a working dynamo, came to stack it. It is all in.
Last week, Maria patched some holes in the barn and we stapled up new chicken wire to keep the equines from gnawing on the barn on snowy days. We have some grain and treats stored in cans in the barn. Once Vince comes, we will be ready, and the Winter Specialist will be happy.
And proud. This is not a skill I would have thought I might acquire in my life.
I’m hoping our pastures will yield grass deep into November, but we will be ready either way. On Monday, the Winter Specialist can look in the mirror and say we are ready. Bring it on.