Out of the Cold (Written 2/17/21)
It has been just as much of a psychological battle as a physical one over the past week and a half.
Two Fridays ago, I was out cleaning the barn. The sun was shining. The wind was gentle from the south. I was working in a T-shirt.
Then I went indoors for an hour to take a phone call, and by the time I got back out to the wheelbarrow, there had been a change.
It was more a feeling than anything tangible. The sun was still shining, the air was still soft. But the wind, subtle and persistent, had shifted to the northeast.
Oh boy, I thought. Here it comes.
The cold front we had been expecting tiptoed in that afternoon, shod with slippers of steel. It came softly, gently, and viciously. Conditions steadily deteriorated. Snow came in layers and waves. The sun left us. Day after day and night after night, the temperatures dropped, dropped again, and dropped still further.
The wind continued hissing out of the northeast. The world withered and contracted in on itself. High temperature of ten on Monday. A high of five by Friday. Overnight lows of four below, nine below, ten degrees below zero. The cold was like a vice, gripping and pressing in and pressing down. It was inexorable, merciless, and relentless.
Living alone, out on the land, through years and through seasons, I'm not frightened by much. But this weather frightens me. Beyond the borders of my property, I sense evil. The wind breathes into my face, and I can taste danger and death.
All my focus, all my effort, all my heart and soul goes in to keeping that danger and death from touching all of those lives under my protection.
Every morning I do a head count. Rabbits. . . goats. . . everyone accounted for. No one leaves the barn. Even Mocha, the miniature donkey who is nonplussed by any weather, refuses to leave her shelter hut. I move rabbits around so that everyone has heat lamps. I throw down armfuls of hay for the goats to lie in. Refilling their hay racks is an almost-daily job.
The cold intensifies. Wind still from the northeast, and a wind-chill factor of thirty below. The sky is sullen and gray.
There's ice in the dogs' indoor water bowl in my laundry room. The washer quits working, its pipes frozen.
I thaw out and refill the rabbits' water bottles five times per day. I carry buckets of steaming hot water out to the barn to refill water tubs three times per day. My fingers get so numb that my cut thumb doesn't bleed until I get back indoors and peel off my gloves. I end up wearing socks on my hands instead, which lets my frigid fingers bunch together to conserve heat, while still allowing enough movement to open gates and handle hay. Alpaca socks inside my heavy boots. An extra pullover tugged on before zipping up my heavy coat.
It gets colder. I keep my head up and my heart steadfast. Just do what needs to be done. Just get through this day. Just get through this hour. . .
I speak cheerfully and give praise and encouragement and weather reports.
"We have four more days like this to get through, girls," I tell the goats. They're shivering. I'm trying not to.
"How's everyone doing this morning? Are you guys all right out here?"
They crowd in around me, snatching bites of hay from the quarter-bale in my arms before I can even shove it in the racks.
"Be brave, sweet girls. Be brave! Just a few more nights like this. . . "
And then, Monday evening.
"Okay, girls! If we can just get through this night, then everything starts getting warmer. But this is going to be a cold one. Eat your hay and huddle up," I tell them, switching off the lights. "And may God be with you."
I'm almost in tears.
That was the worst of it - Sunday night through Tuesday morning. High temperature of minus 1, and we finally hit bottom around sunrise Tuesday morning at twenty-one degrees below zero. I have never before experienced such cold.
But everyone came through unharmed. No pneumonia, no ears lost to frostbite, and no lives lost. Hot water, heat lamps, lots of hay, and lots of prayer, plus me working my little butt off, got us all safely to the other side of the big freeze.
And from here, it's a slow but steady climb to spring. Every day a little warmer. Every night a little less bitter. The sun is back, and the wind is in the south. We made it through.
Another battle won. Another adventure. And one I hope we never have to repeat.
Picture is of "hoarfrost" - a cold view of Reyna's farm.
Reyna is an author, hobby farmer, and dog trainer who lost her sight when she was a toddler. She lives independently in the Kansas Flint Hills. Discover more about her at: www.reynawrites.com and @reynabradfordauthor on Facebook.