Monday, December 29, 2008

Pleasures Amidst Wretched Weather

The gods cannot make up their mind what type of weather to sling down upon us here at Ravenseyrie.

As I've relayed in prior entries, the weather here has been unsettled since late November when winter came early and has presented us with one storm after another, with nary a break in between. On Christmas day, you saw photos of our deep snow and the blessing of a bit of sunshine and non-brutal temperatures. Even into the first part of Boxing Day, we had a reprieve from winter's capriciousness. But that was soon to change as more heavy snow came falling down only to be shortly followed by a rapid rise in the temperature.

With the air temperature now above freezing, all that snow began to melt and the high wind assisted the transmutation. The effect yesterday was as if our bluff was entertaining a host of visiting fog entities.

With the snow vastly reduced and the mildness of the air (even with the stiff winds) the pups and I felt a trek out to the "Top of the World" was in order. When we first began our hike, the fog was low and rode the wind in a horizontal ribbon through the forest at the bluff's edge. I filmed it, because I wanted to show you how "alive" this fog was, with personality and obviously some place to go...but I couldn't hold the camera steady and the footage is no good.

When we got to the "Top of the World" there was a break in the fog, slightly, and I was able to get a few photos that were not so diffuse as the the others.Tobacco looks majestic as he, too, observes the world from the bluff's edge.

Through the telephoto lens we can see that the thaw and the wind have broken up the freezing mantle that had been forming over the North Channel.

Then the rain came...

We were ready this time...ready to convince the melt water to not flood our poor natty shed which is our only "barn" like structure and is where we keep garden tools, breakfast oats, several day's rations of hay (the rest is under tarps in the yard) and Kevin's smaller tractor. This very weather pattern--heavy snow, with a day of above freezing temperatures and copious amounts of rain was experienced just over a week ago on December 15th. Then it all flash froze! Out came the pick axes as we chipped free doors, gates, wheel barrels, etc. This flooding happens each spring, and is messy as can be, but doesn't freeze and soon is drained off.

A photo from a year or so ago, showing how our large round bales of hay are stored.

To avoid another freezing up of our flooded shed, Kevin managed to dig a hole in the frozen ground inside the shed and rigged up a sump pump with flexible piping fed through the back wall to drain out behind. And its working beautifully! Which is good, because within an hour the temperature was dropping and the wind and snow returned.

Did you know that one of the key elements immigration officers look for when someone applies for permanent residency status in Canada is the applicant's potential for adaptability. Both Kev and I scored well in this regard and its a good thing, because with such harsh and rapidly changing weather conditions, were we not adaptable, we'd have to sell our place and move to the city. That would be much more difficult for us to cope with than toughing it out on the East Bluff on Manitoulin Island!

Let's compare now some of the photos taken just in the last two days:
A scene from 26Dec08

A scene from 28Dec08, mid-morning

A scene from 28Dec08, early afternoon

Our two geese were very pleased with the rain and melting.

Here they are later that same day, with the snow falling, again.

Jerry nibbles on old Tansy stalks, mid-morning 28Dec08

But the scene soon changed, in just a few hours!

Morning, with a vast seasonal lake forming

Just hours later

The melt water lake, was mostly over compacted ice, effectively cutting us off from our usual routes to places in the woods where we can feed the herd protected from the elements. We had to settle for a section to the west, which was an amazing struggle for all of us to get to, since we had to go straight into the wind and driving snow, with tricky footing beneath us. The horses and mules are amazing to watch at times like these--the care they take in finding the best route, and then when they know they are on more stable ground how they take off bucking and running to the shelter of the woods.

It felt really mild there, at this particular woodland edge, and as we went in a little deeper, it we hardly felt the weather at all. This spot isn't as snug as some of the others, but we were sure happy to be able to reach it and get the herd out of the wind. With a plastic bag over my camera, I tried to take a few photos. I would have loved to get photos of us all bent into the elements working our way across the open land to get to the shelter of the woods, but it was just to wild to manage. Coming back, with the wind at our backs was wild, too...and several times Kev and I nearly got blown off our feet! How exhilarating it is here! I love being out in the elements!We've almost made it to the windless side of the woods, but still have a little ways to go.

This spot is not yet fully protected, but some of the herd preferred to stay at the edge, rather than go deeper into the woods...maybe because of the way the trees were wildly swaying?

This spot is much more protected, and its one that Mistral surely appreciates.

Okay, there have been quite a few questions in the comments section of recent journal entries. Today is a good day to revisit these queries and share an answer or two.

Kris inquired: "A technical question -- does your camera manual specify minimum temperature at which the camera will function the way it is supposed to? Mine does -- it's 20 degrees F. I shoot in weather colder than that by keeping the camera inside my jacket, next to my body when I'm not actually taking photos. Just curious... and impressed that your camera seems to be as hardy as you are. :-) "

I'm impressed with this camera, too, Kris! I reread the instruction manual the only cautionary comments it gives regarding temperature is to make sure the camera isn't left sitting in the hot sun and when moving from a warm to cold environment, one should take care that there is no build up of condensation by exposing it to rapid changes of temperature.

Eva wrote: "-5 does seem a bit extreme. Does the lake freeze? How are the equines getting water? Does it hurt to breathe, and do little icicles form on your nose hanging down? How do you keep your house warm? I can think of nothing more desirable than a thick, natural fur coat."

Eva, minus 5 (°F) isn't extreme gets much colder than that in January and February...but thankfully not for more than one or two days. It's much colder out in the Canadian mid-western provinces.

The lake does freeze, typically not until sometime in January. It looked like it was going to freeze early this year, but with the melt, the rain and the high winds, all the ice that had been forming was broken up. Once it freezes, we won't see Lake Huron again until sometime in late April.

The horses don't go to the lake in winter, they eat snow, and also there is a curious depression in the land, not too far from the house where the water pools up and never freezes. Even with several feet of snow over the top of it, the horses paw through the snow and the water is right there for the taking. I have a photo of it, but don't have it on this computer.

It rarely gets so cold that it hurts to breathe. It often is cold enough to cause little icicles to form on our noses hanging down.

We heat our house with two small wood stoves. One in the kitchen, which is in constant use, and one in the basement that we only fire up when their is extreme sub-zero weather. Last year we only had this stove fired up twice! I have a lovely photo of the kitchen stove, but not on this computer, though I did find one of the basement stove. We stay plenty warm, just ask Tobacco and Siamese:
Eva asks: "OK here is an idea: have you considered feeding the horses closer to your house, so you won't have to haul the hay all the way out? Wouldn't the horses figure out where the food is and make the trip?"

When the weather isn't wicked, the horses come up to the house for meals. The problem is that we are smack in the middle of an open prairie, high up on a bluff...when the temperature is frigid and the wind is up (quite a frequent thing!) it would be deadly to spend any length of time exposed to the elements. We have quite a few locations that the herd goes to depending on the prevailing winds, and we bring their hay out to them there when the weather is wretched. Some of the cattle ranchers out here tell us that we are doing things the hard way and should just put one of our round bales out in the woods as needed. But this isn't how we like to do it--its too hands off, makes it difficult for everyone to get a good meal and creates too much wasted hay. Even though it is truly hard at times, we love bringing the food out to the herd and feeling how nice it is to be in the woods out of the elements and it gives us opportunity to interact with them two or three times daily.

Annemiek asks: "There was a discussion going on about Natural trim and snow. I was very surprised to learn that several horses with a natural trim had the same problem Rudolf had. Snow and ice forming under the hoof so it seems the horse walks on high heels. Have you ever seen such a thing on one of your horses? There were offered all kinds of theories on this subject, from the temperature of the hoof to the concavity of the hoof. I was just wondering about your horses, and mules. You have different breeds over there, are there any differences in the horses hoofs and their ability to adapt to the snow that you know of?"

All the mules and horses will from time to time form snowballs under their hooves. They adjust their movements accordingly, and the snow clumps fall out when they are moving around much, and they move around a lot, no matter what the conditions are. The only thing that slows them down is ice. Snowballs under the hooves are more of a problem in traditional stable situations and for people who are riding their horses in snow. But for a semi-wild herd, snow clumps are just part of winter and something that doesn't appear to slow them down a bit.

Yesterday, we lost power for much of the day, and when this happens, we again discuss our desire to put up solar panels or maybe a wind generator--wind is something we have lots of, so this is something we do plan to get set up for in the future. The contraptions are still so expensive, and we're hoping in a few more years the prices will come down. We went about our day with little thought to not having power, (though it meant we couldn't do any interneting) and with the small kitchen wood stove, I had dinner nearly made, with a wonderful aroma filling the house. I was just getting the oil lamps ready to light when the power came back on--I was almost disappointed! But as rugged as we are, we, too, like our creature comforts. I like them all the more for having to work as hard as we do to live here at Ravenseyrie. This life brings out something noble in each of us, I think...I find myself continually admiring the strength and positive attitude Kevin has, no matter what kind of day faces him. It is the same acceptance that I see in the animals as well. There are elements in each of them that glow greater because of the extra effort the demands of living in a harsh, remote environment require. This makes me absolutely love it here! It is maybe a bit easier for me to be happy here...I seem to have a resonance of belonging to some ancient ice age group of horse-loving feels like this is right where I am meant to be. How can one not be thankful for a feeling such as this?

To end this long entry, two videos, one that let's you hear the wind as I pan over the landscape while standing on the north deck of the house. The other, taken also from the deck, shows how Altamiro and Zeus enjoy passing time, even though the weather was so weird and wild.


eva said...

"The gods cannot make up their mind what type of weather to sling down upon us here at Ravenseyrie."

Maybe the Gods are no longer making the weather......???

Kris McCormack said...

Those ever-present winds do bring great change... and quickly, too.
It's great that you love your life and your island the way you do Lynne. I think I would feel constantly anxious and unsettled there. I like changing weather, but at a slower pace. Moderation in all things.... :-)

Annemiek said...

Wow Lynne, all those changes in just a few days! I feel a bit ridicules wearing my thermo underwear every day because have a little frost ! It look to me as if you and Kevin are terrific “adjusters”. And the horses too!

Thank you for answering our questions!

I don’t know what people in Canada (or the US) do on the last day of the year, but here in the Netherlands children (and grownups) are very busy with fireworks. I really hate it, and the horses too. Although by now they are a little bit desensitized. Still the real thing starts at 12:00 hours this night, everyone has his own package of fireworks, sometimes even “homemade” which is the most dangerous. By tomorrow hundreds of people will have lost an eye, hearing or a hand. Tristan is so scared he does not want to go outside. I tried several times today, but he fights to stay inside.
I hope you will have a nice and quite New Years evening. I wish you and Kevin all the best for 2009. And I am looking forward to all the new blog entries and the new babies that will be born!

Lots of Love Annemiek

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