Sunday, January 4, 2009

Breakfast Chores on Harsh Winter Mornings

Kevin, always makes sure there is enough fuel for the wood stove.

Oftentimes when I am immersed in various chores, I compose thoughts, phrases, ideas which I intend to share in this journal. For several weeks I have been mentally working out a description of how I feel about early morning breakfast feeding of the herd. But until this morning, I hadn't actually felt ready to write it out. I decided to write about how chores went on Friday morning, which is very similar to what it was like for us this morning, except we had the pleasure of not having to shovel away snow first.

I will break up the rambling text with photos from past winters, some from days that were not so harsh and we actually had opportunity to play.

When its very dark and very cold and early,
and I contemplate layering up my body with weighty outer wear, then pulling open the door,
to step across the threshold of what is glowing, snug warmth into the exact opposite,
with every fleshy cell recoiling against the harsh transition saying, "Don't go!",
and every nuance of my heart pulsating, "You must go, they await you and they are hungry,"
of course, I take a breath, put both feet outside and shut the door, shrinking and shivering...
A gentle winter morning, viewed from the kitchen table a few years ago.

I hear them before I see them.
Their impatient, hardy hooves provoke curious, otherworldly sounds out of the especially cold, fine snow.
It's a marvel, really, how many moods snow has, warmer, heavier snow muffles...frigid snow creaks and complains.
The snow complained loudly today, hearing it I rub my fingers briskly within my double mittens, worried that they are already too chilled.
The lights from the porch reach out and trace subtle lines of illumination across fluffed up equine backs.
Mistral is pacing the gate. By his calculation I am already late.

By my calculation, I am already cold and much effort is ahead to make things right for the herd.
And the wind is up.

Though not yet this season, in past years, there were many nice days for winter play.

The door opens and Kevin crosses the threshold, leaving behind the fragrant warmth.
He doesn't shrink. He doesn't shiver. Just grabs a shovel and begins to dig.

My toes are already flirting with numbness, but I begin moving dense, drifted snow away from doors and gates, too.
Mistral paces.
The dogs' feel the wind, hold up cold paws, and ask me to open the door. They cross the threshold, seeking out their beds, still warm, with the fire nearby, warmer still.

The shoveling is tiresome, but I no longer shrink and shiver, heat comes from within and has found my fingers, and they tingle. Now and I know I can keep up with Kevin. My toes are warming back up and I know I can do what needs to be done.
Snow tends to pile up quickly at times!

Cleared, the shed is once again accessible, I fumble for the hanging switch and timid light pushes back a little on the dark interior, just a bit, but well enough. Hooves bang on the back wall. Teeth bite down on the wood. Their irritation is palpable. I try not to take it personally, it is the conditions of their morning that have put them in ill humor, they are not angry with me. I try to hurry. It feels like my movements are half-bound, clumsy and slow, and the feeling is an accurate sensation of what is. I can hear Mistral pacing. Fourteen pans for thirteen horses, the usual number, but extra scoopfuls in each. It is very, very cold. And the wind is up.
Kevin posing by the natty shed...while dreaming someday of a real barn...

Kevin has one toboggan stuffed and bungie-corded, is working on the second load. I distribute the pans as best as I can, not a hint of anything artful to it, as I dodge anxious bodies between curious shaped shadows and awkwardly cast light and trip on uneven snow and think myself crazy for doing this in conditions where I really cannot see. But there is no waiting for daylight, or lingering over extra cups of coffee when they are waiting and hungry. We serve them, by choice, and according to their sense of time, not ours.

The wind makes it unpleasant for the horses to eat their oats and I am surprised they came up for them at all, there is such a bitter bite to the air.

While they reposition themselves repeatedly seeking any break from the frigid wind, our caravan of two humans and two heavily laden toboggans of hay pick out the snow-swept remnants of the trail to the north copse of cedars. It will be pleasant there, protected. But to get to it, we must bend and lurch straight into the life-sapping wind. At least its not snowing. We've done this gig during snow fall, its a brutal assault. It's easier today than other days and last week's crazy melt transformed most of the snow into shallow ponds and tributaries, which quickly froze. We are walking over ice with a short foot of snow on top. No need for snowshoes, and we can move a little faster than we would otherwise. The wind has swept some sections nearly bare and I can see dried stalks of dead grasses.
The conditions this day (two winter's ago) were perfect for gliding across the glittering fields.

Halfway across the open land, we are swirled upon by snorting horses. Kevin stays steady, keeps moving on his path and I follow him like a shadow. The horses settle down and pick their way forward alongside us, taking care when we are over ice, snitching mouthfuls of hay, then dashing off ahead to wait for us in the shelter of the trees. The mules plod along behind, rarely getting caught up into capricious dashes like their shorter-eared mates.

You feel it incrementally, the lessening of the knife-sharp wind on exposed facial features, until the quiet, fringed limbs of the wooded realm forbid the wind's passing altogether. It is like crossing another threshold from one environment to another. It is sweet relief, so worth the effort. And now the laying out of piles, taking care to not walk into an unseen branch. It is dark yet, but we see well enough, at least larger shapes. The frigid wind song carries overhead, but the lower, mellow music of jaws masticating dried grasses makes the human heart swell with pleasure.This was from Bella's first winter here on the island, and she gives us such a lovely image in this photo, don't you think?

We are both so warm now, we have to loosen scarves a little, let a bit of fresh air in and marvel at what a fine existence we have here at Ravenseyrie.

Arm in arm, we look upon the herd in the comfort of their natural "barn" and all the earlier sensation of recoiling against this bitterly cold morning, all thoughts of preferring to stay on the inside of our house door, where the warm glow remains, have dissipated. I am right where I want to be in this moment. And as I observe the settled herd enjoying their breakfast, I get the sense they, too, are right where they want to be, and this makes me feel especially thankful. How lucky a woman I am!


Annemiek said...


Just this morning when I was walking with Tristan I was thinking how I hate the cold. And high temperatures too. I feel best when temperatures are somewhere between 40 and 70 F. When it is too cold I feel depressed, when it is to hot I feel ill. When I read about your chores in the snow and the freezing winds I feel really embarrassed. The temperature here is about 18 F during the nights and 32 F during the day. By your standards pleasant temperatures I imagine.

In our country we are not that used to extreme temperatures, so when the temperature starts to drop everything goes wrong! Water pipes freeze, people try to skate on natural ice and they break arms and legs, or skate into a hole in the ice. This last week lots of accidents happened on the ice.

Yesterday there was no water for the horses because all the water pipes were frozen.

When I read your story I can imagine it must be very satisfying to bring out hay to the waiting herd and watch them eat it. At the same time I am SO happy I can read about it here in my warm house in front of my hearth in my thermo underwear :-) But then again, when I see the view out of your kitchen window I understand all the hardship is worth the while.

And I know for sure the horses really appreciate your efforts, even if they seem a bit impatient sometimes.

Lynne Gerard said...

I can feel in myself that I am still resistant to the winter we are having...but I write these entries not only to say that we are having difficulties this year moreso than others, but that there is some goodness I am getting out of it. This is my message, that harshness need not be without its own particular reward, or beauty.

Kevin and I wear thermo under wear continually in the winter. And on these especially frigid days, I have an extra pair I put over my existing pair, which are totally woolen, except for the elastic waist. I become very portly when dress thusly. Portly and able to keep warm.

I do think the horses appreciate our efforts. I wonder if they would prefer to winter in a barn, instead if they had the opportunity, and as friend Jean has frequently reminded me, I won't know until we have a barn. But today...I'd have to say that I think they really like the bigger spaces.

Frozen water lines--oh, I remember that particular difficulty in winter back in my Michigan life. And hauling water from the bathroom tub out to the horses buckets in the barn (not so bad) and hauling water out to the mules in their farther away sector (which was a huge effort). This is one thing I don't have to worry about here! See, isn't life grand!

eva said...

Hi Lynne,

the photo of your roof peaking out of the snow convinced me that there can be too much of a good see, as a true Californian, I've come to look at snow as a "recreational product". When we have the occasional white dusting in the higher elevations of the Santa Cruz mountains, you can see people coming up in 4-wheelers and collecting the precious white substance in coolers to take home to the flat lands. If only there was some way to get some of that stuff from "there" to "here" you'd have it made :)

I'm glad you and your equines are in good spirits despite the nose-biting cold. I admire your heroic daily feeding routine, but I am wondering if there may be an easier way?

A happy new year to you, and don't let it wear you out! The days Are getting longer!

Kris McCormack said...

We had a sleet storm here on Tuesday night, lasting into yesterday morning. The temperatures were relatively mild, but the going is slippery.
The horses wanted NOTHING to do with the barn -- the sound of snow/ice sliding of the metal roof sends them into a panic, even if they are some distance away. Knowing they were frightened to come up on the hill near the barn, I trudged down to their lower field through the crusty, iced over snow to bring them some hay. And, instead of calling them to the barn as I usually do, I trudged through the paddock with their morning and evening "grain" meal so that they could eat where they felt safe.

It was not bitterly cold, and the snow was not deep... but, still, it felt like extra work. You were often on my mind Lynne... I know full well how much more difficult your winter morning chores are than mine. Still, part of looked around and thought: "If the horses were free to go wherever they wanted, they would surely NOT choose to stay in a place that freezes over for part of the year. I'm certain they would wander to wherever something to eat was still growing. Certainly moving to where the food is, is an easier way than staying where you are and battling the elements."

Spring is not that far off, Lynne... Buds are plumping up on some of the deciduous trees here, so you should be noticing that too in a couple of weeks. Hang in there!


Annemiek said...

Temperatures here are still very low here. A lot of water pipes don’t work anymore and we had to melt snow for the horses this afternoon. Still, Rudolf has never looked any better than these last days. Because of the mist yesterday, his mane and his tail are shining black now, while his body hair is varying from dark brown to mahogany. I cannot stop to marvel at the sight of him. He shines all over! Every night when I lay in my bed (with two double covers on top of me) I think of him and I sent a prayer to whoever will listen to take care of our horses. Someone must be listening, because they seem to thrive.


Lynne Gerard said...

Thanks for all your comments and encouragement. Kris, spring for the island is much further off than it is for you in New York, so it will be quite some time yet before the tree buds plump up. But the days are getting definitely longer and I'm just loving the sunshine we've been getting.

I'm pretty used to this kind of life now. I think its much more difficult for folks around the world that are having some tough winter weather who normally aren't accustomed to it, like poor Annemiek there in the Netherlands.

And somehow it is comforting to think of Eva over there in California complaining about too much rain. Each area of the world has its extremes, and sometimes I think it is these extremes that make the splendid days all the better.