Groundhog day has long passed, more than a week ago, but canny old Punxsutawney Phil was spot on with his prediction of six more weeks of winter. A Polar Vortex escaped its whirl around the Arctic and dropped down across the upper Midwest, chilling us with sub-zero temperatures and conjuring up a February storm that dropped another five to six inches of snow on our farm atop the accumulated snow from earlier storms.
I love winter in the North Country, but these bone-breaking cold days days of February seem to have become an endless series of colorless re-runs. The days are slowly lengthening, it’s true, but it would be nice to see some sunshine and blue skies.
Fifteen minutes. That is about how long it takes to rekindle the fire in the woodstove each morning. Beneath a layer of ashes, a bed of glowing coals smolders patiently while I twist open the flue damper, swing back the stove’s glass-fronted door, grab the ash shovel and heap the coals into a pile on the left side of the firebox, and lay three or four splits of firewood atop the pile. With the door ajar, the fire will soon be roaring.
The digital display clock of the microwave oven reads 5:37 a.m. Time to brew a pot of coffee.
No use whining. Living in the North Country you soon learn that Old Man Winter will make one or two serious attempts to kill you each year, and it is best to be prepared for his unexpected attacks. We complain about unreliable weather forecasts from the National Weather Service, but in truth those forecasts are incomparably better than they were 20 years ago, so there is little chance the Old Man will sneak up and hit you over the head with a two-day blizzard or a week of sub-zero temperatures.
Two deer, a fat doe and her yearling fawn, are in the south yard eating sunflower seed from the bird feeder. I watch them through the kitchen window. They raise their heads, ears erect, then relax and go back to feeding. The doe is practiced at robbing the feeder and nibbles seed from its rim. Hanging by a metal cable attached to a tree, the feeder sways back and forth each time she bumps it. The yearling doe, not yet as skilled as her mother, eats the seeds that fall upon the hard-pack snow that they and other deer have trampled during their nightly feedings. The old doe is round-bellied pregnant. The yearly may also be, but her coat is shaggy, not sleek like her mother’s, and it’s difficult to tell. When I turn on the light over the sink to look for the coffee bag in the cupboard, both deer whirl and leap and are gone in one second. Wish I could still do that in the morning. Or any other time of day.
One thing I will grouse about: winter winds. Those frigid gusts never used to deter me from my winter walks. Twenty below zero temperatures and 20 mile-per-hour wind seldom scotched my enthusiasm for snowshoeing on a sunny February day, but come lately I won’t venture across open ground unless the wind has dropped below 10 miles-per-hour.
Maybe my beard has become thin and scraggly in my old age, but heading into a north wind makes my face ache, eyes water, ears throb, and nose runs. Total capitulation to Old Man Winter. I’m defeated.
At this stage of life my recreation time should be enjoyable, not miserable. Although I still like to snowshoe the trails on our farm and nearby wildlife areas to view the woodlands the day after a snowstorm, a wind-burned face and frost-bitten ears take all the enjoyment out of my winter hikes.
Standard morning routine: make coffee for my beautiful blonde wife who likes to sleep later than I. Carefully balancing two full cups (mine with a dash of milk, hers strong and black), I climb the stairs with laptop computer tucked under my arm. A few times the laptop has slipped out and tumbled down the stairs; probably an un-accident that is an expression of my repressed hatred of digital communications technology. Back in bed, propped up with pillows, I open the laptop and scan the morning news, including the weather report. Sixteen degrees below zero and 15 mile-per-hour winds. Damn. Just… DAMN!
The sub-zero temperatures predicted by the NWS forecast may not spoil my plans, but if wind speed is double digits, forget it. I’m content to sprawl in my easy chair in the den above the garage that I call The Clubhouse, read, write, surf the web, drink Sherpa tea, and take an afternoon nap.
“Do you want me to warm your coffee in the microwave?” “Ummm – sure.”