Sunday, December 06, 2009
These days in the North Country where I live, the focus is on warmth. Don't you just love the word warmth? When you say it, it causes you to speak in a low, whisperish way. When you think about warmth, what comes to mind? Wool-lined slippers, puffy down quilts wrapped around your shoulders, sipping hot cocoa with marshmallows, sitting by the fire with your feet up close to it, a knitted cable sweater, or being wrapped up in the arms of your Honey.
Today it has gone from cold to colder. The high temperature for the day was 10 degrees and it's been falling little by little this afternoon. The weatherman says we will go sub-zero tonight. I've lived up north my whole life and I know what sub-zero feels like and I have never gotten used to it. It is tolerable if you have the proper clothes for it, but it is never smart to be out in it for long periods of time. When you live on a ranch like I do, sub-zero means a lot of things that most city and town dwellers might not think about. For one thing it means that we must have plenty of fuel -- gasoline, diesel, and firewood. You never know if or when the power may go out and so we need diesel for the generator and firewood to take the chill off the house; the gasoline is for the pick-up trucks which transport us out to the livestock to feed them and to check on their water. Water freezes hard when it's this cold and stock tanks have a tendency to freeze clear down to the pipes which is really troublesome in winter. When pipes freeze, we've got a whole other outdoor problem to deal with. Winter in the country means taking care of livestock no matter how cold it gets or how deep the snow is. They need us and it's our responsibility to see that they have enough feed and water to keep their body furnaces stoked and burning. Another thing that is important when temps go sub-zero is warm clothing for us human creatures. If you plan on being outdoors for any length of time or if you think you possibly could get stranded, you want plenty of layers of warm clothing.
This afternoon I spent some time with the men outdoors helping them to bed down the livestock pens. We have large pens of bulls, heifers, and steers that would otherwise sleep on the frozen, hard ground if we didn't roll out some clean, dry straw for them to bed down on. The old bedding stuff has to be cleaned away and the new straw brought in and spread about. I don't know how warm straw can be, but it's a decent insulation against the ground. Youngest Child's and my job today was that of "gate-getter." Hubs and Firstborn drove tractors to clean pens and spread straw while we opened and closed gates and kept the critters from getting out. It's really mindless work and it's darn chilly work if you haven't got the proper clothes on. Today I hit my base temperature for wearing brown duck overalls. I should've known better. Ten degrees is the cold limit for me, and that temperature I have to break out my woollies (heavy wool pants that I pull over my jeans). I don't know if everyone calls them woollies, but I do.
Back when my cowboy and I were first married, the winter weather was horrendous. The wind blew strong, the snow was tossed this way and that, and the temperatures were sub-zero more often than not. Even the thick-hided Hereford cows, who are used to cold northern winters, had frostbite on their noses and ankles. Although we were out in the cold each day, we had a warm truck cab or tractor cab to climb into when it got too cold to bear. As a 19-year-old new bride who had never lived in the country, I had never been so cold! I had lived in the area all my life, but I had never had to work outdoors like this new ranch life required me to do. It was just the two of us, Hubs and me, doing all the feeding chores and water-breaking chores. The second Christmas of our marriage, I bought Hubs a pair of woollies and he really enjoyed them, but the one thing that he didn't like was how the hay and straw got stuck in the fibers of the wool. He tolerated them and appreciated their warmth, but after a couple of years, Hubs chose insulated coveralls over the woollies and so I decided to claim the trousers for myself. After all these years, those same gray woollies with the red pin stripes have served me well and provided warmth. I didn't put them on for my gate-getter chores today and I'm still suffering the effects of cold legs and buns. It takes awhile for the fat parts of the body to get fully warmed, doesn't it?
This afternoon as thaw out, I'm thinking "warmth." After taking hot water out to the chickens and gathering the eggs, I came in and took off the layers of warmth -- a sherpa-lined corduroy coat, a gray hoodie sweatshirt, the turquoise silk scarf from around my neck, the brown duck overalls, insulated mittens and stocking cap, and lastly my boots. I don't know why somebody can't seem to make boots that can keep feet warm. Maybe it's impossible to think that feet, the furthest extremity from the heart, standing on sub-zero ground can ever be warm in the winter, or maybe it's because my feet are naturally always cold or because I forget to put thick socks on before I go outside, but I can't seem to find just the right boot that will keep my feet warm in the winter. Coming into the warm house means my glasses fog up and my nose runs. I went to the garage to bring in an armload of firewood and then immediately had hot coffee on my mind so I set the electric kettle on to make a good, strong cup. I love stoking up the fire and bringing up a bright, hot fire from the coals. A wood fire is absolutely the best fix for warming-up the backside. I put on my cable knit sweater and buttoned it as I fixed the mug of coffee. The warmth of hot coffee is penetrating as well as satisfying to the senses, isn't it? Add a slice of warm coffee cake and you've got pure comfort and warmth.
I wonder how the pioneers ever did it. They must have always been cold. I really can't imagine living in log cabin or a tar paper shack with one source of wood heat. The floors must have been icy cold and the wind must have seeped in through the cracks in the walls. No wonder those pioneer women were constantly making quilts and knitting. The other night when our own bedroom was so cold, I understood where Clement Clarke Moore (author of The Night Before Christmas) came up with the line, "Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap." Can you imagine bundling up for bed with your stocking cap on? I do love the old-time idea of passing a hot pan of coals over the bedsheets before turning in though! Lucky me, I have Hubs for that. He's such a dear and always warms up my side of the bed before I slide in. He's always hot and I'm always cold, so he just lays on my side and get's it toasty for me. What comfort. What warmth. There's that word again..... warmth. What does warmth mean to you? What is your favorite way to warm up?
handwarmers from Rythm of the Home
Thanks to Storybook Woods for the link to Rhythm of the Home where I found this idea of making handwarmers under the heading of Warmth. I sure could have used some of these this afternoon. I think handwarmers would make nice little gifts for Christmas. Stay warm.....