Saturday February 7, 2015
Today’s post is a general update on life. I’ll try to answer some of the questions that have come to me from friends and family recently.
The weather – well, it is cold! Inside, the log cabin we are renting it is nice and toasty warm. But outside it is a different story. On Wednesday the high was 28F, the low was 0F. On Thursday the high was 17F, the low was -8F. These are pretty typical temperatures, day time highs stay in the 20s (some times lower) and night time temps often go sub 0F. The coldest temperature we have seen has been -20F. The temperature gauge has not climbed above freezing at any moment since Christmas. We have had a few respectable snow storms that dumped 2-3 ft of snow on us. Mostly though, we are handling the weather fine. Like the goats who have grown their spectacular warm and fuzzy cashmere layer and adjusted to the freezing temps amazing well for Californian goats, we too seem to be somehow internally adjusting. And we have learned a few tricks: dress for the occasion. Layers are a great idea, so too are neck warmers, gloves and thick warm gloves or mittens. This is all essential equipment, even if you are going to just quickly run to the goat house. There is no such thing as quickly. In these temps the fingers and toes can go numb from the cold incredibly fast. But that said, the snow is pretty. Everything looks magical after a fresh snow fall. Even the dumpiest most dilapidated house looks magical after a fresh snowfall. And the sledding is great! All three of us have been clocking many hours on the hillside right outside our log house.
Sophie has enjoyed endless hours of fun prancing in the snow, she never tires of trying to leap in to the air to catch snow flakes or of chasing the sled as it whizzes down the hill. Since the temperature remains sub freezing, with each snow fall the snow continues to accumulate. Apparently the rest of February is predicted to be snow storm after snow storm. Tonight we are at the start of an “extended snow event” which will last until Tuesday and bring 2-3feet of snow. At this stage all the ponds and lakes are frozen solid, excellent for outdoor skating. We have been enjoying watching the progress of the sheets of ice in the North river below us. The river is fairly fast flowing, so temperatures have to be pretty extreme for it to freeze over completely. I am not sure if we’ll get there before spring. For now though, watching the changes in the river has become a hobby. Initially one thin sheet of ice formed over the top surface during the first severe cold snap. But when the temperature increased the fast moving water beneath broke through and broke up the ice in to sheets, carrying them down stream and depositing them on top of other sheets of ice. Eventually the sheets merge into one thicker sheet. As the temperatures dip and then go up a bit this cycle continues and the ice thickness grows over time. This process of thick sheets of ice regularly breaking off and being carried by the current downstream only to be deposited on top of another sheet of ice is building the character of the river.
What has proven to be more challenging is the surprising frequency of power outages. The powerline infrastructure in Massachusetts is old and “delicate”. The snow itself does not seem to cause issues unless it is a heavy wet snowfall. However wind is a huge issue. Wood is abundant, trees are everywhere, and when the winds pick up it is not uncommon for live power lines to come down and flap in the wind like a cooked noodle. In the summer months we had a series of spectacular storms and it seemed as though we lost power about every 3 weeks. I’ve noticed too that powerlines seem to have a preference for the most inconvenient time to go down. And when the power goes down it is not uncommon for the rural areas to be without power for several days. The electric company naturally always fixes the in-town lines where the population density is high first, working their way out slowely into lesser populated areas. Furthermore rural folk are assumed to know how to deal with these situations, so that adds to the lack of urgency to restore power to the rural parts. The powerlines seem to enjoy going down on major holidays (it is a conspiracy!). While in the summer months we lost power every few weeks, in the past 3 months we have lost power only twice: Thanksgiving and Christmas!
The biggest issue with power lines going down in the winter is that we all have wells so our water supply is instantly shut off for some unknown period of time. That can be a problem. Additionally when the outside temperatures reach sub zero, if the home heating system is dependent on electricity, within 24 hours of loosing electricity the internal house temperature can become very unpleasant. At 48 hours things can get serious, especially for the elderly or sick. All of this has prompted me to think ahead to the house we will be building in the spring. A wood stove or masonry heater now seams like an absolute must (Tulikivi). A masonry stove with a bake oven will enable us to heat water for tea or coffee and cook a stew. We are also considering a bison pump for the well so that we can crank out water by hand when these power out situations occur. With a bison pump and masonry heater life will seem relatively civilized when these power outages occur.
Buttercup is doing a bit better, although we continue to keep a close watchful eye on both Buttercup and Clover. Monique’s old fleece sweater was not quite enough warmth for Buttercup so I ended up sewing a little fleece coat for her that is lined with flannel, covers all the way from her neck to her rump and is held on by Velcro straps. She is no longer shivering. I now need to sew one for Clover. The vet visited and took a look at Buttercup. He said she was fine and that she is probably just affected by the recent change in social order amongst the goats. Since both Buttercup and Clover are being beaten up a bit by Honey and Cinnamon, I have started to put them in with the boys at night. While the boys fight with each other a lot (they have been together since birth, they can’t live with each other but also can’t live without each other), they are very respectful to all the ladies. Buttercup and Clover seem to be doing much better when they overnight with the boys. I have also started feeding Buttercup on her own in the mornings. Every morning I give the boys food in their part of the house, the girls get food in their quarters and then I let Buttercup out alone. I set up a nice little personal buffet for her with her own hay, brewer’s grain and complete the cafe with little dishes of all the minerals and salts that the others have in their quarters. She now also will only eat when I stay out with her, a gesture of true love given how cold it is out there and how slow this little goat eats. As Paul watches this scene of Buttercup in her “Royal cape” dining and me in attendance, from inside the house he chuckles and calls her “Princess Buttercup”. I am not sure how I feel about this.
We have good news on Buttercup and Clover: when the vet was here last, he ran a quick ultrasound on them. As of right now, they are both pregnant. It is very early since they were bred around Christmas time, but we are really excited. Neither of them have freshened successfully before despite being bred many times (especially Clover). Clover will be 4 years old in May, in a goat’s life this is considered to be on the upper end of being able to have healthy first pregnancies. So, we are overjoyed and and cautiously optimistic. Since both Honey and Cinnamon have both successfully freshened before, we did not have the vet check them but there is a good chance they have also been successfully bred. In the words of our vet, “we are about to experience a population explosion!”.
Finding a church out here has been a process for us. We were blessed to be part of a wonderful church in Santa Rosa, First Presbyterian Church. FPCSR is a vibrant church with lots of missions activity, a fantastic Sunday school program for the children, organized small groups for bible study and countless other programs, solid preaching and wonderful music lead by Bob Brazeau. Paul was especially involved with the music program playing his horn as well as being part of the choir and in later years both of us were part of the handbell choir. When we moved to rural western Mass, off course we looked for another FPCSR. Every week we visited a different church, every week we left empty and disappointed. Churches here are small, even in Greenfield. If there happens to be 30 people sitting in the pews then it is a busy Sunday. Most churches do not have a Sunday School program for the kids, and the music…well, lets just say that we really miss Bob Brazeau! After a few month of this we came to realize that if we keep looking for a FPCSR we will remain miserable. What we needed to do was to allow a new definition of church to emerge for us. And it did, in it’s own time. We have actually found two churches that we have been going back and forth between, we like them both. One is small, the other is tiny! One is fancy, the other is simple. We have found an episcopal church in Greenfield, St James, about 30 minutes away. The church has been around since 1812, the building is old, ornate and beautiful with much stained glass and a lovely rose window. We enjoy the organ and the small choir, we like the priest and her sermons feed our hearts and minds, we like the concern for social justice and the local missions work, and they do have a small Sunday School program that Monique likes. They have a set of handbells that right now lie dormant in their cases but we hope to convince them to get a handbell choir going (Paul even offered to conduct). However, Greenfield is a bit of a drive and especially in winter it a tall order to make it there every Sunday. Fortunately we have also found a church in nearby Shelburne Falls that we like, First Congregational church. It is a Uniting Church of Christ. The church community is small but so very welcoming and warm hearted, and we really enjoy the messages of the minister. There are a couple of other children and most Sundays there is a Sunday School gathering. We feel very at home there (although we still so much miss Bob Brazeau’s music program…!). Both of these churches have wonderful coffee social hours after church, both with delicious bountiful arrays of home baked pastries (sweet and savory), cheese platters, fruits, juices…. While we will always fondly miss FPCSR and our church friends, we have found new fellowship and places to worship.
And finally an update on our house plans. Our friend and neighbor Peter has finished the architectural drawings for our house. On Thursday we presented it to the Katywil Design Review Committee. Everyone likes the plans and it was approved. We are happy with the design. It is what we would call Craftsman style in California. It is compact. But in 1100ft^2 of conditioned living space, I did get my mud room, root cellar and a nice kitchen. We’ll also have a metal roof (yay!) The next step is to get final bids form the builders, select a builder and also submit the plans to the Town of Colrain building inspector.