Since January started there have been a few hard nights. And by hard I mean deep cold. I feel like nothing is more arduous in my particular set of circumstances right now than deep cold. It makes all the outside work harder and more labor intensive.
Several times a day I am outside bursting through the ice in water stations, or carrying buckets of hot water to melt them/swapping them with defrosted water containers. The mudroom wood stove becomes a station for wet socks and chicken fonts. The stoves must be stoked with an alarming amount of kiln-level-dry hardwood to create and sustain the kind of heat that saves plumbing. It's a lot of work that makes June look like a vacation, but I am not complaining. I am sharing a story.
When the high for the day doesn’t escape the single digits and the nights dip well below zero there’s a vigilance necessary to keep all the interior systems whole. For example: there are two wood stoves in this house. The main one in the living room for heating during winter in the living spaces - and another in the mud room, near the plumbing. It was installed by the owners I bought this house from because even with baseboard heat there was too much cold air that could hit the pipes in the crawl space under the house. Efforts to insulate it have been attempted, and failed. It is open and short of ripping out the bathroom and redoing it all (a future goal if I ever become a NY Times Bestseller) it means a few nights a winter I stay up to keep the wood stoves fed at a roar. They need to be outputting maximum safe heat, a level that takes some manual work unlike warmer nights where I can stoke it and go to bed and still have a warm stove in the morning.
So a few nights this month I didn’t sleep much at all. I tended fires. I watched every Lettermen interview with Fran Lebowitz from the past 40 years. I rewatch movies that bring me joy. I read. I try to write and fail. I try again and am thrilled if I get one paragraph to sound a little better. I remember when I used to be able to write 5k words a day?! Now every sentence matters more, for this book. I am considering this growth and quality control.
I wanted to share a moment from a few nights ago. It was around 4 degrees and the moon was high and almost full. Snow and ice are covering most of the farm now so when the moon is up in a clear sky shadow from the naked trees cover the mountain. I was walking back from checking the horses water before bed, watching the woods for the coyotes that are circling closer as the cold hits harder. But tonight it was just me and the dogs and that moon. And because of its light I could see the mountains all around me, hugging this farm close. I watched the dogs run ahead, casting their long wolf shadows in front of me. And even though I only had a few hours of sleep I felt good. I felt healthy, and strong, and proud as hell. Because the pipes didn’t burst. The animals all got through the cold with extra calories, comfort, bedding, blankets, and chores. The house stayed toasty. And I didn’t mind it at all. I thrived on it. There’s such comfort in being needed by a place, to not have the excuse to just crawl into bed and scroll through instagram and sulk. And I think the cold, the farm, the work - it keeps me moving forward in the hardest days.
So I walked home in the moonlight smiling. Feeling like I won something through the hardship. And I know this month will have more cold days, but I hope (like this week) they are book-ended by days like today - nearly 40 and snowy and easy to make every animal and myself comfortable, night and day.