Thursday, January 7, 2016

Winter Chores

We did not have too much of a winter until last week, thanks to El Niño. I don't much care for warm Decembers, but some Fall chores did get done. My old friend Dominic and I began working to paint a barn roof and I was able to service some equipment that gets harder to do when the mercury drops below freezing.

It has been pleasantly refreshing to hear people note, usually at the cashier's station in rural stores, that this warm weather "just ain't right." In town, however, one does not hear as much of that. It's tempting to give someone a tongue-lashing, so instead I just say "enjoy the season for what it is."

Out in the sticks, my answer is to use the cold weather we finally got for that which is best done in the cold. On the farm that means clearing land for future planting or to prevent saplings from shading our garden out of existence. Winter means getting into places that will certainly be "snakey" in April and May. Having nearly stepped on a a basking Copperhead in 2012, I now appreciate better where serpents like to have a home, and I respect that as long as they respect my space.  For now, my resident and nonpoisonous black snakes are under ground or in a cozy barn-corner, waiting for mouse-hunting season to resume.  The barn, meanwhile, gets filled with additional firewood just in case March surprises us.

In our soggy low places, the ground often freezes nicely.  I can then tromp around and post no-hunting signs and clear an old road to get through the woods to the beeyard. Two junked cars block it for now, but they'll be gone soon. Lots of other junk gets pulled out of the woods to be discarded or reused (mostly, junked). We cut a road to an old run-in full of overly seasoned but usable firewood. It's a pile I dare not disturb after April Fool's Day.

The nicest accidental discovery of the season came via Nancy's looking online about blackberries. She discovered that they fruit best on second-year canes, and that fact provides a great method to keep two huge "patches" in production, yielding jam, pies, and cobbler for us and provender for the wildlife.  I will run a rotary mower (aka "Bush Hog," a brand name) over 1/3 of each patch annually.  That will cut in lanes for harvesting without stepping on snakes or getting tangled in thorny canes. One only picks blackberries at the edge of a patch, though the best ones always seem just out of reach! There's a lesson of something.

All these things and more are possible in the coldest months, as long as the snow does not fall too deeply. This week, as Dom and I put window panels in our new greenhouse, a flurry blessed us for a few moments with the wonder of the season. It hissed down and reminded us, as it piled up quickly, that the universe is both indifferent to us and, with the right attitude, lovely in its indifference.

And later there will be blackberries.

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