Sunday, February 27: The kind of day that makes you think you’re doing everything right. Today was really beautiful, a spring day a month early. A jacket day, with the sun coming and going behind clouds white with grey hearts, and the shapes of trees standing out against the sky making you wonder why you never noticed them before. S-6, who is three years old, seems to be getting over his periodic fevers of the past few days, so we took him to mass, only making sure he didn’t get down and visit with anyone. Pancakes for breakfast with some of the new maple syrup.
Beethoven in Pittsburgh with Manfred Honeck and Vogt, and the drive home westward into a sun that was still above the horizon at six o’clock, furthering the illusion that spring has come, which it has not. Home to baked chicken and roast potatoes, and everyone turning out to collect maple sap in the dark, thirty gallons and some of the buckets running over. A day designed to create the illusion that if you just order your life according to the right principles, God will smooth your path and strew it with roses.
Monday, February 28: Baby is misstng from bed at six a.m., an unprecedented event; search reveals him tucked up with the girls, who enticed him with promise of stories, when they were wakened early by thunder. Pouring buckets of rain, and soon the buckets are coming into the basement. With the ground frozen, the rain has nowhere to go, and some of it decides to follow the foundation of the house down, and shoot in through the cracks in the tiles with the force of a hosepipe. Four months of firewood coming into the basement has left the drains clogged with wood chips and dirt, and before we can get them open, the rain is pouring across the floor. We can see it rising. Wade in – the water is cold , being melted snow as well as rain – and scoop out the trash with our fingers, until we see the water begin to swirl down through the grills. The basement is saved, but the day hasn’t even begun yet.
Son three still isn’t up from the milking, and the water in Jeddo’s run is over the road, pouring in a wide brown shoulder over the lane, churning down to meet North Creek , tear along the low side of the pasture pulling pieces out of the bank, and spill under the barbed wire boundary fence to go wash out Kenny Mossor’s little footbridge. The other boys are called, and Mom runs on ahead, convinced that the missing milker has been washed into the culvert, resulting in the overflow; before he makes his re-appearance, she has climbed in under the waterfall to see if his legs are protruding from the lower end. Also, groped in the wash over the curb of the road in an attempt to see if his cold fingers are there in the water among the wedged sticks and flotsam. Much mirth from the male two-thirds of the household, especially the missing son, who appears bearing various articles careless people have left where the rain could wash them away. Offspring take a cold wet ramble of discovery and exploration for an hour before they can be induced to come in and get a hot breakfast. After such a beginning to the day, how can schoolwork compete?
The rain petering off by lunchtime, people go out to do noon chores, and remain out to put up hotwire fencing Bridget, the sorrel mini, and Isabel, off the pasture, which is beginning to thaw. We rotational graziers have to prevent our animals pugging up the pasture, even when it means putting up hotwire over, and through, a creek in spate. About three-thirty, time to see about dinner, Mom goes downstairs and discovers that one of the chest freezers is full of thawed meat, and about two inches of bloody water. Investigation reveals that said freezer has been shut off, or almost off, but investigation cannot s. discover how it happened. Sorting through the meat – some still frozen, some thawed but still cold, and some not cold at all – and cleaning the freezer, takes and hour and a half, and dinner turns out to be stew in the pressure cooker, starring some of the inadvertently thawed meat. Serendipitously, the mystery of how the freezer got turned off is solved when S-6, who is three, volunteers to show Mommy how he can “climb up on the freezer and slide like a fireman down the pole” – a lally column situated at the end of the freezer where is the temperature dial. This skill has been taught him, it turns out, by D-2, age six, with whom he spent a happy hour Saturday afternoon practicing it.
Dinner late, older boys late for carpool to a swim date. Batch of mozzarella which should have been receiving attention during the freezer-cleaning process, is almost ruined; too-acid mozzarella melts away to a white liquid fit for nothing but feeding to the pigs. Likewise, a pound of butter has churned its life away for approximately an hour longer than necessary, reducing it to a fluffy mush which nothing can rectify, and it also goes to the pigs. Well, it was a good day for the pigs.
Tuesday, March 1: The sun rose in a glorious blue sky, and the frozen ground meant no slipping in the mud left from yesterday’s monsoon. The river is six inches from flood state, and the surface, a half mile broad, is littered with all the broken branches the winter had left in each small tributary. The mill bridge to Brown’s Island has on it the eight-foot long iron slabs which they lay out when they want to hold the bridge down more firmly to the riverbed. They lay these out at close intervals down the center of the one-lane bridge, so that the tractor rigs carrying rolls of extruded steel can straddle them. We read the state of the natural world on the face of a steel mill.
S-3 and Mom prune fruit trees up the hill. They haven’t been touched for several years, and there is lots to be done, more, in fact, than can be done in one pruning; it will be two or three years before these trees are tamed. Lumber for the flat bed being built on the old red pickup must be bought at the lumberyard, as it has to be pressure-treated wood. There is a rusty sickle-bar mower on a scrap heap going the back way home from the lumber yard; we leave a note for the homeowners that we would like to negotiate for it. The parts we just bought for our sickle bar mower set us back a bit, as each small piece – blade tooth, guard, even rivet – carries a price tag in dollars and cents. This old mower, scrap metal to some people, is spare parts to us.