Saturday, February 15, 2014:
A headache sent us to bed unreflective of the weather forecast, which was in any case too much like all the other forecasts this winter to stand out. Eight inches of wet snow and half an inch of sleet caught us by surprise, and caught the dry cows out in a pasture without access even to such shelter as the woods provide. In the morning, icicles fringed the fur along their spines and dangled against their foreheads when we carried bales down to a pasture of smooth white, unbroken except here at the fence, where, judging by the evidence, they had paced all night, unable to lie down for the cold and snowfall. Farmers can’t afford migraines.
Blessedly, the dry cows are in good condition, not to be put out by an uncomfortable night, and they tucked into the bales we threw them with the pleasure of animals who must ordinarily rustle their own groceries. The young pigs are always warm in their hutches, and the lactating cows had spent the night in the barn. But we were back to temperatures that never saw twenty degrees during the day, and dipped below zero at night, and now the ground was – and still is – wrapped in an armor coating of ice, the cows’ breakfast freeze-dried below the surface.
It is difficult even to move in this snow. With each step there is a catch and thrust through the half-inch of frozen crust, and a snag to hold the foot coming forward. Beneath the crust the dry snow is so cold it cannot compress, powdering under your boot and shifting like the climbing up a sand dune. Simple chores, like walking down the water hoses to drain them, leave us panting; and our breath, which our scarves force upward, freezes in white rime on our eyelashes. Ice must be broken for animals to drink, even at the spring tank which last winter never froze, and the slabs of ice piled up behind look like heaps of glass.
Our low tunnels, stronger this year than any year previous, still collapsed, or rather subsided, under the weight of snow, the PVC ribs laid over to the ground under a thick, wrinkled skin of white. The broom with which we usually sweep the snow off the hoops can’t break through the icy crust and we are forced to use snow shovels, with the result that we snag two or three holes in the six mil plastic covers. One tunnel has three broken ribs; interestingly, it is the stronger hoops which have broken, unable to bear the weight when their weaker neighbors gave up trying. Maybe there’s a lesson there. When the burden of snow is removed the undamaged hoops erect themselves again, and the tunnels once more protect our winter spinach and carrots.