Notes from Windward: #56

White Moon

The heavy snowfall
brings down the
old killing tree
In the mythical land of Camelot, we're told that winter arrived at it's scheduled time, and departed March the first "on the dot." Well, Windward isn't Camelot; around here, there's no telling what the weather's going to do. We know it's going to get hot in summer and cold in winter, that there's going to be dry season followed by a wet one, but that's about all we know for sure. We often have a shock of really cold weather in mid-December, which is followed by more moderate weather. It doesn't always work out that way, but it's a comforting thing to tell yourself when you start seeing single digit lows before Christmas.

So far, in nine winters, we've not had serious snow before the second week in December. This year, the wee hours of the morning of the 17th of November dropped almost three feet. It's always a race to get ready for winter, and while it's a race we expect to "lose," getting shut out three weeks early was an unpleasant surprise. There were a number of important projects that didn't get finished, and having to play catch-up makes things just that much tougher.

Joyce checking out
the snowfall

Once we got over the shock of that much snow that early in the year, we had some hard thinking to do. Usually our population drops below ten hardy souls during the winter, but at this point we have 15 people on campus. That implies a lot of coming and going, and since the long range weather guys are saying that we're in for a serious winter, curling up with a good book and waiting for it all to melt isn't going to be an option. The solution we reached was to bite the bullet, and buy a snow blower. Organizationally, we go a long way to keep from throwing money at problems, but sometimes that's the only real option you have.

Now that we're solidly snowbound, it's looking like that was the right decision. Monte has been making the blower dance, and the results are impressive. Any area we want cleared, can be cleared quickly, enabling us to get on with our work. There's also the safety consideration. In the past, we just tromped paths into the snow, but now we're enjoying being able to get around across two-foot wide paths that look like nicely manicured sidewalks. One of the running jokes at Windward involves how neat everything looks during the winter. It's amazing what two feet of snow can cover up.

Bravo's getting a
new mud room

One of the projects that we're still struggling ahead with has to do with the addition of a little mud room to Bravo trailer. The door had taken a lot of wear and tear over the years, and we were having a hard time figuring how it could be repaired so as to be weather tight. The upshot was that we figured that it couldn't, so in order to provide better heat retention, we decided to add a small room as a barrier to the winter weather. It's more trouble than just patching the door, but we always try to look at the best way to solve the long term problem. This way will save on heating costs, and provide a bit more closet space for coats and boots.

Cindy heads down
towards the old barn

One of the key challenges each winter is to keep the water running. Last winter was the first in which we were able to keep the kitchen running straight through the winter, and this winter we're expecting to keep almost all the main lines running. During the summer we fill the main storage tank so that we have a 5,000 gallon reserve on hand, but during the winter we drain the big vertical tank and rely on a smaller horizontal 1,000 gallon tank. Since we don't have gardens to water and hot, thirsty animals to quench, the smaller tank does just fine. There's also the value of intentionally overfilling the smaller tank since a full tank is less likely to freeze.

Starry heads back
to shelter

The deepening snow is no real threat to the goats; as long as they have liquid water and shelter from the wind, they're good to well down below zero. Having a large, exothermic rumen inside you is a great way to stay warm in the winter. However, once the snow accumulates to a certain elevation, the milkers start to become very reluctant to wade through the cold, sharp snow. The saying is that the udder is half the goat, and I can't imagine anything more unpleasant than having to drag one's utter across broken snow. For at least that reason alone, the goats seem to really like the paths that the snowblower is creating.

The sheep train
heads up the hill

Summer belongs to the goats, but winter is sheep time. While their fleeces make it hard for them to exert themselves in summer, in winter they're so well insulated that snow will settle on their backs and not even melt. Even though there isn't really any place for them to go, still the sheep seem to enjoy wandering around a good deal. It's not uncommon to see a "sheep train" heading off somewhere as they cruise the paths. They don't seem to have a leader in this. It's more like one of the sheep gets an idea to head somewhere, and the rest just fall in and tag along for want of anything better to do. The reputation that sheep have for being followers is well rooted in their nature.

Bob2 and Savannah
follow Penny
down the hill

The dogs seem to enjoy this time as well. Perhaps it's the sense of isolation that they enjoy, since they spend a lot of time protecting the herd from coyotes; in the deep snow, the ability of predators to cover ground is greatly reduced. Tucker is fairly short-haired, and I don't think he deals with the cold very well, but Savannah and Penny are naturally well-equiped to enjoy the winter.

The dogs are commonly seen tagging along with Bob2 as he goes about caring for the herd. That's quite a task in the hard winter months, since just keeping a hose from freezing up is something you have to remember to take care of. While the weather does pose many problems, one thing that's sure is that every time Bob2 and I look at the container with it's cargo of hay we feel a strong sense of achievement and pride. We're stilling not winning the battle with winter, but we have scored some solid victories and each year keeps getting better.

The duck flock gets
bigger at feeding time

The ducks seem well enough adapted to the winter, although five chickens seem to have decided to join the flock for the duration of the snow. There just isn't much for hens to scratch up through the heavy snow, so I don't mind if a few of the chickens show up at feeding time. We don't do much for our chickens, since the intent is for them to stay hungry and keep the bug population in check. The birds who've established themselves here are pretty tough, aggressive birds, but when the weather like this sets in, it behooves us to help them along. Self-reliance is important, but so is the need to team up now and then.

Sheep at the door
waiting for more bread

The program of sharing the duck's bread with the sheep is still going forward by popular acclaim. Often I'll be at my desk and hear some bumping around in my woodshed. Upon examination, it usually turns out that the sheep have decided that it's time to feed the sheep some more bread, and since they didn't want me to have to come looking for them, they've considerately decided to camp out on my doorstep. I don't believe that a slice or two of bread makes all that much difference to them nutritionally, since they're getting good quality hay to eat, but I expect that it's more like a treat. They certainly get enthusiastic when they see me with another loaf in hand.

Monte, dressed and ready to blow snow

Monte has taken on the snowblower project, and really turned the table on the winter. Oh, winter is still a serious challenge, and it exacts a heavy toll, but the fact that we can clear just about any area at any time has given the team a real psychological boost. This can be a dreary time of year under the best of circumstances; seasonally affected depression, know as SAD for short, is a problem for active people who find themselves trapped by long nights and short days. Being able to maintain our mobility in spite of the weather has been a real plus, and this is the first winter where 2 wheel drive vehicles can still come and go. While we rely on the 3/4 ton 4x4 Chevy truck as our primary winter workhorse, it's very important to be able to access other resources.

We're hoping that by next winter (and this isn't the first winter I've said this) we'll have the new entrance working. As it is, our drive way is a kilometer long (six tenth's of a mile) and that's a lot of distance to blow at 24" inches a pass. By the time you figure the distance on to the top of our hill, it's easily 7/8ths of a mile. That's a lot of work! Once the new entrance is viable, we'll be able to lop off a good half-mile of that distance, something which will make winter access much more reliable. We've gotten the way bulldozed, and some work has been done, but the flood last spring damaged the culvert and we're going to have to go back and redo that part. Then we'll need to bring in many loads of rock and fill dirt in order to raise the roadbed above the creek bed since as it is, the way is just too steep for 2 wheel drive vehicles to make it in bad weather.

Starting to clear
the landing

The plan is the use that project as a dump for the dirt that's dug out of other areas. As we start work on the cabins next spring, we'll be nestling them up against the hill side so that they'll be partially earth sheltered. That will require the removal of a good deal of dirt, which will in turn go to build up the new entrance. One of the joys of working a large project such as this, lies in the challenge of finding ways that one task can fulfill multiple agendas. Doesn't always work out that way, but it's great fun when it does.

We plan to do a good deal of excavation along with our construction, since winter storage (i.e. nonfreezing space) is essential to a full scale self-reliance program. There are some foods which can be frozen and stored that way, but a substantial portion of the food supply needs to be kept from freezing. Potatoes and other root crops need to be kept cool, but if they freeze, they're lost. Since the ground temperature averages 55 degrees Fahrenheit here, putting something into a root cellar or basement, is an excellent way to preserve it.

Lisa and Michael
out for a slide

In time, we even hope to build an underground ice house. Tonight the low temp will be in the teens, and that's the perfect weather for making large blocks of ice. A common size is two by four feet across by six inches thick. These can be made by filling a wooden knock-down form with water, and then just letting it freeze over night. Then the next day, you remove the block of ice and tuck it away in the insulated ice house. A few weeks of that, and you can store enough ice to meet your cooling needs all summer. Running an cold storage locker can cost a good deal in energy, or be almost free if you just plan ahead.

Lisa and Michael take advantage of the freshly blown paths to do a little sledding. When the footing is icy, having a high center of gravity is a sure way to slip and fall. This way, Michael gets a fun ride while Lisa covers ground. In the outside world, where parents go to work and children go to daycare, the chance to work with and around your children is a true blessing. Our choice to live here in the woods does mean that we have to deal with problems that city folk generally escape, but there are important compensations. Being about to work with and around the people you care about is one of the most important.

the garage:
making progress,
still not there

Another project that's been underway for a long time is the garage. Progress has been slow but steady, and come this winter, the two side workshops are operational. With a cement floor, power and walls, the garage is starting to fulfill the task of providing a central tool storage point and a year-round work center. The 10x20 foot work bay on the left has a 20' long workbench with enough pegboard to organize an impressive array of hand tools. One ancient frustration around here comes from knowing that we have a certain tool, but being unable to find it. That problem isn't over, but it's certainly lessened.

During the summer, the days are 16 hours long, so there's all the light you could ask for, but come this time of year, the days are a mere 8 hours. Having a lighted workspace to keep working on things after the sun goes down, really helps. We don't try to do as much in the winter as in the summer, but still there are times when some task just has to be done as soon as possible, and having a place to do is makes all the difference. Having started out with raw land, the development of these facilities is a source of real pleasure and satisfaction to me.

working late

Next spring, we'll be working on putting together our woodshop, and once that's done, we'll be fully set up to do the construction work that's going to be key to the next stage of Windward's growth. Our third decade will see the fleshing out of the dream that we've been working on for so long. Looking back, if we'd known then what we know now, but then you'd heard that story before. While we've made our mistakes and had our setbacks, still we've forged ahead and covered ground.

Even during the stark days of the White Moon, we keep going forward a step at a time.

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