Notes from Windward: #57

Memories of Winter

One of winter's
golden days
Even the toughest winter has marvelous days when the sky clears, the wind dies and it's glorious to be able to get out and enjoy the beauty of it all. After being cooped up, it's a real kick to be out and about, although with the depth of this winter's snow, we're going to try our hand at making snowshoes before next winter comes.

Windward is a big place, as this view down a 1/2 mile of our driveway attests. By next winter, we're hoping to have a new entrance online so that we don't have to keep this part of the road open during snow season. This picture is taken facing north, and the county road runs along the right side of the pasture in a north-westerly direction. The result is that up near the tree line in this picture, it's only some 70 yards from the county road to this road. When you're clearing snow, 70 yards is a lot better than 700.

almost out of pen
The ducks didn't seem to mind the winter weather much at all. Indeed, with their webfeet functioning as snowshoes, they kept going right over any snow that fell. As the snow depth increased, I began to wonder if the rising surface would lift them right out of their pen. The fence panel they're looking through is 52" tall. You can see that when this picture was taken, their heads were within inches of the top.

A flap or two of their wings and they could have been out, but that didn't happen. Either they were too stupid to realize they could clear the fence, or they were too smart to want to leave where they were fed and watered. On reflection, I think a bit of both kept them in the pen, combined with a lack of incentive to roam. During snow season, there isn't much out there worth the waddle to get to.

Now that spring is here, it's entirely different. The ducks delight in grazing the new shoots, and with the hills turning green, it would be very dificult to keep them in the pen full time. It's a good thing we're not obsessive about keeping critters penned up. Besides, it's fun to watch them go about the business of foraging with such earnest intensity. Ducks are inherently funny, and never so much as when they're trying to be serious. In their defense, they're capable of functioning in three different mediums (land, air and water), and that's quite an evolutionary accomplishment. The fact that it comes at the price of appearing comic, as they waddle along is just one of life's little ironies.

Bob attacks the ice ramp
We put the new snowblower to good use this winter, and through Monty's hard and diligent work, kept most of the paths and necessary roadways open and working. Then came a heavy freezing rain that put an inch of hard ice on everything. At that point it became very difficult to move around even with studded snow tires and four-wheel drive. Here's a shot of Bob working to break through the ice sheet so the hay truck can make it up the hill.

Still even the heavy ice gave us a laugh or two. The freezing rain turned the snow-blower paths into ice chutes that made getting around very challenging. Cindy came up with the hot ticket by remembering some strap on crampons that fit under the arch of your boot and provided enough traction to maneuver. We were impressed, and plan to lay in a stock of them before next winter.

All summer long the goats razz the sheep because goats are far more dexterious than mere sheep can ever hope to be. Goats can wiggle their toes and sheep can't, with the result that goats can climb things that are way too steep and tricky for sheep to handle. It's a point they take great pride in, and are always looking for something to climb in order to show off.

a thick coat of ice
Winter is turnabout time, and while the cold weather reigns, it's the sheep that have all the advantages. You can almost see them laughing at the goats all huddled in their shelters trying to stay warm. With thick, lanolined wool coats, the sheep are so insulated, they often walk around with snow on their backs.

While the goats are hunkered down for the winter, only coming out at feeding times, the sheep merrily wander around Windward as it pleases them. The only time they had trouble was after the ice storm because their hooves were completely ineffective on the ice. Come feeding time, they would rush down hill towards the barn. The paths had turned into ice chutes and the sheep were completely unable to check their headlong rush. This twice-daily spectacle of a dozen fluffy balls of wool careening into the feeding yard was quickly named "Bumper Sheep."

Lake Windward
We tell people (only half-jokingly) that Windward has six seasons: the usual four plus wet and dry. The dry season runs from about May to around October when the winter rains begin the steady transformation into winter. While I never tire of extolling the virtues of our land, it's also true that Windward is dusty in the summer, and muddy in the winter, but so it goes. We're located at the transition zone between the wet forest and the dry prairie, and sometimes it feels like there's an annual tug of war played out between drought and flood. We can tell from tree rings that for periods up to a decade one or the other holds sway. In time, the pendulum swings, balance returns and life goes on.

The first rains of fall serve to do little more than dampen down the tinder duff, the dry stuff that lines the floor of the forest. A heavy rain will come and go, and in an hour you'll hardly be able to see it even rained at all. By the time the ground gets moist again, we're going into serious winter and the snow blanket soon puts the woods to sleep for the winter.

The spring rains melt the snow, and soon there's water everywhere. A sure sign of spring comes as the woods are filled with the sound of water running downhill to the river. To the east, the creek along the county road fills up and babbles seductively of water wheels driving all sorts of nifty projects. One day we hope to put that water to use, but for now it just runs down to the sea.

We also have a run-off creek that runs through the western part of Windward, filling up the gravel pit and creating what we jokingly call Lake Windward. Since most of our visitors come up during the dry part of the year, few people get to see our pretty pond, so I thought to include a picture of it in these memories of winter at Windward.

The Gorge in winter
Windward is at an elevation of around 2,000', and the snow stays with us much longer than it does with the folks who live down by the river. One of this county's most remarkable features is the way that the local microclimates change as you go from alpine in the north near Mount Adams to mediteranian in the south along the Columbia river. Even when Windward's winterbound and iced in, it's a short run down to the river and then onto Portland.

This is a view of the Columbia near Lyle, WA. That's where we leave Highway 142, the road that meanders alongside the Klickitat river, and head west for Portland via Highway 14. The winter does touch the folk who live along the Columbia, but it's grip is never very strong. While there were a couple of times this winter when it was ice-bound along the river, and for a time snow slides even shut down the interstate, for the most part it's just a beautiful drive.

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