Notes from Windward: #64

Ice Station Windward

snug and warm in the storm

two foot of snow and getting cold

     Most years, winter here in the Windward woods is no big deal. The warm winds off the Pacific keep the serious winter weather over to the east down Idaho way, and the modest snowfalls that come a couple of times during most winters rarely linger for very long.

     And then there's the years like this one, when nature takes care to make sure that we remember what a real winter's like. What it means to have snow too deep to walk in, and ice on top of that.

     Fortunately, it's also a chance to remember how deliciously warm a woodstove can be when the outside temperature's dropping into the single digits, or how crystal clear the air is the morning after the storm passes.

     Each winter, we're a bit better prepared, but there is always a wrinkle or two for us to keep working on. For example, this winter, all the water lines kept running even on the coldest night, but we wound up having to shut down the water in a number of places because the big plastic pipes that connected to the septic systems froze solid, and you can't keep the water running when it's got no place to go.

     When something like that happens, it goes on the list of needed system improvement come the spring, and we'll take the steps necessary to insure that the next time that particular problem won't crop up, but there's not much you can do about it until things thaw out, especially when the lines are on the north side, i.e the cold side, or buildings. Oh well, it's always something.

     The sheep and ducks took the cold weather in stride, and our two sheep dogs couldn't have enjoyed the snow more. Even old Savannah was seen bounding down the hill in a cloud of white powder snow acting like a puppy again inspite of her age.

     The only casualty we're aware of is a chicken who didn't watch her back well enough and fell prey to the pair of ravens who have been haunting Windward for the past year. I spotted Gina packing her .22 rifle this afternoon, so ravens may have just gone on the "endangered species" list around here.

     The dining hall performed just fine, and kept us in warm food and good spirits right through the worst of the storm. We celebrated New Year's eve with a grand seafood dinner featuring deep fried scallops, crab salid, oysters on garlic toast washed down with champaigne. And New Year's day with a traditional dinner of ham hock, black-eyed peas and skillet-baked corn bread.

     One of the most fun things was Wednesday noon when one of our neighbors used his cross-country skis to make the trek over to join us for lunch. In olden times, dirt roads, made muddy and impassable by the fall rains, make even short journeys very difficult. It was only after snow covered the country-side and ice paved the rivers and lakes, that folks could travel cross-country with relative ease, and most took full advantage of the chance to get out and about.

the woodshed that was

     The most notable casualty of the storm was the 10'x40' workshop I'd put together using some "Costco garage" frames to house some of our wood working equipment. Having had some experience at getting plastic roofs to hold up under snow loads, I figured that it would bear the load, and it did right up until the big fir tree behind it dumped its snow load onto the rear of the shelter, and that was just too much for it to take.

     All in all, it was a very good storm. Winter's going to come, and you just have to prepare for the challenge, but the critical question is "How will all this will affect next year's water supply?" The ground under Windward isn't very deep. In many places, the soil only goes down ten feet or so before you get to heavy rock.

     Given the shallowness of the soil, a winter with too little snow translates into a summer with too little water. And even when you get the snow you need, sometimes conditions are such that you lose the water anyway.

     For example, back in the winter of '96, it got cold enough to freeze the bare ground solid before the snow fell. Then when the warm rain came and melted the snow, the water could not seep into the ground. Instead, it turned to slush, ran off down the hill into the river, resulting in a flood which took out almost five miles of highway along the Klickitat. This time, the ground under the snow isn't frozen, and the melting snow is being soaked up. We'll have to deal with dry ground and short water again some August to come, but it won't be this August.

     Now that the prevailing weather pattern is reasserting itself, the afternoon temps are above freezing, and the snow is starting to slowly melt. Soon, the Storm of '04 will be just another tale to help us remember why June is the month we refill the woodshed with enough firewood to last two ordinary winters, 'cause sometimes winter doubles up and puts you to the test.

     This year, I'd say we passed with flying colors.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 64