Madeleine cookies and tea

SunsetA glow to the west caught my eye. The weather system I spoke of on Friday came and went and brought with it the rain and snow which had been promised. I checked the spring house and can report that our water reserve has risen an inch and I am grateful. Temperatures have moderated and there is moisture in the air which gives it an edge and somehow allows it to pass, magically and without interruption, through layered shirts and jackets. The animals are quiet and contented. We have been fortunate that the horses have been able to get by on the little bits of green which remain scattered about the hills. They have been receiving a daily ration of grain for several weeks but now that the ground is covered by a thin blanket of snow they have been protesting for hay. I acquiesced over the weekend and determined that they would share half a square bale each afternoon. They tucked into today’s offering as if they hadn’t eaten in days; the lush green leaves of August disappeared quickly. The smell of freshly baled second-cut hay is wondrous; if I were synesthetic or perhaps overly prone to bouts of what has been called the Proustian phenomenon I could observe that breathing in its aroma (or that of haylage or a recently spread field) can transport me to times, places, and events long forgotten. Moreover the look and feel of fine hay has prompted me, on occasion, to try it … only to discover that it takes more chewing to choke down a single blade than I have patience for and, after all, it doesn’t taste as good as watching the animals would lead you to believe. The sheep have been taking advantage of a round bale that I put out some time ago to accommodate a large breeding group isolated on pasture that had been heavily grazed. Although there might have been enough forage to maintain the group it wouldn’t have been wise to let them overgraze for they would have pawed the ground to bring up divots from which they would have gleaned growing points and roots. When the skies cleared on Thursday it got cold, the ground froze, and that made moving the tractor over pasture with the second bale possible. Because I have yet to exercise the annual ritual of hitching a drum of concrete to the back of the Deere (to act as a half-ton counterbalance to the bale which is spiked to the loader at the front) the loaded ride was slow for lack of traction; the unburdened ride back to the barn was faster. I’ll attend to the drum and see to mounting tire chains. Feeding bales in this way reminds me of Devons which once grazed our fields; these were beautifully colored (red), majestic, and uncharacteristically intelligent and self-aware for bovines. I miss the bulls especially. They were powerful, quick, and smart; I never, ever, turned my back on one. Their eyes were small and expressive. I was mindful of their capacity for mischief and never underestimated them. What then do I miss? I miss being with them, watching their breath condense in the cold air of winter, marveling at their strength, and watching them grow. I miss my relationship with them, detente, the unspoken agreement we would reach that allowed for peaceful coexistence. My obligation was to minimize handling, pasture the cows where they were always within sight, and feed and water such that they should never want; theirs was to stay within a fenced perimeter. The geese are adjusting to the cold as well. Following the practice of an experienced local breeder we provided Louisa and Benwick their own jacuzzi this summer, a kid’s wading pool purchased at our local discount store. Now that  temperatures are dipping below freezing it’s been a bother to free the thick accumulations of ice which form overnight. To make things easier I replaced the jacuzzi with a smaller stock watering tank. Although many folks believe that geese and ducks require water to paddle in, that’s not as important as it is that they have enough liquid water to wash with. When geese forage, the two small nostrils positioned on either side of the beak can become plugged with soil and flushing these is important, as you may imagine. The chickens were, and continue to be, very seriously displeased with the snow for, if you did not know, chickens hate more than almost anything else having their feet cold and especially cold and wet. I opened the door to the layer house early the morning after a long night of freezing rain and snow only to discover, when I returned in the afternoon, that none of the ladies had ventured from the confines of their shelter. The wood stoves work day and night to keep us warm. Many folks cover their wood but I have always found tarps difficult to manage, especially in wind. Although we get snow we don’t get much rain over winter so keeping firewood dry isn’t difficult. Last week’s weather however made for some damp fuel. One gets around this with good heat in the box and a willingness to sacrifice BTU’s to dry the wood before it burns. The sweet aroma of wet oak reminds me of wood freshly split which reminds me of the many who, over the years, have lent a hand. Many thanks to you all. So much to observe. So much to remember and attend to. Darkness has fallen and I am anticipating what tomorrow may bring. For the Holidays one year not long ago my daughter had shirts especially printed, one said, It’s Always Something … while the other announced, It’s Never Nothing. Indeed.

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