Thursday, 17 January 2013

Getting ready for the snow

All week the news has been full of pictures of snow:  snow in the East of the country though, not here in Wales.  I have watched the weather forecasters dither with whether the snow will hit the West and now, this morning, the forecast has plumped heavily for a large snowfall on Friday.  What do you do in the city with the prospect of snow?  I think I used to dig out my slightly furrier boots, hope that the traffic wouldn't be too awful and go to bed.  Up here there is more to think about.

Today it is iron cold but with no snow yet.  I go down to the chickens to break the ice on the water and give them some extra corn.  I put some more shavings in the house and wonder what else I can do before the snow comes.  Not much, I think.  Chickens are not keen on snow and will stay inside if there is much snow on the ground, occasionally coming out for a petulant peck and scratch before retreating to the house again.  Hens are not bothered hugely about the cold as far as I can tell but they don't like wet and they don't seem to like walking on snow, reasonably enough.

Then I go to the pond to break the ice on there.  It is half over grown with a dense weed which I didn't clear last year and this seems to stop the ice being so thick.  Somewhere down in the depths there are fish, but the water is dark, icy and still today and there is no sign of life of any kind.

What else do I need to think about, with my feet icing up in their wellies and my hands still snug in their fingerless gloves?  When the snow comes we will need to dig a path out to the cars and to the stone pigsty which is our log store.  It won't be much help if the shovel is in the other old pigsty, right down at the bottom of the kitchen garden.  I go down for it and lean it against the wall by the kitchen door.  Then I go filling the log buckets.  I know I will have used everything I bring inside this morning by the time evening comes today so there will be more log carting to be done tonight but I will try and keep a good fire going in the stove today, bank it up and keep it in overnight.

What about food if we find ourselves snowed in?  We are lucky up here because although we are high up a hill there is a communications mast even higher than we are and the road is kept well gritted to provide access.  Even so a really heavy snowfall might stop us getting up out of our property as far as the road for a day or so, despite the four by four and the winter tyres.  If you live somewhere like this, away from the shops and the supermarket, you do tend to keep a well stocked freezer and a well stocked store cupboard.  I poke around in the freezer and we have loads to eat.  We have our own supply of potatoes still going strong and a sack of onions.  I think we could eat reasonably well for a couple of weeks if we had to.  That hardly counts if you want to prepare yourself for environmental disaster or the collapse of civilisation as we know it but it will do for a snowy weekend.

How easy it is now, even for those of us living deep in the countryside.  We have power and light and water and the magic interconnectedness of the internet.  If we have problems with power we have the stove and packs of candles.  I think as I often do up here of what life must have been like for our predecessors.  They would first and foremost have had animals to feed: the cows, sheep and pigs which were their livelihood.  How long must that have taken every morning, trudging around the animals to keep them fed in the deepest snow?  Inside the house only the kitchen must have been warm with the big range cooker lit day and night but the job of feeding that with fuel must have been a labour in itself.  Away from the kitchen the bedrooms must have been icy cold.  Water would have come from the spring up by the lane.  Darkness when it fell would have been almost total.  In richer households than ours candles would have been lit but even candle light is barely enough to read or work by unless you burn them by the lorry load.  In a small farm like this the lights would have been rushlights, made using the fat from the pigs.  They burn with a dim smoky light and a foul smell.  No wonder people went to bed instead but how early that must have been.  At five in the evening there is still a small amount of light left in the sky although it doesn't penetrate the two foot thick walls and the small windows.  By six the darkness is solid.

The sky is grey and  the air is bitterly cold.  I come inside again and take up my knitting by the fire, a lamp glowing on the table beside me.

I wonder "Will it snow?"

63 comments:

  1. Brrrrr. Must get some more logs in and move the car down to the main road...

    (It does sound as though it could be fairly dramatic tonight - let's hope they're all wrong!)

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    1. Never know whether to want it or dread it!

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  2. We have had gentle snow flurries since last night, though more in the air than on the ground so far. I suspect that will change at some point this evening...

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    1. Nothing much here yet. I am still intending to go to my Welsh class. Let's hope that proves a good scheme!

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  3. Yes, iron cold just about sums it up. We are also waiting for snow. (Not that I want it.) We are stocked up on food and have a cosy fire and my knitting at the ready.
    Maggie x

    Nuts in May

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  4. Elizabeth, I so enjoyed reading this post, finding out about how you prepare for winter in a way that includes potential snowstorms. It is quite different from our city ways and much more aligned with nature.

    It's also very interesting to contemplate contemporary conveniences with the more rigorous demands of history. Your writing is so very fine. I learn so much from your posts.

    Do stay warm, and best wishes to those hens!

    xo

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    1. What a lovely reply Frances - thank you. Your New York life and mine are polar opposites but I suspect we have a lot in common in the way we look at things!

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    2. Elizabeth, I think that your suspicion is true. Let's hope that we might someday have the opportunity to meet and find out. Meanwhile, I really do enjoy comparing how we each make our way through various seasons here and there. xo

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  5. We're in a similar position, on the side of a hill. About three miles of single track and ungritted roads before we get to any main road. Over 5 miles to the nearest shop. The forecast is that it will turn to rain by morning in the SW, perhaps it's just as well!

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    1. You are more isolated than we are! It's only a couple of miles to our nearest shop but it is a rather hairy ride, very steep down and very steep up!

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  6. Quietly preparing for the snow here too . Thanks for the timely reminder about breaking the ice on the pond. I went out to do that and was rewarded by the quiet conversation of 70 plus Canada Geese feeding down beside the river, murmuring to each other. Love your writing Elizabeth and although I often stop by, I apologise for being generally quiet.

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    1. So glad you commented! I would love to hear the murmurings of the geese. More like mewing buzzards up here.

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  7. You make me feel cold just to read you and we are under the red area for which the Met Office is giving a special snow warning. I have ordered an Ushanka (Russian Fur Hat) over the internet but fear it may not arrive before the snow. It has a soviet military cap badge which I sincerely hope is detachable or I shall look like a student in a timewarp. I would, though, like one of those long maxi greatcoats with bell-bottomed hem to go with it. Where might I get one of those? Lined with fur for preference. And felt boots as well. The cold and darkness get worse of course the further north you go. How do you run your farm coping with only five hours of daylight (and snow) though the latter of course helps magnify the moonlight? No, hens don't like wet of any sort and ducks don't really care for hard frosts at least Muscovies don't - but then they are more used to warm climes. In 1963 our dear Muscovies all got frostbitten, but they recovered well enough when spring arrived.

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    1. I think you need to go on Ebay Fennie! There are some fabulous great coats including some from East Germany. Uber stylish especially with your hat!

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  8. Echo the above comments - beautiful writing and you have really captured the steady preparations that are necessary when you live in the middle of nowhere.

    Like you, today has been sorting out hens, logs and storecupboard. The horses have had four additional bales of straw laid down in the barn, their rugs checked and they are as warm as toast. They quite like the snow but the bantams with their feathered feet hate it. Breaking the ice on the water troughs and ferrying buckets across the field to fill them up is a real chore; we seem to have been doing it for days already.

    The forecast is for snow not to arrive in the Cotswolds before 3am tonight - so why has it just started to fall now?

    Thanks for the reminder of the shovel - will do that now. Then settle down by the woodburner for the evening and feel warm and secure until dawn brings the animal feeding regime all over again. Will we be stepping out onto a couple of inches or having to cut our way to reach them?

    Good luck!

    Johnson

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    1. Hope you don't get too much down there! We still have no snow up here so I am feeling a bit over prepared. Depends what happens overnight and in the morning I suppose.

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  9. We have snow here at the moment in the Midlands, and looking out of the window I can see it starting to snow again. We have been cut off many times in the past and the electricity seems to have a mind of its own, so I am always well prepared at the beginning of winter - just in case.

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    1. We usually lose electricity at some point in the year so have all the candles and so on. I like it for the first few hours but then begin to find the dark and the sense of life having shrunk a bit oppressive!

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  10. Snuggle in - it sounds like your in for it!
    We are still basking in so-so temperatures - every day around 4 or 5 degrees, no snow, just cloud and mist. Like you, we are stranded for a day or so when we get a heavy snow. The big roads are cleared, but our road is last on the list, and our little slope turns into a steep hill with a little ice!

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    1. Snowing hard outside now. Looks like we are inside for a day or two!

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  11. How thoughtful. Even in the city I put the snow shovel and de-icer in the boot. I have brought coal in and wonder whether I will be able to make a long journey tomorrow. Unlikely I think and not strictly necessary but a nuisance to rearrange.If I ever need to be reminded how bad it can be I read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. They used axle grease for light and twisted straw for fuel for months.

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    1. What a great idea for a read! I might just download it to my kindle and spend the day with Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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    2. But can you believe it? No Laura Ingalls Wilder on Kindle. I have read the Snow Child instead!

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  12. I often think of the sheer effort of keeping going in un-mechanised times - sheer drudgery too. An inch or two of snow would have made everything that little bit harder - as anybody who has had to carry a couple of buckets of water two hundred yards over an icy surface will know.

    It's been snowing here since dawn - not terribly enthusiastically and thawing at one point. I'm about to go and shut hens so I'll see what it is like now.

    How right you are about petulant hens! They seem to respond to anything unusual by giving it a violent peck - snow was no exception.

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    1. I am with you about drudgery! I can't imagine how hard our ancestors must have worked in a place like this. I think we work quite hard with all our conveniences and comforts.

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  13. I remember the winter of 62/63 here in West Wales. A shovel outside the back door would not have been much good. We opened the door and the snow was 3/4 the height of the door, much taller than me! I'd keep in indoors for now!

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    1. That is quite something! I hope we don't get anything on that scale. I think it is much worse further south in Wales.

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  14. How industrious! Out of necessity, of course. Yes, we in the town are spoiled. I keep a well stocked pantry and freezer but I think it's just a throwback to the many years I spent living in the country. Still, it's reassuring in case of heavy snows, power outages and revolution!

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    1. Yep, here's to no revolution at any rate. Think the heavy snow is here and the power cuts may or may not follow!

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  15. I've had logs delivered today. It was snowing hard when I left work at lunchtime, but had turned to rain by the time I got down the hill. Have been either brave or foolish and brought the car all the way home. Normally leave it in the village when snow comes.

    Most importantly, there is plenty of cat food in the cupboard!!

    Keep warm.

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    1. Wondering if you got to work today? Looks a little better nearer the coast than it is here!

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    2. Fortunately I don't work on Friday's. We do our 37 hours Monday to Thursday (hence the early starts). Went to Port earlier and it wasn't too bad, but now looking like a white out! The wind is bitter and the snow now laying on the roads. Oh, and the car is now in the village. I think it is an afternoon of DVD's:-)

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  16. I'm obviously no where near as rural as you but if we have the heavy snow they have forecast I wont be getting out of our road. I did a mad shop at 8 this morning before work and have pile of work to do at home tomorrow. My sons boss has closed their workshop on the other side of the hills for the day so at least I dont have to worry about him driving to work. And now as you say we wait, it is trying to snow here but only lightly.

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    1. Wonder if you had more than we did! We have had driving wind but nothing like as much snow as further south. Still looking rather lovely.

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  17. You paint a lovely picture; I admire your way of life bit am not sure I could do it! Some snow here in the Midlands. It's a double edged sword, snow, isn't it? On the one hand it's beautiful, you may get a day off (!) and it's fun, but it can be very dangerous as we see each year.

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    1. I always both want it and fear it! Some if wonderful. A couple of years ago when we had a lot and it stayed for a long time life got quite hard up here.

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  18. Snap! Done much the same here yesterday and more so today - went into Ledbury at teatime to find the CoOp shelves looked like a horde of locusts had been there...! No bread, milk, veg, etc but lots of wine...

    Fortunately we have lots of food, fuels, feed , bedding in stock and are well set for bad weather - just wondering if the rural school bs will arrive at 7.45 am tomorrow to take Compostgirl to school - but if it is bad we will NOT be driving her in - last time we tried that, we ended up with a damaged car from some numpty who couldn't drive in snow (!) so not risking that again.

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    1. I always think it is quite odd when people clear the shelves of bread and milk. We always have quite a bit in stock here in the freezer I suppose so don't generally need to lay in extra supplies.

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  19. Like you Elizabeth, I often find myself thinking of the country people of the past, a small smoky cottage might have seemed better than a great draughty castle, but what with the work, and the lack of good food and comfort, goodness knows how people bore it. But that's true today too, of people all over the world with drought and floods, heat and cold. Aren't we lucky, with our hot water in the taps, full cupboards, snug and pretty homes. This post really brought it home, how lovely to do such calm and sensible checking. You abosolutely bring it alive, thank you.

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    1. We are extraordinarily lucky and we take is so much for granted!

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  20. Well here in Sussex. its 6.55 am, Friday.....been awake on and off since 4am, rn restless legs, honestly! But anyhows decided to blog surf etc and as always popped by and read. Like yourself decided to prepare so popped and got in extra milk and food etc, just in case....and as yet now snow...honestly!

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    1. Wonder if you got a lot in Sussex? We have got away quite lightly up here compared with other parts of Wales.

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  21. I woke this morning early - half of me peeped out into the dark hoping for a blanket of snow, and half of me really didn't want snow. We rarely get completely snowed in here on the coast and this morning .... well just a few flurries, but harsh icy strong winds are whistling through every nook and cranny, both indoors and out! And slushy stuff - that might be snow and might be rain. Stay warm
    K
    xxx

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    1. It looks as if you might have had quite a bit from the weather map Karen. Hope all ok over there!

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  22. Hello Elizabeth:
    How wonderful to have discovered your blog with its most intriguing accounts of life on a Welsh hillside. For over twenty-five years we were on the Herefordshire side of the Welsh March and so this is, to some extent, familiar territory.

    At one time we too kept hens and, as you rightly say, they do not care for the wet at all. Quite how they behave in snow we cannot now recall but suspect that they are not over keen. By now, we imagine, the snow has reached you and do trust that your lane will be kept clear to ease life a little.

    Here in a cold and grey Budapest the sleet has fallen all day.

    We have signed as Followers.

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    1. Welcome! I wonder how you find yourselves living in Budapest after so much time on the Welsh borders. Must go and read your blog!

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  23. Friday . I do not live too far from you, Herefordshire, but in the small village where I live, we awoke this morning to snow and it is still snowing. Nothing has moved and all is peacefully quiet. I always keep extra supplies of dried milk and an extra loaf in the freezer for the times we are unable to get out of the village.
    We have a wood burning stove and a generator for electricity. Still, too, an old brass oil lamp for light but we have been known to go to bed when it is dark if we have no electricity. Now I am in front of the wood burner, knitting and enjoying the quietness. Hope you and everyone else stays safe. Great blog, thank you.
    Dianne - Herefordshire

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    1. I do love the silence that comes with snow. I love oil lamps too. I wonder if we should have one as part of our back up equipment. That would be a good excuse anyway!

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  24. Dear Elizabeth - thanks for your lovely comments. It sounds as if you are well prepared for whatever nature throws at you or possible has already delivered.
    Yesterday when the first spots of snow started falling we ventured out and bought a very large chicken and lots of root vegetables. Roast chicken tomorrow and after several more meals from it I can use the carcass to make a big pot of steaming soup. We could hold out for possibly 2 weeks as well if necessary.

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    1. Hope you are warm where you are. I did much the same!

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  25. ooh we even have snow in Londn now....stay warm!!

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    1. We had to chop more wood today (by we I mean Ian chopped and I stacked!) so we are warm and fine for a bit longer.

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  26. Elizabeth, it's so nice to reconnect with you through the Hattatts! I've followed you so we won't lose each other again. I love your description of your snug home and getting ready for snow. It reminds me of Maine. Your banner photo took my breath away.

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    1. I had an aunt who lived in New Hampshire for many years and I visited Maine when I visited her. It is a beautiful place, rather reminiscent of our Western coasts in the UK. I suspect you know a thing or two about snow in Maine!

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    2. So we have a New England connection too! My husband's family is from the West Country. The novel I just finished writing (not published yet) is set there. That landscape is quite different from Maine in my eyes - more cultivated but equally beautiful. Our coastline in Maine looks more like Norway, I hear.

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    3. Ah my family live in the West Country! Belstone on the edge of Dartmoor and the South Hams, down towards the sea. Synchronicity!

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  27. I imagine that you have had the snow by now Elizabeth and more than us in north Cheshire. Himself has just read the complete diary of Samuel Pepys and earlier in the week we were discussing what life must have been like in those days in cold spells. Having said that I can remember the winter of 62/63 when icicles appeared on our toothbrushes overnight. I have decided to use my fingerless gloves for gardening purposes only - they simply do not keep my hands warm enough. Hope that you are enjoying knitting by the fireside.

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    1. I don't think we had icicles on our toothbrushes but I do remember the snowdrifts in the garden higher than my head against the hedge.

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  28. It's been quite strange for us in Scotland to have the rest of the country getting the snow for a change! I do remember cold-as-ice bedrooms as a child - it was the norm to switch on the light in the morning and see one's breath. And the gorgeous frost-ferns on the inside of the window. My children look at me as if I'm mad when I say that I miss that.

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    1. The frost ferns and flowers were very beautiful though and hard to imagine if you have not seen them. I used to try to both look closely and not melt them when I was a child!

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  29. Very well put as usual. Have been loving the cosiness of 'being snowed in' up our hill this weekend, venturing out to sledge and to bring lots of wood in to keep the woodburner stoked up. But as you say, we're so lucky to be able to enjoy the novelty of this - knowing that we could just use the central heating more if we wanted, that we have lots of hot water and supermarkets aren't really that far away. Schools closed round by us tomorrow and can't help thinking, "yippee, more sledging!"

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  30. I loved this post Elizabeth. I have just come back from a holiday that included some time in Vermont - after a couple of days I decided that constant snow would quickly lose its novelty value.

    I often wondered how the generations before coped. I was listening one day on the radio to a lady talk about her mother bringing them up in a tent on a Western Australian farm in an area that frequently gets to 45 degrees celsius in summer. It made me think about my own family and I wrote this post

    http://mylifeinthecountrytoday.blogspot.com.au/2011/06/farmers-wives-who-came-before.html

    It is a couple of years old now but still one of the most visited posts on my blog (that and the one about braised steak and onions - weird!)

    Back home now and wandering around my garden looking at my crispy dried out plants hoping I can resurrect them so they survive the next month or so before the weather cools....

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