Chill Hours

There is no pretending that this is anything but a misery, walloping a completely frozen cistern in the vain hope of finding water in the depths. Nothing for it now but to head up to the house 300 yards a way and start lugging buckets of water. Two three-gallons at a time, filled at the hydrant. Stoop, stand, walk, repeat. Three times a day.

This might be a good time to call upon my reserve of latent Scandinavian DNA, that inner vast, untapped, frozen reservoir of stoic resolve. Or, perhaps I could mitigate the effects of the cold by cursing like my great-great-uncle, a merchant marine captain legendary for his facility at swearing within a word. I try my hand. “Miser-damn-able weather!” I say. It is the best I can muster, and it does nothing to thaw the cistern or warm my toes. It does, however, bring a smile to my frozen cheeks.

It’s a smile that quickly fades as I peer into the hoop-house. The collards and mustard greens — at a balmy 69 degrees, they benefit from the radiant warmth of Old Sol as all outside struggles to hit 18 — need water. Stoop, stand, walk, repeat, repeat, repeat. Miser-damn-able weather.

I walk the quarter-mile to the mailbox, in and of itself a feat of Shackleton proportions. It’s the wind that does me in. Zero, sunny, and calm I can handle. But any wind at 18 degrees is “in-goddamn-sufferable.” (Eureka! esteemed mariner, I think I have it!)

What I don’t have are the seed catalogs. And what I want more than anything, having now accrued enough chill hours for this gardener to go dormant and prepare to bud, is to while away my evenings dreaming of a better garden. One that this year will be free of flea beetles, squash borers, and potato bugs; one that will sport well and timely mulched rows and neatly trellised crops, receive just the right amount of rain at just the right moments, with temperatures not too hot, not too cold. Not too much to ask.

Even the inestimable SESE hippies have let me down. Still lost in 1969, they are late in delivering. I imagine the whole collective hard at work, turning the crank on the old mimeograph and hand-stapling the 2018 catalog, before all climb into their beflowered VW bus for the annual trip to the post office and the mailing of their excellent offerings.

Fat lot of good that does me right now. I could break dormancy at any moment.


Reading this weekend: Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. and, Southern Harvest, by Clare Leighton. 

10 thoughts on “Chill Hours

  1. Brian,
    I feel for you but am secretly glad I’m not you! I don’t miss wading though snow drifts to bring water to the goats, or collect the chicken’s eggs. The temperatures this weekend were below zero with a nasty wind chill. I stayed inside by the fire except for brief forays out to let the dogs do their business.
    This arctic plunge of the jet stream is going to go down in the record books…until we break it again in a year or so. What most people may not have realized is that the warmth last November was also a waggle of the jet stream expect it was moving north bringing warm air instead of south bringing cold air. By next July people will have forgotten the cold entirely as I’m expecting a hot summer. Hope I’m wrong. It seems humans have very short memories anymore.
    Thinking about you hauling pails I wondered if you ever use a wooden yoke over your shoulders the way the Asians do when hauling two pails? I found it really reduces the load on my back and arms. It does require a good pad or something to protect your neck. Pinched nerves in the neck really hurt.
    I noticed we are expecting temperatures this week to be in the 50’s by Wednesday followed by rain. The end is in sight…for now. Hope your seed catalogs arrive soon. Mine are here and I”m definitely enjoying daydreams of better gardens to come! Isn’t that the beauty of growing plants? We can always do better next year.

    PS. I’m reading “The Watchman’s Rattle” by Rebbecca D. Costa. An excellent and thoroughly stimulating book.

    • I think I’ll add, fashion yoke, to my to-do-list. Although, knowing me it will languish on that list until the next severe cold snap. Sigh. Thanks for the “reading” note, I’ll have to check that one out.

  2. Oh, that sounds rough. Well done on the cursing practice! I’ll have to keep that in mind since winter is far from over, even if 20 degrees here today felt balmy, including the wind. Not that I’m out lugging buckets, mind you! I did just order some potato seed from Moose Tubers to supplement what we’ll grow from our own. I’m excited to try the Netherland-bred Desiree, “Satiny rose-red skin and creamy yellow flesh with a distinct flavor.” Beware those catalogs!

    Hope you are periodically sitting by the fire with a hot cuppa.


    • Ah, to be a copy writer for a seed-catalog. Sounds like that one must be an out of work Romance writer. Satiny rose-red skin… who needs the hot-cuppa!
      Stay warm in the north-woods.

  3. Memories of breaking thick layers of ice on water troughs come speeding back. Like Jody, I feel your pain. Actually, your presentation is quite descriptive and even for those who’ve not yet had the pleasure it offers a fertile warning.

    I can second the yoke idea as well – particularly for longer treks (and 300 yards would easily qualify as a longer trek). We had a heated pump house along side the barn at home growing up. But only one trough (of four) had a heater to keep water from freezing. Breaking ice, and carrying water was part of the morning ritual when it got this cold.

    The cistern – how thick do you suppose the ice is in there? Wouldn’t a 12 pound sledge hammer break through it? Visions of Thor hurling his mighty hammer come to mind…

    Two consolations come to mind now that you’ve suffered this misery – first, your great-great grand uncle is surely pleased at his familial talent coming to be expressed again. And second, the lamb, and the eggs that you will eventually enjoy will taste better for the extra effort. [was going to offer a third consolation – that you’ve gotten yourself a fine story and the experience of telling it well… but that seems too much like salt right now… perhaps in a couple weeks? 🙂 ]

    • Frozen solid, Clem down three feet. Thor’s hammer or not, nothing but the sun or a blowtorch were going to have an impact. I have only the lazy farmer on this place to blame for not getting the tank heaters out of storage in time.

  4. The description of the imagined SESE catalog being hand-assembled by people lost in 1969 made me laugh. Thank you!

    That catalog hasn’t arrived at my house, either, but I do have Fedco (which includes Moose Tubers) and Baker Creek catalogs with which to dream. My other favorite seed source, Sand Hill Preservation Center, hasn’t updated its website to 2018 yet, either.

    Hope the thaw comes soon to your farm.


Any thoughts or questions?