Just when the idyllic wintery scenes out the window have ceased to enthrall and you’ve read every days-old newspaper in the house and the ravages of cabin fever claw at your mind, something out of the ordinary saves the day.
Like a chicken eating snow.
It was that kind of month: unexpected morning routines, daily struggles with the elements and natural surprises that simply made us thankful for the sun shining brightly through the clouds, whenever it did.
There I was feeling like Pa in “Little House on the Prairie,” while waiting for a good signal to get a weather forecast from the Internet.
The chickens needed tending big time, with their water supplies frozen most days. That one morning when they discovered snow was a chicken coop epiphany. I had bundled up to take them some treats from the kitchen, leftover salad greens, stale bread and a gallon of hot water.
What did they go for first? They surrounded my feet and pecked at the flakes of snow on the toes of my boots, nibbling away contentedly in 8-degree weather. It tickled. I filled a wheelbarrow with shoveled snow from the nearby driveway and dumped it in the center of their coop, where sun would pass through a plastic skylight.
It was an incongruous sight, but at least I knew they wouldn’t be getting their version of cabin fever. And sure enough, there were fresh eggs in the nest at day’s end.
Outside, our northern Orange County roads were unpredictable and most of the time impassable. We had plenty of milk, bread, wood and old National Geographic magazines. My wife forbade the use of the words “hunkered down.” Our dogs figured out how to chorus-bark at the backdoor when they wanted to come in. Pitiful, but effective.
One morning the neighbor’s extended family tromped through the woods to borrow a stick of butter. We caught up, and warmed up, with winter stories and cautionary tales of our shared driveway, lined on both sides with frozen phalanxes of leaning loblollies and sagging cedars. We feasted on my specialty of the day: burned blueberry muffins, infused with pancake mix.
Like everyone in the Piedmont, we got out to play in the snow. A few more fading February snapshots: Following deer and rabbit tracks as they searched for greens. Watching a 50-foot-tall pine draped over a power line finally shed its snowcap and pop back upright. Coaxing the dogs out of their slumbers to join us on a hike to the creek. All four of us collapsing in the living room after high-stepping it down a hillside, the once-fluffy dusting having turned into a slippery, icy topping.
Craft projects were hatched, peanut butter cookies were baked, books and frozen pizza were consumed, and requisite documentary photos were sent to family far and wide. Fifty-pound bags of dog food and chicken scratch were loaded into the car for traction. Snow shovels and ice scrapers were found. Gloves were found and lost and found.
Though the phrase “too old for this” was never voiced, I will admit to missing the kids to share the winter wonderland with. I needed their adrenalin rush of a “No School!” day remembering all the times they would wake up groggy and whisper “Do we have school today?” when snow was predicted.
With our girls, a snow day was a winter outdoor playground day with sled ramps, snow angels and snow-women, and piles of discarded hats and jackets on drying racks. The baking went on all day. At least that’s how I remember it.
This last time, one morning I woke up humming that feel-good chestnut “In the Bleak Midwinter.” But the white-on-grey scenes out the window, stark and still at dawn, were beautiful – at least until you needed or wanted to be somewhere else. Revving our little car down our snow-packed driveway, I felt like I was driving a slot car. Man cannot live like that.
That last snow day in February, when we all had hit the wall, I loaded up another wheelbarrow of clean, white snow for the ever-curious chickens. They went crazy! They had already forgotten that it was their favorite thing.
Ah, snow memories 2015. Let’s keep ’em that way.