I hear the distant whisper of winter in the wind that blows through the dry leaves. The trees are undressing. Winter attire is barren casual.
Unless you are people, then winter attire is long johns, jeans, boots, and two or three layers on top with a jacket.
This will be our third winter on this very rural farm. I feel prepared, but nervous—because prepared is just an autumn joke you tell yourself till the middle of winter when the next unforeseen thing you didn’t know about happens and you aren’t prepared for it. Winter always has a new trick to play, and with every leaf that flutters through the air, I feel its approach.
I have a love/hate relationship with winter. I am still in love with snow. It’s so magical, especially in the country where the untouched woods turn into fairylands. But I hate the roads that scare me when they are covered in ice and snow. I don’t mind the cold so much—they make wood stoves for that. But the roads….
I don’t like the roads at all, starting with the driveway. Maybe by next winter we can afford to put more rock on it. That will help…..a little. Someday, my fantasy is to black top it. That would be the height of luxury. At least when the ice and snow melted, there wouldn’t be a foot of mud underneath.
In case you live in the suburbs and don’t understand why that is such a fantasy because you have a concrete or black top driveway already and so does everyone you know, many driveways in the country are very long. For that reason, most driveways in the country are rock or what we call rock, which is mostly dirt. Or in the winter, mud.
But it’s not winter yet, it’s just that strange time of fall when the days are cold then warm then cold then warm. Autumn is a fickle, changeable season, dating summer and winter at one time. Autumn has commitment issues.
While she wavers back and forth, I check my pantry and cabinets, counting and planning. Do I have enough of this? Can I afford to stock up on more of that? What is most important? What could I live without if I run out of it and am snowed in for a week (or more)? That last question helps bring me down to the basics. Enough hay and feed for the animals is always first. This year, for the first time, I have my own milk cow a few steps from the house. I won’t run out of milk and butter and cheese. I have eggs, too—and enough chickens and ducks that usually even through the winter, a day rarely goes by that someone isn’t laying. Flour and the other basic baking supplies such as baking powder, sugar, and yeast are top on the list. With a milk cow, chickens, and baking staples, you can live a long time or forever with little else. Luckily, I have a larder and freezer full of vegetables and fruits and meats, too. Gasoline for the generator is a must. Wood for the wood stove. A full propane tank. (I can’t run out of soap this year—I can make my own with a few staple supplies. Ha! Take that, winter.) Candles, batteries, the checklist goes on and on. Aluminum foil. (When you can’t wash dishes in a power outage, lining pans with aluminum foil is really helpful! You can wrap meats and veggies and all sorts of things to cook on a gas grill! Plus, you can make a tin foil hat to ward off space aliens! You won’t be laughing if you aren’t prepared for a space alien invasion during a power outage, people!)
Water is always a big issue, in case of a long power outage that is combined with inaccessible winter roads. We can always haul from the pond, breaking up ice if necessary, for the animals. I have done that before. It’s so much fun. Or something. I usually lay in some bottled drinking water, but this year I’m going to can drinking and cooking water in all my unused quart jars. Might as well use the jars and it’s free. (See how to can water here.) If there’s snow, and there usually is, we can always melt some on top of the wood stove. Beulah Petunia needs the most water, and I’m breaking down on the not-so-attractive-but-functional idea many farmers use for cows, which is to set out an old (preferably free) bathtub. If you know a bad storm is coming, you can collect quite a bit of fresh water to get the cow through a few days before you have to think about hauling buckets from the pond. I’ve also been studying up on rain barrels, which is something I’d like to try. As I described in this post, we actually have some fresh well water storage at the house, so we aren’t in trouble immediately in a power outage if we conserve carefully, and whenever I know a storm is coming, I fill up every container in the house. You can even fill up the bathtub and the washing machine! But having been through an extended power outage last winter, I’m still looking for ways to improve our situation for those extreme outages. (If you have any great winter water ideas, please share!) The best possible option will be if we can figure out how to run the well pump off a generator. That would solve everything. (Anyone out there doing that?)
And then I put the checklist away because today is not winter yet. Today it is warm, fickle fall.
It will be gone soon enough and it must be enjoyed.