As I write this, we are in the midst of a cold snap. Temperatures hover between the low-teens and mid-twenties each day. Most days, gale force winds create wind chills that give one pause before leaving home. It isn’t bone chilling cold, let’s just call it “activity discouraging.” It exceeds our gear’s ability to keep us functioning as long as normal.
We are, as the beloved old Christmas song says, “In the bleak midwinter.”
The ground rings hollowly when we walk! One can hear the hard, frozen solidity of it.
Most chores take two attempts: the first one lasts until my fingers go numb, the second comes after I’ve thawed out a bit inside. I can’t fill the firewood box in one go—I have to tag team it. To be fair, I only consider that chore finished when, in addition to a full wood box, I’ve gathered a healthy pile of wood on the floor in front of it. We’re burning the fire all day and all night now, to keep our cabin warm. Anyone who answers the call of nature in the middle of the night must check the fire’s progress, opening the draft and adding fuel when necessary. Mostly, we time it right, making a quick trip outside about an hour or so before it’s time to rise. If we manage that, we can open the draft, stoke the fire, and leave it alone till “morning.” If not, we sit with it till the new fuel chars thoroughly, so we can damp the stove down without blacking the stove glass overmuch.
Because we’re using so much firewood, I try each day to get out and gather more. I quickly learned to choose dead trees carefully. Those without bark usually prove to be tinder dry, ready to burn. Those with bark hold enough moisture to freeze. Frozen wood is hard to saw, and not so good for the tool. I stick close to home to keep from making long trips to and from the felling spot in the cold.
Our animal neighbors have mostly gone to ground. I see very few trackways in the snow; most of those I see have been all but obscured by needles and cones blowing off the trees. The snow itself dissolves in the cold, dry air, further obliterating tracks.
All of this plays out in the days and nights just before the Winter Solstice. I record these days in our weather journal as “sunny,” although that’s misleading, as we get a scant half hour or less of direct sun on the property these days. Mostly, we reside in a lovely twilight of mostly moonlit alpenglow, ineffably beautiful, though unphotographable at my skill level, sadly. Our little cabin’s Christmas lights blaze bravely against the “Long Dark” from early afternoon to mid-morning the next day.
It’s lovely! It’s also best enjoyed from inside the cozy cabin, by the wood stove, preferably with a hot drink at one’s elbow, and soft Christmas music on the stereo. This, in my opinion, is how Winter Solstice ought to be kept! Happy Solstice tomorrow to you and yours.
(Is it my favorite Christmas carol? Possibly! See In the Bleak Midwinter: Winter Solstice on the Homestead.)