Noses (Or Beaks) to the Grindstone

On a recent morning, we listened to Bird Note on our local radio station. The narrator drew an analogy for how hard birds actually work to survive with the phrase “. . . putting their beaks to the grindstone . . .” prompting a look and a grimace between Aly and me. It sounded horrible, much worse, apparently, than the more common phrase, “putting one’s nose to the grindstone.” Really? I’d never thought how awful that phrase was, either.

Awful or not, it’s a phrase well ensconced in our cultural lexicon, and it fits. For better or worse, we are definitely applying our noses to the grindstone around here.

Root Cellar

The “second” root cellar (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Winter weather is upon us. Saturday morning, our daytime temperatures remained in the high 20s (Fahrenheit) so we switched from the summer water tank to the winter (see Fresh Water: Collecting and Conserving a Precious Resource). It pained me to divert the creek from the collector bucket despite it flowing at the pipe’s full capacity—what a waste! Nevertheless, the recent rains have filled the winter tank well. We can enjoy its secure, higher-pressure water supply without worry this winter.

Other water issues need to be addressed during the snap as well. We collected a bunch of jugs of distilled water to “feed” the Ni-Fe battery, keeping the cells’ fluid levels topped up. This winter, I will distill our own water (see If It’s Chilling, I’m Stilling) but through the summer, we’ve needed to buy water to meet the need. One of our grocery stores put it on sale recently, while I traveled to town daily to rehearse the latest play, so we bought a lot and hauled it in. Now, we have to store it, preferably somewhere it won’t freeze.

distilled water

Some of the distilled water we’ve collected. The rest is in the shed, which we half-jokingly consider the coldest spot on the homestead (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

We have a small root cellar on our property that we almost never use. If I can test it through the snap, I intend to fill a plastic jug with regular water, and stow it in the cellar, to see if it freezes in there. Ideally, I’d pack it with straw, but that’s expensive and hard to come by in our region. I could stuff it with beach grass, but any of that we cut goes to the compost piles as badly-needed biofilter. I’ll experiment without, then see if I need to add some.

Looming over all this is our need for firewood. A big birch on the ridge has finally toppled. I’ve watched it for years, mostly wondering how it could remain alive when its base appeared long-dead. Now, I need to cut it up and stow it, even though I doubt it’ll cure in time to use this winter. At this point, I assume I’ll merely add it the bottom of the pile in hopes of use in future winters.

Meanwhile, Aly has had her hands full. She just moved back to town after a week-long break in a dog/housesitting job. She’s in charge of two large, handsome, goofy and loving dogs that keep her hopping. Also, recent high winds knocked her tiny house around a bit, prompting a desperate, low-temperature lash-down session.

I haven’t even mentioned winterizing the gardens—an on-going project—or starting a new compost bin, while winterizing the older one to cure for a year before use. There’s more—sitting near the woodstove, snug in a beloved sweater, coffee cup at my elbow, it’s easy to fail to remember everything. I’ve spoken before of returning to the homestead’s work routine (see Life Drifts Back on Track). Now’s the time to apply our noses—or beaks—to the grindstone.

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