“How cold is it outside”, asked both kids in a single chorus. With great flare and fanfare, I announced, “It is the coldest temperatures you have ever seen in your lifetime!” OK, at that moment I realized that I would fail as a motivational speaker. I could not imagine why they were slow and whiney putting on their heaviest winter clothing to do chores. This was historically cold weather, the thing legends were made of.
Years from now I can just hear them telling their kids about the winter of ’14 just like I was telling them about the winter of ’83 or was is ’88. You remember, it was the year it was so cold we had to thaw the matches out to start a fire (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). The weather man said we were in for a polar vortex. Really a polar vortex, is that a new term, do they make this stuff up as it happens?
In any case, it was going to get cold, bone chilling cold, the coldest temperatures in twenty plus years. The preparations on our farm started days in advance. Extra hay was hauled; water tanks were de-iced and barns were winter-proofed. We even bought heated water buckets. Never in my life did I think I would pay that much for a stupid water bucket.
Saturday dawned cloudy but tolerable. Final preparations for the Arctic experience shifted into a frantic pace. Lambing was expected to start at any minute and the most burgeoning patients were ushered into the lambing barn complete with heat lamps, deep straw and insulated walls. Our big red barn was outfitted with more heat lamps (I have the distinction of having a higher electric bill in January and February than the summer) and deeper straw. On a side note, yes heat lamps and straw may seem to be a bad combination but I highly recommend the heat lamps with the plastic safety covering.
OK, back to our big red barn, the next wave of expectant sheep was moved in to one of the two pens. The walls may not be insulated but they at least block the wind. That barn managed to stay a relatively balmy fifteen degrees on the positive side when the cold cruel world outside was in the negative. We filled the feeders and unrolled more hay for the critters that did not have a barn. Finally, in a flash of near brilliance I made a wind break with round bales for the animals in the barn yard.
That evening we headed to the house after ten hours of intense barnyard remodeling. The final thing to do was to bring our three dogs inside for a couple of rare nights by the fire. Our dogs are outside dogs and pride themselves in that fact. It took quite a bit of convincing to get them to come through the door. However, later on that evening I am quite convinced that they were the only ones who thought the polar vortex was a good thing.
That night and most of the next two days were spent feeding the wood stove and worrying in between trips out to the maternity ward to check on the ewes. The funny thing about those trips was that it took longer to get ready than it did to actually check. Thankfully, our ewes were much brighter than I give them credit for being and no lambs were born during the much ballyhooed vortex.
Chores were the focus of our attention during this frigid extended weekend (town kids may have gotten a day off, but farm kids would have preferred to be in school). Each morning we headed to the barn and with the speed and precision of a NASCAR pit crew we blew through chores in record times. I guess I should be more honest; they were really more like a NASA space walk, slow because of bulky, awkward clothing because of the dangerous environment we were working in.
Then came Tuesday morning, school resumed and my chore help left me. I was not scared, the forecast called for a relative heat wave of nearly thirty degrees. The light at the end of the tunnel was the bright shining sun in the sky; we were going to make it. After all, everything had survived and I had all of my fingers and toes. Life was good. That was when I found out both outside hydrants were frozen. I am rooting for a tropical vortex in the near future.