We got our first measurable snow on Rusty Metal Farm Oct. 24, about a week or so after the first real cold temperatures of the season blew in.
You’d think after 37 winters in northern Maine, I’d have the transition into winter down to a science.
Instead, I spend the first days of winter conditions relearning nordic life like a Southern Belle who has never seen a snowflake in her life.
It’s the winter learning curve, if you will. Though, now that I think of it, in my case it’s more like an unending learning mobius strip.
For at least a week or so after the temperatures drop below freezing, I am still heading out to tend sled dogs, chickens and other outdoor chores in a T-shirt and light pants. Never mind bothering to put on a jacket, gloves and hat.
And I wonder why the skin on my hands is cracked and at times bleeding long before Thanksgiving.
I forget one season to the next just how much longer things take once the colds settle in for good. Being a creature of habit, my morning routine is fairly set in stone and somewhat weather-dependent, no matter how much I resist it.
From spring to fall, it’s easy-peasy: Get up, let Chiclet out, feed the cats, open the chicken coop gate so the hens can free range, give the sled dogs a morning snack, check everyone’s outside water and then come back in to feed Chiclet and make that all important coffee before settling down to work.
On a good day, I can have that all done in under 30 minutes.
Come winter, as I am rediscovering, I can easily tack on an additional 30 or 45 minutes to the process.
First of all, Chiclet — an actual Southern belle who came to Rusty Metal Farm as a rescue from Louisiana — is no fan of cold weather.
So getting her out of her cozy warm bed in the morning can take a bit of time.
Once up and more or less awake, she can’t go out until she has a sweater or jacket on. Dressing a sleepy tiny dog is a bit like dressing a moving water balloon. It’s not done quickly.
As Chiclet wanders around outside, I feed the cats who are no less annoyed than I when they see the snow and feel cold.
Then I pile on my own layers of winter gear and head out, often passing Chiclet who is on her way back inside and back to bed.
My first stop is the chicken coop to check that the heat lamp is still on, they have food and that their water has not frozen overnight.
If any of the above is a negative, it’s time spent refilling food, troubleshooting electrical issues or banging ice out of the dispenser and refilling it.
Did I mention the chickens are also annoyed by winter?
Once done in the coop, it’s on to the shop to prepare breakfast for the only residents on Rusty Metal Farm happy to see winter — the sled dogs.
When temperatures are below freezing, they sleep snug and warm in piles of straw tucked into their houses.
But since water freezes, it means they get two meals a day instead of just a morning snack and dinner.
So every morning I’m in the shop preparing sled dog soup using whatever scraps of food are leftover from my dinner the night before, canned dog food and water.
Once that is dished out to the dogs, it’s back to the shop to get a pail of sunflower seeds and a block of suet for the wild songbirds who take just 24-hours to clean out a bird feeder and suet holder.
If it’s snowed overnight I next shovel the deck and steps and if it’s snowed a lot I fire up the Rusty Metal Farm tractor with its attached snow-blower and use it to clear the driveway — assuming the tractor starts.
If it doesn’t, more trouble shooting to make sure the diesel fuel has not gotten so cold it’s gelled, the battery is charged or that the transmission is not acting up.
Once everything is fed, watered and shoveled outside, it’s back inside where I can peel off my winter gear and see if Chiclet is awake enough to have her breakfast.
While she’s eating, I head to the basement, split kindling and build the day’s fire in the woodstove and spend a moment basking in its glow and warmth.
Then, and only then can I finally plug in the coffee maker and prepare that all important first cup of pure, magical, strong liquid caffeine of the morning.
At that point my work day starts.
If I’m really lucky, I get to write a winter weather-related story.