Friday, February 20, 2015

Phenology: Freezing While Frugal

Why do bloggers post some of the things we do? It may not be the best strategy for a business blog, but once in a while we post things that answer questions we've heard in real life.

On Wednesday, Sydney's Junior Human had asked whether I'd fed the dogs and let them out, the day before. Well, no points for guessing--Sydney had demanded more than the usual amount of lower back massages, Mini didn't go out in the snow, I'd even heard some sick-dog noises although nobody was actually sick; the snow was obviously not showing enough aesthetic damage. Hence the photos of Sydney frolicking in the snow. By now the snow's been packed down enough for Mini to venture out onto humans' and bigger dogs' footprints, and they seem to be feeling better.

Those who remembered last year's "Frostbitten" post had noticed the potential for a rerun. Once again, the space heater in my warm room died, apparently around 2 a.m. on a cold night--early Monday morning. This was Day 96 of the heater's active life. The night hadn't been too cold for me to spend the rest of it in the warm room, shivering under hand-knitted blankets and shawls, until daylight, when I rushed into town. A neighbor, guessing that I might be hot-footing it into town in search of a heater, kindly lent me a spare one. In no hurry to get frostbitten by walking in single-digit-Fahrenheit temperatures again, I put off the visit to Wal-Mart until Thursday. Once again, Wal-Mart had nothing left in the way of heating devices during a record cold snap. Once again, all the heating devices had been cleared out to make room for an idiotic summertime fantasy in the hardware department. The main difference between this year's visit to Wal-Mart and last year's visit for similar reasons was that this time I reached the store, by car pool, around 7 p.m. and the store was crowded and the staff were downright rude.

And temperatures dropped below zero Fahrenheit, and stayed in the single digits from Wednesday evening until this morning. My water line froze hard, despite dripping water and heat in the kitchen. A pipe cracked. I went into the kitchen early this morning and cooked, just in order to get a fire going, and although a big bottle of water that had been sitting on the floor in a plastic bag was still pourable, it actually began to freeze as I poured it out and formed a mound of slush ice in the measure; during my second look the slush began to crack and crystallize. It took 35 minutes for that water to boil on the electric stove. The cats, of course, wanted to be indoors, and I let them, though only Ivy was so kittenish and shameless as to lie at the base of the wood stove and purr when the fire got going.

A lot of little woodland creatures who weren't expecting it to be so cold died on Wednesday and Thursday. For once a cat was able to eat a songbird with impunity, finding a healthy bird frozen in the snow.

On Wednesday, Twitter friends may remember that I was concerned about Gunner. That's the name of a dog who lives along the road between the Cat Sanctuary and the Dog Sanctuary. (For the record, although that's the nickname I've given the home of Sydney and Mini and other dogs, this Dog Sanctuary is not currently accepting new dogs. All dog fosterers and rescuers in Scott County, Virginia, have been burdened since the fire destroyed the county dog pound.) Gunner is a watchdog, not a house pet; he's mostly hound, with long legs that suggest a possible distant relationship to another neighbor's Great Dane. Not especially smart or nice; not especially stupid or mean. I'm pretty sure he recognizes me as a visitor who's sat on his humans' porch and petted him. I usually hear his commotion as saying "Where have you been? Where are you going? Can I go along? Why not? It's not faaair."

On Wednesday Gunner's barking sounded more like "Please help! Don't leave me alone!" I looked, and sure enough all the tracks in the snow around the doghouse were his. There was a fresh trail of human footprints that went around the house, started through the back yard toward the doghouse, and then broke off, as if somebody had slipped and given up the effort to take food and water to Gunner...and no humans were in the house. I tried to locate Gunner's humans online, and failed. Luckily for Gunner, his humans had come home and taken care of him before I went home.

And, just in case anybody's wondering...I still own the dreaded heavy-rubber boots that stiffen up and feel like cement in cold weather. I did not have to wear them this week, though, because a few years ago a taller friend bought some very fashionable big-name-designer suede boots. Real leather boots give you a choice, if they ever get wet: you can wear them until they're completely warm and dry again, or you can pick a smaller friend who will be able to wear them next year. Since these were fashionable boots, wearing them for hours was not an option. Barely worn, they still show the mark of their original size, #10, but by now it's a lie. This year they fit me with room for a thick pair of socks inside, which means their real size would be #8. With luck they may still be #7s, and fit me with room for nylon knee-highs inside, for another big snowstorm before they're ready to move on down the line to someone who normally buys a #5 or #4. I had a pair of glossy black leather boots just like that about twenty years ago.

I don't usually wear secondhand shoes, or recommend that other people do. Shoes that someone else has worn may not work for your individual feet even if they're the right size...and even if you know that that person didn't have any nasty foot or nail diseases. However, I did have that information about this person, and the boots haven't been worn enough to affect the soles and heels. I will say this much on the subject of boots. I don't like shoes made of man-made material, but considering how expensive boots are, and how many people it takes to get even a fraction of a reasonable amount of wear out of real leather boots, I think my next pair of boots will be pure plastic.

But these are fashionable boots. Anyone who remembers the angle of the private road below the Cat Sanctuary may now be wondering how the stiff, slick, thin soles of fashionable women's footwear got me up and down the road through powdery snow. Everyone knows that a person wearing fashionable women's boots is likely to slide across a level floor.

Reenter the Shillelagh, or the Cheap American Imitation of a Real Shillelagh. (A proper Irish shillelagh is similar to a cane but much more solid, made of blackthorn wood, either carved or just naturally gnarled, and heavy enough to serve as a weapon if necessary.) Years ago, during a pleasant afternoon cutting brush, my Significant Other noticed a particular branch of some overgrown privet we were pruning and called it to my attention. "Look at that one...it looks like a snake carved around the end...it looks just your size, try it and see...it looks like Tennessee ironwood."

Tennessee ironwood, also known as hornbeam, is a sort of tree whose wood is so hard and heavy as to be almost useless. Nobody would even try to make a shillelagh out of Tennessee ironwood because nobody would want to carry one. Privet wood is neither hard nor heavy, but people aren't used to seeing it grow thick enough to make a shillelagh, so mine does invite a second look.

Well, it was a souvenir, at the time. The next summer, when I twisted the ankle and really strained the hip, the shillelagh was a tremendous help. Since then it's mostly been a souvenir...but I keep it handy, in winter, to stop myself sliding on ice or snow.

My water froze on Tuesday.The water at the Dog Sanctuary froze on Thursday. Sometimes I get spoiled, living at the Cat Sanctuary, and forget how gruesome it is not to have running water in a house that has only twentieth-century water-flush toilets. I'd like to take this opportunity to remind the local readers that although I am not, have never been, and don't plan to become a plumber, one of the few construction jobs for which being small is an asset is replacing indoor water pipes. I've done my own, all by myself, every time we've had a deep freeze for several years now, and can furnish references. I've already started a list.

Nobody really likes this unnatural, un-Virginian weather, but T. Quillin's Hardware Store should be able to enjoy the recovery cycle if and whenever a real February Thaw occurs, and I look forward to earning enough money replacing indoor water pipes to pay whatever T. Quillin's is charging for space heaters these days.