The days are getting longer in our part of the world, minutes are turning into extra hours each day. This is giving us more time each day, a feeling of openness and expansion that we are more than ready for. But really, when you get right down to it, what we have more time to do is look at snow. Lots of snow. Acres of it, literally.
We’ve had more snow in the last couple of weeks than in the whole of the previous months of winter, snow that piles and drifts and sticks to everything it touches. Along with the snow we’ve had deep, deep cold, the kind of cold that sucks the life out of your bones. This weekend we were the coldest city on earth apparently, having been out doing animal chores I can vouch for it. The cold was simply painful, scouring any available skin and even that which seemed safely tucked away. The wind was so cold and so fierce that I could feel the zip line on my coat where the cold air pushed through. That’s cold.
February is always the coldest month, it’s so incongruous that as it is getting lighter, it’s getting colder. The lighter days are making me think of spring, but the earth is so encased in ice and snow that the notion of green, even thinking of green leaves and unfurling buds, seems like an impossibility. But I know, deep, deep down that the green will come again. Just not for a while.
Even for the boys the snow has lost it’s appeal, and with the cold being so skin scouringly horrid right now I can’t insist of them spending as much time outside as they need. We do the chores together in the morning and the evening, but then we are inside, staying cosy and warm; we watch the winter whistle boy outside through our windows and wait for days where the wind drops and the sun makes the outside fun again. On those days we head outside, taking photographs, doing chores, making discoveries. A tiny hint of the future months where outside is where we’ll spend most of our time.
We do our best to make sure the animals are comfortable, they don’t seem to suffer the winter angst we do. Their needs are simple, shelter, food, water; it’s the providing of these things that can feel complicated. The daily battle with frozen water, the hauling of buckets, the attempts to avoid knee deep snow drifts while carrying a heavy bucket of oats. Though none of these things are my favourite activities they are becoming more familiar, the seasonal demands are something we are learning to anticipate and expect. There is no sense being surprised by the cold and snow of February, instead we plan for it and use our energy to fight against the worst of it’s effects.
This work is, no doubt, tiring. Heavy logs feel even heavier when the wind chill is -40 C (Also -40 F which I never cease to find curious) and stamping on a tub of frozen ice when you are starting to lose feeling in your face quickly loses it’s appeal, if it ever had any to start with. But this is the work of winter, the work of keeping our animals alive, keeping our house heated with a renewable heat source, keeping healthy food on our table. It is the work of the life we lead.
This isn’t work that would appeal to most people, slogging through drifts in the middle of a freezing snow storm. To be honest this work doesn’t appeal to me most of the time. In that moment, first thing in the morning before getting up, or as I look out from the warmth of the house onto a cold world I know I would much rather stay inside. We all would. But we don’t.
The work that we do is made all the more bearable when we do it together, when we get bundled up and help one another. It’s easy to forget this part of it, to let Stephen take the brunt of it all (and he does), but the reason we bought this land and built this farm wasn’t just about raising nice food and having a few apple trees. We, Stephen and I, wanted our family to need each other, to depend on each other. It’s so easy in the world we live in, a 24/7 12 months of the year world, to lose one another. We can lose sight of the strengths each of us possesses that the others lack, we can forget to learn from one another, to teach one another.
I’m about as proud of being a woman as I can be, I identify as a feminist and have done since I was about 12, but there are things I can’t do as well as Stephen can. I admire his strength, both physical and mental, I admire the work he puts in to create a life for this family. I know I fill in the gaps for him too, I create the warmth of the home, I work alongside him, I share his vision of what our family can be and give him new thoughts and ideas to include in that dream. And working alongside my boys, as I have done this week, out in the snow and ice, I admire them too. I admire their kindness, their love, their determination. I admire their patience when I am stressed, I admire their courage in facing things that are difficult. They are willing to work, just like we are, to keep our family safe and warm against the cold; they care for animals, each other and for me. I like (not just love) the people they are turning into.
I hope that when my boys go out into the world, when they become men taller and stronger than me, they will be prepared for it. This life we’ve chosen includes daily challenges and puzzles, things that really need to be worked out or there will be real consequences. We have to overcome barriers, immediate and long term, we have to plan ahead to make sure our tasks go smoothly. They are witnessing their parents being challenged and working things out, they are seeing that we get stressed but that we stick to it. They are learning to overcome the obstacles of the mind to get to where they need to be. They are seeing themselves improve, grow and develop; and they know that what they are doing matters, it really matters. This isn’t a made up challenge to fit them into a category or tick a box, this is real life with real hardships.
There are times when I wonder if we are asking too much of them, asking them to do work each day. But then I think about the men they will be, I think about what it will be like for them to enter the world with that experience behind them. Not for them incapability, they won’t be trying to puzzle out the washing machine or living off food that only requires a 2minute microwave. They will enter the world with full knowledge of their own skills, with the ability to puzzle out challenges, with confidence in their own strength. When I think of this, when I think of the times we all stand around high fiving each other because we got our chores done, of the glow of their faces when I tell them how much their help meant to me, I know we are on the right track.
It’s a track currently covered by a lot of snow, but soon….soon it will be green again.