The thermometer this morning read “OFF.” Our digital indoor/outdoor thermometer only reads temperatures down to 21.8 degrees below zero. After that, you’re on your own. Guess they figure no one is crazy enough to live where temperatures reach below -22, and if they are, they figure you don’t want to know just how cold it really is. I’ve found though that it’s all kind of the same. Whether its -22, or -30 or -40, you’re going to dress the same (as much as possible), and you’re going to act the same (as speedy as possible) out there.
Of course, the horses and chickens and wild birds and animals don’t have that luxury. (I don’t really consider it so much a luxury as a necessity in these temperatures). All the animals manage remarkably well. For the horses, we feed heavy, they grow thick coats likening them to the wooly mammoth (we do not blanket), and they hunker down and wait for the sun to come up. It’s Colorado. That sun does come up! The chickens sometime have frost bit combs. The red on their crowns turn black for a few weeks out of every winter. Much to our surprise, the color does slowly return. And the wild birds, the crows who wish they had heeded nature’s warnings to fly south, regret having hung out through winter to clean up the scraps the chickens don’t eat. They spend the night open and exposed in the Aspen branches (not as savvy as the local Stellar Jays and chickadees, who know at least to seek the protection of the thick Blue Spruce). At first light, and usually through to when the sun finally clears the mountain to the east and starts to shine on us directly, I see those crows like big black balls decorating the Aspen trees behind the chicken coop. Guess they know Forrest isn’t much of an early riser either, so it could be a while before breakfast comes.
The “off” temperatures are harsh, but the wind throughout the night made it even more hard to bare. And the wind continued all day, drifting up the snow to a smooth, slick finish across the open parks and paths; piling the sugary snow into every leeward side of every exposed rock, bush, fence, building; stripping the trees bare of the snow protecting their branches from the intense high mountain sun.
And as I snowshoed through the white washed parks this afternoon, the mountain took me to the ocean, in spirit, with that wind holding the fury of the waves. Powerful, ruthless. You would be wise to respect it, but it remains indifferent to you.
All this wind reminds me of the story of the night the chicken blew away…
Everyone who’s had chickens knows about the pecking order, and I guess most of us at one time or another, end up having such sympathy towards that pecked-on hen that we end up with a special pet in the house. (I think this is normal, at least…)
One winter, probably 4 or 5 years ago, we had Little White Hen in the house with us. But before she took residence for the night in our back hall way – really, she’d jump up on the back door to let us know it was time to let her in at night, then waddle over to her cage, a big dog crate, and walk right on in – but before this, she was confined to a cardboard box on the back porch at night, the box left open during the day so she could “free range” around the pack porch. Chickens don’t go too far in two feet of snow.
So, one night, the wind is howling, it’s a real cliché kind of blustery night going on out there… and we start hearing all kinds of stuff getting knocked over and blowing off our back porch. Brooms and shovels and snowshoes and cardboard boxes and… Cardboard boxes?!?!?! Little White Hen! We jumped out of bed simultaneously, threw on some clothes, grabbed flashlights and dashed out into the stormy night. Following in the direction the wind was blowing, we ran past our cabin, past our yard, past the nearest guest cabin, and finally, as we approached the seasonal ditch, there was Little White Hen’s box.
But no chicken.
We must have looked ridiculous out there, underdressed, waving our flashlights around and calling for the little hen (I’m sure she knew her name). All to no avail.
Giving up, saddened and dejected, we returned to the back porch with the empty cardboard box.
I hadn’t turned my flashlight off yet. Something caught my attention in the corner of the porch. Something little, and white…
There was Little White Hen!
Had she been there the whole time, or had she, more than likely, somehow battled against the wind to make her way back to the porch?
In any case, now can you see why we then ended up keeping her inside at night?