From My WindowIssue Date: February 3, 2022
Jane Thibodeau Martin
Below Zero Adaptation
Last Wednesday, Mike and I rose early, got our coffee and watched our favorite local weatherman, Justin. My phone weather alert had already told me the actual temperature at our house was 21 below zero. Mercifully there wasn't much wind. Justin cheerful informed us that of the 26 days of January so far, it had been below zero on 15 of them. I was less cheerful than our weatherman. But you have to adapt and that's what we do. We rarely deviate from our normal activities, shortened walks being about our only concession to the misery outside.
Time to get dressed - I chose a sweatshirt from0 my sizeable collection. I wear a t-shirt under a sweatshirt most of the winter. As I apply deodorant I laugh to myself ?? very little danger I will be sweating today!
Getting dressed for the dog walk and horse care involves serious boots with metal spike grippers, full insulated coveralls, double sweatshirts with the top one being hooded, the best mittens I can find, although they are still inadequate; a headband and finally the hood of the sweatshirt. I wrap a scarf around my neck to breathe through and I am ready, after ten minutes. (As an aside, a good thing about face mask usage related to Covid; if I keep my mask on after exiting the grocery store on below zero days, my lungs don't get hit with that ice-cold air, which they don't enjoy.)
When I get to the barn, I am not surprised to see "Ugly Betty's" stall empty. She could be inside, shielded from all wind with a rubber mat and shavings to stand or lie on; she is almost always outdoors. My opinionated little chestnut mare has a horse blanket on; a nod to her 24 years. She comes into the stall when she hears me banging around, her eyelashes and whiskers coated with heavy frost. It doesn't seem to bother her in the least. While she eats, I adjust her blanket, check for rubs and run my hands down her side to check that she's holding her body weight. No issues there ?? she's a classic "easy keeper." After I verify her water tank heater is working, I scatter a few flakes of hay outdoors for her snacking enjoyment.
Off to the animal shelter. On the way, I click on the car seat heater (one of the greatest inventions ever,) and slip the tube of lip moisturizer I keep in the car under my leg where it is held up against the warm seat. After a few minutes of driving, it's warm enough to flow from the tube. A person who lives in south Florida would find this action amusing; it is a habit with me.
When I get to the shelter, I don't notice that the banana I grabbed as a snack fell out of my purse when I got out of the car. Later, as I passed my car with little Dusty, he towed me over to sniff at the tropical fruit, lying exposed on a sheet of ice. I picked it up and put it on my hood, hoping the residual heat would keep it from freezing solid. Alas, when I left, it was rock hard. No matter, I put it on the passenger seat, clicked on the seat heater and covered it with my extra wool mittens. After ten minutes it was edible, if firm.
Back home, the sun had come up, bringing little relief from the cold, but the woodpeckers know a good trick. In behavior I'd never seen before, I noticed four woodpeckers of various sizes and at least two species lined up on the bark of an ash tree close to the house. All four were on the side of the ash most sheltered to the wind and most exposed to the sun, and they were spaced in a straight line about three feet apart, each with their head toward the crown of the tree. All four were preening their feathers, and seemed to enjoy exposing their mostly black backs to the radiant heat of the sun. They weren't moving around or feeding, and they stayed that way for the 15 minutes I watched. They were not bothered by the "head down toward the roots" nuthatch who slalomed between them in the three foot gaps, pecking and no doubt eating the emerald ash borer larva which are killing our ash trees. In fact, we have an abundance of woodpeckers this year, utilizing our suet log for dessert after feasting on the ash trees.
Unfortunately the six closest ash trees need to be cut down, they are doomed. All the rest in the woods will probably die too, but these are too close to the house to allow them to decay in place; in the meantime they are providing an avian feast.
Our feeder and its birds have also attracted another visitor who is interested in a meat-based lunch. Looking out the bedroom window I was startled when something fairly large flashed across the window, toward the feeder, much too fast for my eye to follow. I didn't have to wait long for a veritable explosion, with panicking small birds fleeing in every direction. I could guess who was visiting. It apparently missed on its incoming run, but banked around and came by the window again, chasing a small finch fleeing for its life. I couldn't see how this pursuit ended, but I've seen what I think is a young red-tail hawk since then, sitting on branches near the feeder. To it, we provide a productive hunting ground. There is no non-lethal way to discourage this hawk that I know of, and I wouldn't ever consider shooting it ?? first of all it is illegal to do so, and secondly, the hawk is only doing what Mother Nature designed it to do. A raptor is a perfectly designed airborne hunting machine, it is a privilege to see it.
Later, while I was at the grocery store, a burly bear of a man in the next checkout responded loudly to someone's complaint about the weather. "Well, at least it isn't 40 below!" I had to laugh out loud, and so did many other people who heard him. Good attitudes like his are catching. And he is right - the official state "coldest ever day" record belongs to Couderay in Sawyer County, set Feb. 4, 1996. It was 55 below zero.
I take heart that it is now February. Only 45 more days until calendar spring. The frigid days will become fewer soon, days are noticeably longer, and in the meantime, we got this. I still swear during my fourth winter since we moved from Oklahoma, I'll take Wisconsin winter over Oklahoma tornadoes and scorching 100 degree days.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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