Thursday, February 27, 2003

We Virginians usually have mild Winters, Winters that would be mistaken for late Fall or early Spring anyplace north of Philadelphia. Even here in the mountains, deep snow is a rarity. If Winter is a country, we speed through on a tourist visa. This month I feel like I have, unasked, been given a green card and am now a resident alien in the Republic of Frozen Water. I find my vocabulary strangely inadequate, and wish, like in those mythical Eskimo languages, that there were sufficient words for the infinite varieties of snow. There is the powdery snow you can sweep off the porch; wet snow that clings to clothing and bends tree branches down as if gravity itself had grown momentarily intense; snow that falls straight like little pellets of ice: snow that floats down in impossible dandelion clumps; snow which flows over the top of boots like fine, sifted flour, and then melts in icy prickles on skin; snow plowed and piled in megalithic masses; snow windblown and frozen in shapes like carvings from some lost cult of madmen; snow which ripples like waves spreading across open fields; snow brilliant under sunlight; snow fading into somber monochrome under gray skies . . . You see the difficulty. It is a beautiful country, but I don't know the language. I don't know the customs. I want to go home.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

There is an inch of new powder settling on top of the foot of snow remaining from the last storm. The old snow has melted and refrozen over the last week, until its icy crust is hard enough to walk on if you step lightly. As ungainly as I am in Carhart coveralls and insulated boots, for a moment I felt like Legolas in the Fellowship of the Ring film, walking over the drifts without leaving tracks.

This evening I had one of Susan's cousins bring in a round bale for the barnyard to tide the ewes over through this next snowstorm. Getting food and water down to the barn in all this is turning each morning and evening into a struggle with the animals, the elements and my own aching body. I really have had about enough of winter. This morning as I opened the kitchen door and listened to the quiet hiss of new snow blowing over the frozen fields, I thought, "this is the sound the last straw makes, as it floats gently down on the camel's back." But, this too will pass. In a few days comes Meatfare Sunday, and the week after that begins the Great Fast of Orthodox Lent. Perhaps all this physical struggle will even do some good for the slothful soul and spirit in the weeks ahead as we begin the journey to Pascha.
It's snowing again, and the National Weather Service is telling us to expect another six to eight inches before it is through. When did the Shenandoah Valley turn into Baja Minnesota?

Monday, February 24, 2003

The view from home between snowstorms:

It has been a rough week. Snow still piled everywhere, the driveway only partly passable, and more lambs on the way. I fed the last bale of hay in the barn to the girls on Saturday morning. The neighbor we buy it from brought fifteen bales Saturday night, but had to leave it some sixty yards from the barn. Sunday, the oldest son and I carried the bales by hand and by wheelbarrow through the snow to the corner in the barn where it is now stacked. The sheep were glad to see it, but my forty-eight year old lawyer's body is murmuring in revolt. The barn is packed to overflowing with sixty ewes and their lambs, sheltering from the weather outside. Feeding is a mob scene. My non-rural friends laughed a while back at the news service story of a woman in England killed while feeding sheep. What could be more harmless than sheep? Imagining it was like imagining a man done in by wiener dogs, or by a pack of ravaging teacup poodles. Real sheep are not small and fluffy. A good half of our ewes are purebred Hampshires, weighing about as much as your typical NFL running back. Like the running back, they are mostly muscle. The sheep, however, add two more legs and a lower center of gravity to the equation. They take eating very seriously. It is one of the things they enjoy. They are good at it. Picture yourself in the barn standing by a trough. Picture the sheep pressing in, the big Hamps up front, the smaller sheep, just the right size to take your knees out, squeezing in from behind. I hand you the feed bucket. Several thousand pounds of single-minded mutton charges forward on two hundred forty hooves. Pandemonium ensues. Afterwards you check to see if the limbs you went in with are still attached to the rest of your body. Sheep; cute? Cuddly? Not quite. There are moments though where you forget the hassles. Here is one such; a mother and daughter caught in a quiet moment at the barn.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Drifts are now waist high in spots. The neighbor hired to clear the driveway this afternoon reports two feet of snow on Browntown Road, and his tractor wallowing, even with chains. Susan has a flight out of Dulles Airport tonight. We are crossing our fingers hoping for a cancellation, dreading the seventy mile drive. If Browntown Road isn't plowed, the problem will be solved for us. It is a day best spent inside anyhow, warming up after chores are done. Here is a voice from twelfth century Japan, speaking from the depths of Winter:

Winter Deepens in a Mountain Home

At the first snowfall, yes,

some visitors pushed their way through,

but now all trails

are cut off

to this village deep in the mountains


Saigyo, trans. Burton Watson
Buck Mountain visible, the bottom fence rail vanished; still snowing . . .

Sunday, February 16, 2003



Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wing√ęd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.
The old familiar sights of ours
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
Or garden-wall, or belt of wood;
A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
A fenceless drift what once was road;
The bridle-post an old man sat
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
And even the long sweep, high aloof,
In its slant spendor, seemed to tell
Of Pisa's leaning miracle.


from Snowbound, John Greenleaf Whittier

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Snow today, six inches and counting. We made room for the ewes, lambs and all four llamas in the barn, or at least under the eaves, sheltered from what could be two feet of snow by Monday. When I went to feed this evening, the barn was filled with small birds. Finches, chickadees, some flitting too fast to see who they were; all drawn in by dry roosts on the rafters, and the memory of summer in the hay stacked in the barn. Here are some pictures of our hillside farm on a cold, snowy day.

Fenceline in February Snow


Morning Snowfall at the Barn


Thursday, February 13, 2003



Morning Landscape with Pickup

Monday, February 10, 2003

It's official; it is now warmer in the Aleutian Islands than it is in Front Royal, Virginia. This news comes from the wonderful Stonewall Place weblog, chronicling one couple's eight month stay as caretakers in False Pass, Alaska. Go for wonderful pictures and daily news from an ever changing landscape.
While reading tonight in a volume on Chinese painting, I found the following comment by T'ang dynasty painter-critic Chu Ching-hsuan which captures perfectly my philosphy of blogging:

I only make records of the things I have seen, but when I know a thing I do not hesitate to express my stupid opinion about it.

From the preface to his biographical sketches of T'ang dynasty painters.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

I have not been blogging much lately. Too much work at the office, busy times on the farm, and a quick trip to Florida to spend time with my parents have made it hard to find enough time to sit and reflect. Or at least enough time to sit, reflect and then type. Back home now since Thursday, I am still recovering from climate shock. When I left last week for the Gulf Coast, it was in the twenties here. Changing planes in Charlotte, the temperature was in the fifties. I called Susan while driving through Sarasota with the windows rolled down. I did not have much time for playing tourist, but I did take a few moments to get to Casperson Beach, just south of Venice Florida, Susan's favorite place in the world. Here is a picture I took for her Tuesday morning. (Compare with this morning's picture and you will understand what I mean about climate shock.)


Boardwalk, Casperson Beach
Saturday Morning on Glenrose Farm 2-08-03