Thursday, November 4, 2010

Favorite Season

I like winter.  The trees whistle as the wind blows through their leafless branches.  It reminds me of one of my other favorite sounds -- wind whistling through the sailboat rigging in a marina during a storm. 

In spring, just after we're done with our maple sugaring, the peepers (listen to them here) come out, soon to be followed in summer by the orchestra of bugs running day and night.

Fall seems to be the quiet season, but what it may lack in sound is made up for with a spectacular color display.

There's also a "feeling" that goes with fall. Contentment, perhaps. The barn is full of hay, the wood pile is stocked for winter, and everything we raised this summer is now stuffed into the freezer, pantry, or root-cellar.  We're still busy, but the sense of urgency is gone.  There's no hurry to get the hay put up before the next rainstorm hits.

Two weekends ago we used the horses to spread some of the barnyard manure on our hayfield.  Everything went well until the 5th load, when one of the drive chains broke.  It didn't bother me a whole lot, 'cause I was ready to take a break anyway, and it should be an easy fix. 

The break gave me the chance to take Bobby out for another drive, which I wanted to do anyway.  We've been getting out once a week, averaging about 10 miles.  There are miles of gravel roads just south of our house, weaving through a wooded wildlife area bordered by small farms.  Couldn't ask for a nicer spot to take a sunday drive.

Twice now, we've passed an elderly woman sitting in a lawn chair in her front yard, bundled up and enjoying the fall weather.  She absolutely lights up when she sees us, waving enthusiastically.  That never happens when you're driving a car.

10 miles seems to be about Bobby's limit without taking a rest.  Anything much more than that and he starts to slow down.   That's one of the reasons that older towns were rarely spaced more than 10 miles apart;  it simply wasn't practical to travel much more than that before the advent of cars. 


Our old ram Thunder wore out his genetic welcome, spurring us to find some new blood for the flock.   It just so happened that Tillers International (where I took my draft horse classes) was looking to sell their merino ram.  I remembered him from my classes, where he always tried to parade in front of the horses when we hitched them up.  As luck would have it, someone living just a couple miles from Tillers was interested in Thunder, so we dropped him off and picked up our new ram on the same trip.  Thunder found himself with two nice ewes, who immediately garnered his attention and made him forget all about the traumatic move.

Bam-Bam, as we've named the new ram, looks quite impressive with his large curled horns -- like a rocky mountain bighorn sheep.  He felt right at home with our draft horses, who look just like the horses he's familiar with from Tillers.  He walked up to each horse, extended his right hoof in the air (as if to shake hands) while cocking his head to one side and flicking his tongue.  Bruce (our lead Belgian draft horse) wasn't so keen on this new self-appointed friend, and tried to kick him. 

Bruce knew I didn't like that behavior, and sulked a bit as I scolded him.  Walking back to the barn,  I turned around just in time to see Bruce pick Bam-Bam up in his mouth (ala Tyrannosaurus Rex) and drop him.  I half expected to find Bam-bam mortally wounded with a massive chunk of flesh hanging from the middle of his spine, but he appeared to be unscathed and undeterred.

We've been looking at wood stoves to replace the electric stove in our kitchen.  The new stoves go for somewhere between $4,000 to $7,000, which seems a bit much.  They also use a lot more sheet metal where the older stoves use cast iron.

We finally found a neat old 1930's Kalamazoo Stove Company model for a good price, which we'll be cleaning up and installing some time this winter.  I was especially fond of this stove because it has a water jacket;  essentially a loop of pipe near the firebox which allows the stove to function as a hot water heater.

Slowly but surely, we're chipping away at our electricity use.  Some appliance replacements are easy.   The wood cook stove, while it will be a bit less convenient than the electric stove, isn't such a big change.  Going without a dishwasher takes a bit more time as well, but it's not a big deal either (Rachel disagrees).  The refrigerator could be replaced with an ice box (got one) and icehouse (not yet built), but that will be a big drop in convenience.  As it is now, I don't think we have the time required to make many more changes.

I think two of the most difficult appliances to do without will be the washing machine and freezer.  Right now we can toss a load of laundry into the washer on a whim.  Historically, most families had a designated "laundry day" each week.  Losing a few hours a week would be a big deal.  

There really is no non-electric equivalent for the freezer, unless you count a smokehouse and lots of salt, or canning and dehydrating as an alternative.  There's always the option of a solar powered freezer, but the associated battery banks, charge regulators, panels, and the appliance itself are all both expensive and complex, and thus prone to high maintenance.  They would contain enough embodied energy to negate any environmental benefits.  Suffice to say that the regular AC powered freezer is a huge convenience that will be sorely missed someday. 

Yet the fact remains that most people in the world get along just fine without *any* of these appliances.  I guess it's all a matter of adjusting the paradigm we've come to accept as "normal". 

I figure that our low energy future will look a lot like our low energy past.  Travelling more than 10 miles will be an unusual occurence.  I'll bet that we don't wash each garment after a single day's wear.  A closet full of clothes will be something for the wealthy, whereas most of us will probably return to the historical norm;  one set of work clothes, and another set of dress clothes (if we're wealthy enough for the latter).

A 3,000 sqare foot home will again be a mansion or a multiple family dwelling both because the materials to build or maintain a house of that size will be prohibitively expensive (if they're available), and heating such a space will also be expensive and/or laborious.

I don't see this as a grim future, however.  It's just a change.  Some of it will be good, some of it bad.  It'll just be different from our present reality.  Embracing it before it embraces us seems like a good idea.

Some of our hens have discovered that the new hay feeder makes an excellent high-security nesting box. 

1 comment:

Rachel Kopka said...

Love this post and the pictures you included. It was a great one to revisit as another autumn comes upon us. Certainly breathing a sigh of relief that the end of the summer/fall craziness is in sight.