It’s 7 a.m. and 14 degrees outside, a few days after Christmas, 2017. Jerry left early today so I get to feed the animals. Woohoo! Cats, dogs, goats, chickens, then lead the horses out to pasture. This morning is an extra treat of having to give hay to the cows at two different properties and the need to break off the ice on their water troughs. Brrrrrrr ….
I leap out of bed and decide to wear my flannel lined jeans – the ones I haven’t worn in a couple of years. It’s like trying to pack 10 pounds of potatoes into a 5-pound sack. My New Years’ diet starts January 2. I say a prayer I can pull off one more diet in my lifetime.
I feed the animals, move the horses and now load the 4 bales of hay into the truck. I scrape off the ice on the windshield with a credit card and I’m off to Spring Hollow for the first feeding. When I get to the gate of this property, I have to open the broken truck door. To do this I roll down the window, reach over the door with my right hand and push down the button on the outdoor handle with my thumb. At this point all my weight is against the door and when I finally push the outside button, the door flies open and I nearly land on my well-cushioned sweet spot on the ground. I say a few choice words I learned in high school. I go to the gate, remove my glove, put in the combination for the lock and open it wide. I get back in the truck, roll up the window and drive on the frozen-as-concrete ground to the place where the cows are grazing today.
When I get to their electric wire paddock, I open the truck door again — the same drill with the same results. I pick myself off the ground cursing and head to the back of the truck to get the hay. Now I realize I’ve lost my glove – back at the gate when I opened the lock. Great day in the morning! Some more high school words fly out of my mouth. I open the tailgate of the truck. Man, it’s heavy. This would be a great truck if it weren’t for that stupid door handle not working. It’s a 1991 Ford 250 longbed pickup, ¾ ton with a 1½ cab and two gas tanks. It was manufactured years before they started making crappy bumpers out of fiberglass. This bad boy is red with bumpers made of real shiny metal and the tailgate weighs over 100 lbs. No kidding. I find the hand sledge hammer out of the back of the truck and head towards the two water troughs, each holding 50 gallons of water. They are frozen hard on top. I use the sledge hammer and bang it on the ice breaking it into pieces.
While the water is filling up the troughs, I go and get the hay out of the back of the truck. My gloveless left hand is getting numb so I move the glove from my right to my left hand. I get the box cutter out of my coat pocket and cut the string on the bales of hay. I make small clumps of hay all around the paddock. The cows are hungry and are happy to have this great starchy hay to warm their bellies. After distributing the hay for about 15 minutes, I check on the water. It’s full and so I break the ice off the other trough and refill it. I move the glove now back to my right frozen hand and push the gloveless hand into my pocket. This time I stand there and just observe the landscape while the trough is filling with water.
It’s a clear day with a radiant blue sky. This part of our property is in a small valley facing the Rich Mountain Wilderness Area. Some of the nearby pasture still has some patches of frost where the sun hasn’t melted it off yet. The frozen beads of water look like little diamonds clinging to the grass. The cows are peaceful as they munch the hay. Their thick coats are protecting them from this brutal cold spell where it hasn’t gotten above freezing for over a week. The cows are fat getting ready to calve in a few months. As much as I hate the cold, I know we need it to freeze off so many of the fire ants we had last summer. I’ve learned Nature has her ways of correcting things so I’m okay with it all.
My nose is running. It’s so cold. I wonder if I will have a snot-stick like Phil? I haven’t thought of Phil in over 40 years. I never actually met Phil but I heard of Phil from my sister Kathy. We were in Vail, Colorado where Daddy took us all skiing for Christmas one year. Kathy was in ski school with this fellow Phil. At dinner every night she would tell us stories about what Phil did that day at ski school. One day Phil had a runny nose and in the bitter cold it would freeze and turn into a frozen snot-stick – like a stalactite hanging out of his nose. On another day Phil lost a glove and would swap the one glove he had from one hand to the other during the 3-hour ski class. We laughed a lot at Phil. As I think of this, I change the glove to my other frozen hand. Poor Phil. I’m in touch with his pain … and shame. It’s not so funny anymore. I wipe my cold, runny nose to be sure I’m not getting a snot-stick. Forgive me for laughing, Phil.
I look at the majestic mountains in front of me. This is not a bad job. In fact, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing right now. Nature can be captivating if I slow down to look around. Raising grass fed beef to sell to people is my late in life career. I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how we left the big city of Atlanta and landed in such a dirty, fully satisfying job in the country. But here we are and there’s no turning back. I am smiling because I love a good adventure and this is some kind of fun.
The water trough is full and I turn off the faucet, drain the hose and go pull up the tailgate on the truck – that heavy sucker that takes all my strength to close. I hop in the truck and circle back around to the gate. I spot my now frozen glove on the ground. I stop the truck, roll down the window, pull my arm out the window, use my thumb to push the button on the outside of the door … the same drill … with the same results … and the same high school words flying….