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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: February 17, 2021

Deep Freeze

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,




**********

"These are the times that try men's (and women's) souls""

No, not politics or Covid. (At least that is a refreshing change.) I am talking about the bloody cold weather that seems to have moved in to stay, a most unwelcome guest. Once recent morning at our house it was 18 below zero, actual, at 6:30 a.m. with a brisk wind, resulting in a wind chill of 38 below zero. I have the habit of checking the weather before I get out of bed, so I know how to dress for dog walks and horse care. That morning, I lost most enthusiasm for getting up at all! My best one word description of the dog walks recently has been "hideous." Our female dog, short-haired, has a nice dog jacket to wear. Nonetheless, she refuses to get out of bed to go some mornings. Only Wolfgang, with his thick heavy coat, demonstrates enthusiasm for the outing, and when I turn to go home, he's disappointed. I'm wearing insulated ugly boots, insulated coveralls, heavy mittens, a hood and a scarf over my face, and after a scant ten minutes I've had it.

Our old horse has her winter blanket on too. She could be in her stall, with rubber floor matting and sawdust to stand in out of the wind, but no, she spends most nights outdoors on the side of the barn most sheltered from the wind. She comes in when she hears me in the feed room, her eyelashes and whiskers frosted. It seems not to bother her. Her water tank has an electric safety heater in it, because if it didn't, it would freeze solid. My morning routine also includes sliding my hand around the blanket where it surrounds her neck and crosses her chest, checking for "blanket rub" abrasions. My time with her is mostly filled with "tasks," not much of the mild weather "just friendly visiting" I miss, but she misses more. I explain to her this morning that by next weekend it will be warmer and I will spend more time with her. She listens carefully as I bunker her well with fresh hay. She loves her feed, but it is the constant intake of hay that keeps her warm.

Our bird feeder and suet logs are like the world's busiest airport pre-Covid. I scatter some seed on the patio for the ground feeders and put out a few peanuts in the shell to keep the blue jays busy. Our feeder is squirrel-proof (although NOT bear proof) with a design that closes off the seed dispenser when it senses too much weight on the perch bar. Mike and I enjoyed watching some cooperative finches, who were trying to share the perch instead of driving each other away like the other birds do. Unfortunately, four finches at one time weigh too much for the perch bar, which shuts off the seeds as designed to keep out squirrels. Filling the feeder is a daily task, despite its large capacity, making us good customers at the feed mill. I also have a large capacity heated dog water bowl on the patio, offering water to the birds. Some mornings the water bowl is as busy as the feeder.

We haven't seen many deer since the last heavy snow but every afternoon around 4:30 Wolfgang parks himself in front of the patio sliders and stares off to the north. Every few days he announces the presence of deer. His "deer alert" vocalization is like a cross between a whine and a loud squeal, very distinctive. He hates squirrels, but deer send him right into orbit.

My volunteer work continues at the shelter, since pets need care no matter what the weather. I work when I will be the only person in the building, due to Covid. Imagine pulling up to the dark shelter at 5:45 a.m. There is an old saying, "the coldest/darkest hours are just before the dawn." I can confirm the truth of this statement. The snow is squeaking under my feet, and I am dressed in so many layers that if I toppled over, I am unsure if I could get back up. (I always ensure my cell phone is in an accessible pocket on the outside of my coveralls for exactly this reason.)

The first order of business is to get all dogs, one at a time, out for a potty break. They are initially enthused, with a cacophony of barking since they have been kenneled for eight hours or more, and have no way of knowing what the weather is like. Once we hit the doorway, about half of them seem to think maybe they "really don't need to go out after all." But out they must go, cajoled, dragged or carried. On the mornings of below zero cold, the shelter, up on an open hill surrounded by farm fields, is particularly nasty. Dog after dog tries to drag me right back into the building. One awful morning, a little Chihuahua, about 4 pounds, huddled against me in her fleece jacket as I carried her out. I placed her on the icy ground, she peed, and instantly tried to climb up my leg. I carried her back in, total time outdoors about 45 seconds. On the other hand, Mac, a tank-like and heavy-coated dog of mysterious lineage, lets me know how frustrated he is with me when I turn back to the building after a short outing. Sorry, Mac, my hands, even with heavy mittens, are so cold they hurt.

My heart these mornings is with the cats and dogs left outdoors, on chains or huddled in unheated buildings. Cats often suffer frost-bitten ears in conditions like these " I hope someone has spared them a thought or some kindness. I wish all domestic animals were loved and well-cared for, but there are worse things for some companion animals than being in a shelter like the one I volunteer at.

I find a bright side to this cold spell. It is easier for us to tolerate "safer at home," when the thought of going anywhere is distinctly unappealing. Each day, as brutally cold as it is, brings us closer to spring. And it makes me appreciate things I normally take for granted, from my cozy wool socks, our furnace, and the heater in my car.

The minute I see a forecast for below zero weather, I get out the crock pot and start chili, beef stew or homemade vegetable soup. I make a lot of blueberry or raspberry muffins, and drink a lot of tea. This too, shall pass, and until it does, we Wisconsinites are endowed with the fortitude to persevere, if not enjoy, this weather.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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