It’s dark by 4 PM and the paths are crisp and frozen. Seasonal creeks are still and the lake rests quietly at an edge deep from its summer banks. The garden sleeps like a bear, quietly holding seeds and promise for next year under a heavy, wilted cloak. The big draft-cross mare is fluffy and round, looking more like an oversized Shetland pony than a thundering Percheron. The goldfinches have shaken offer their bright summer colors for more modest grays. It is late autumn and winter is coming.
I cherish the turning of the wheel, the shift of seasons, and the energies they bring. I welcome wool too thick and heavy for the hot and humid summer months in my hands and lap on chilly evenings. Meat and eggs become both more dear and more plentiful on our plates as the garden sleeps. We source our bounty from the rows on our pantry shelves instead of the vegetable rows we’ve meticulously maintained, enjoying jars of marinara sauce instead of fresh tomatoes. The crack and snap in our ears comes more from our wood stove than the twigs we step across on summer hikes. Now is when I begin contemplating my business for the year ahead and lay out plans both personal and professional for meeting goals, expanding my knowledge, and extending generosity. We hunker down, we cuddle up, and we are deeply grateful both for what we had, what we have, and what we have right now.
We have a deep appreciation of the simplest and littlest things, the most profound of which are easy to take for granted.
We are blessed to be in a modest–but incredibly efficient–home that keeps us cozy during this time. While we delight in our wood stove, we have central heat. Our delicious spring water surfaces from a well tapping just 25 feet below our pasture courtesy of a simple electrical pump. We have an enormous trunk freezer that holds both what we’ve put by and what we’ve stocked by way of organic meats and vegetables. And for our all of the joys in this country life, we have unlimited internet access. Until the power goes out.
Losing power is incredibly sobering. The things we take for granted every day: water (not to mention hot water), heat, and refrigeration can’t be had until some generous soul from our electrical cooperative sets it right from his or her ladder truck. We make a fire to provide some semblance of warmth, dig out the long underwear from the closet with headlamps, shift the indoor critters to freeze-fried raw food from frozen patties, and, inevitably, check the weather forecast to see just how dangerous this particularly run is going to be. Because pipes and people freeze. Horses and chickens need water. And a hot shower does not suck.
Our first outage in Idaho came this summer after an epic wind storm. We were without power for several days. (Others in our community were without for weeks….) We had a crazy bounty from the garden; we made several trips to and fro with an overflowing hod each day. The fridge and freezer were hooked up to our diesel generator, but we failed to find a way to solve for drinking water as our new system doesn’t have the manual rigging our old pump house afforded. We “flushed” toilets with buckets of water hauled from our abundant seasonal creek and celebrated the great fortune of having just filled the horse and chicken waters the day before. We made what needed to be hot meals on our propane stove and relied on long summer light to help us navigate while we were awake. We made the most of it. Frankly, we even had a little fun.
But now is not summer.
There is no water in the creek for flushing toilets. The pump house pipes will freeze at 25 degrees and the predicted low tomorrow night is FOUR degrees. On a day like today, many things depends heavily upon power: heat to keep the pipes from freezing, energy to pump the water to sustain the animals, and the little things we need. Like a good, hot shower.
Losing power now, we quickly start planning how we will navigate challenges should the outage go on for more than a few hours. Where do we stand with horse water? Chicken water? Dog water? PEOPLE water? How much propane do we have and what should I bake to elevate the temperature in the home? How many candles are there in the napkin drawer? And where the hell did we put our long underwear?
This time, the power came on relatively quickly and the wood stove goes from being life-saving to merely charming again. I refilled every water trough, dish, and bucket I could remember and find. And, just for fun, I am freezing several large plastic pitchers of water, because, well…who knows…
That these are our biggest worries makes us among the luckiest people on the planet.
We are blessed that our greatest challenge is protecting and nurturing what we have instead of not having enough to protect and nurture us. There are thousands of people without homes, without heat, without enough food to spoil, without any of the luxuries I panic about while wondering how soon the clocks on the stove, coffeemaker, and microwave will magically begin blinking 12:00. I am deeply humbled thinking of all of those people today.
With that, one of my new goals for 2015 has some fresh energy and perspective. After struggling with how best to give back from Untamed Alchemy and Five Element Farm, today I think I have an answer: in 2015, we’ll be giving according to what we have cause to be most grateful for–and what we would most like to see everyone enjoying–each month.
While I’m not absolutely certain how that will unfold, I imagine now that it will look something like lots of little big things.
Throughout the year, we celebrate (or just take advantage of…) lots of little big things that can easily translate into parallel philanthropic endeavors every month. The joy of buying chicks for meat and eggs might suggest a donation of the same number of chickens through Heifer International. Seeding our garden might be a chance to provide seed and support for a community garden at a women’s shelter. The comfort of our central heat might inspire a donation to our local electrical co-op’s fund to help pay the bills for families at risk of having their electricity shut off during tough (and freezing) times. Having the means to overwinter our precious mare in a comfy boarding barn could easily amount to a donation to a horse rescue (which is exactly where we found our big, beautiful girl in the first place). I dunno–we’ll see where it takes us. We’re excited to go there…