Tuesday, January 29, 2019

It's Still About Survival

As I hunker down for 48 hours or more of highs not above minus 20, I continue to contemplate the meaning of it all. It's still about survival, but it's also political. 

This idiot wannabe dictator is damaging our country, the world as a whole, and the lives of everyone in his sphere of influence including you and me--maybe beyond repair!

Follow the link below to understand better what is making Minnesota so cold right now.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Am I on the North Pole?

Funny how easily you can get acclimated to something. I’m talking about the weather (not politics). This morning, where I live, it was 40 degrees below zero fahrenheit 
at 6am and holding at 7am. At 10am it had warmed up to minus 16.

At 10am the dogs were fed and primed for another potty excursion. I took them out on leashes in one and twos until everyone had done their thing. Even the biggest baby of them all, Buddy, who is a large shepherd mix is starting to acclimate. He actually wanted to walk around a sniff stuff. But by the time we got back to the house he was alternating lifting his feet and acting pathetic. I was sweating. Up and down the stairs, up and down the stairs again, and again, and again in layers of protection really gives one a good workout. Once everyone was settled back in, I had to go back outside just to cool off!

As I looked around, I saw some prints in the snow that were not made by the dogs. I followed deer tracks all around the house and up the stairs to a side door! Apparently, the deer are quite comfortable here. No surprise. Frank (the previous owner) feed them regularly. He boasted of having dozens at a time in the yard. I will not be continuing the tradition, however. I don’t want the deer getting hit by the logging trucks or tempting the dogs. The dogs saw them once and thankfully they were all in the outdoor kennel with only Buddy outside with me on a leash or he would have tried to chase them.

I’ve been awakened now several times by the dogs howling. It’s usually around 4am and 6am. My guess is that is the time the deer approach the house looking for food. On such a cold night as last night, I’m sure they were willing to cross their comfort zone.

Even with several dogs present barking and howling there are still signs of wildlife everywhere. There was a bald eagle perched in a tree in the yard Thursday. There are blue jays and a couple of Canadian jays that seem to be waiting for something (Frank told me he had been feeding them too.). And of course, the crows or ravens. If they are crows, they are big ones. None have come very close to this house for some reason. There are cute little red squirrels who tease the cats and eat the seeds from the maple seedlings that blanket the snow around the house. This morning I saw cat prints again that were definitely not made by my kitties (who haven’t been out lately). These prints were in the driveway, across the yard and into the woods. Not huge, but not small either. I wish I could have gotten decent photos of the prints. The sun and the snow just didn’t provide much contrast.

Looks like we are in for a stretch of extreme cold here this coming week. I’m not sure I can wrap my brain around why in Prudhoe Bay (Deadhorse), Alaska the temp was 1 above zero, and even Winnipeg was only -18 this morning. I guess while the North Pole melts, Minnesota gets to go into the deep freeze. 

I always thought that the farther North you go it’s supposed to be colder. But that isn’t always the case apparently. In Minneapolis, a half century ago, it was pretty common to see -20 or -25. However, I don’t ever remember it ever getting -40 though. And even though it’s still cold in the Twin Cities metro area, it’s still not as cold as it used to be. 

Climate change is fickle and scary. But this isn’t about politics—it’s about survival!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

ad VENT ures in the night

I toss and turn restlessly thinking I’m just having another hot flash, but I can’t quite figure it out. I scrunch up my nose automatically sensing something foul.  I get up to pee and notice the odor is stronger in the bathroom. In fact, as I flush the toilet it gurgles ominously. The stench is increasing. It’s 2AM and I’m now horrified. I run around the house searching for the origin of the stink, but I know it’s the worst in the bathroom.

I open a couple windows and call Nikki repeatedly until she finally answers the phone. Her raspy, tired voice sounds really harsh, and I feel bad that I’ve interrupted her sleep when she is sick. But I am desperate for help. Nikki advises me to call the fire department. I crank up the computer, gagging as I do, and find the number. No one answers. I dial 911. The call doesn’t go through. I try again. Nothing. I’m wondering if I remembered to update the settings on my new phone. I only have internet calling, and 911 doesn’t work the same. You need to manually supply your address, etc. I call Nikki again, and somehow get 911!!

The operator is not in my county so she transfers me to Itasca County 911. I explain that my house is filled with noxious gasses and that it’s making me ill. She tells me to get out of the house—go sit in the car until the fire department gets there. I scramble to get all the dogs outside and into their kennels. I am able to retrieve one cat and put her into the running car.

In just minutes the first rescuer arrives. I find out that he lives just down the road from me and we chat a bit about the problem. Not the best circumstances for making a good first impression. Soon, I hear the siren of the fire truck which is coming from Big Fork just 10 miles away, and that triggers a pack howl. The siren blares all the way up the driveway with lights flashing. The dogs are going nuts.

There are two more pick-ups now, and a total of 7 volunteer firefighters. Their chief advises them over the phone to put a ladder up onto the roof and knock out the ice build up inside the sewer vent on the roof. All the guys are pretty substantial, so they nominate the one with the most svelte physique to climb up and do the job.

In minutes all is well and the house is starting to air out. Thank God the temp was 11 degrees ABOVE zero and not 37 degrees BELOW! Apparently, this is a common problem up here in the North Woods where the weather is so extreme. Everyone had sympathy, but little advice.

I called the one person I know so far who is both and HVAC contractor and a plumber, but he was not very interested in coming over until next week some time “after the weather breaks”. We’re expecting minus 30s every day for a week starting Friday. The information I got was that it’s not a matter of IF it happens again, but WHEN.

So yesterday I drove into Grand Rapids and bought a couple of “solutions” which next time, if I have to call out the fire fighters, I shall hand them over and request they place them upon the vent. There is no possible way I would ever be able to get on the roof to do this myself.

Today I went into the Effie cafĂ© to eat while my oil was being changed across the street at the Country Store. The owner, Kathy, gave me a number for someone whom she felt would be able to help me much sooner than “after the weather breaks”. Indeed, Jim was agreeable to coming over with a ladder tomorrow "depending on the weather".  There was a couple eating that got involved with our conversation and offered that they too had the same problem, but put in a copper T and have not had a problem since. The copper T was one of the solutions that I purchased yesterday, so I feel heartened. 

I don’t know what Jim charges, but whatever it is, it will be more than worth it if the “solution” works.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Challenges of Having Dogs in the North Woods

Very cold temperatures really affect the way my life is lived here. Starting on Wednesday temperatures are predicted to slide down into highs in the negative numbers culminating in Fahrenheit degrees below zero approaching -30 on Saturday-Sunday. I’m looking around wondering what I should be doing to prepare. Are my food and water provisions adequate for me and my pets? Do I need to drive into Grand Rapids today or can I make due? Tomorrow it may be too cold for me to want to venture out so far. Should I get the oil changed today as well? Do I need to bring more wood inside? (Yes!) 

As I burn more wood upstairs keeping it relatively toasty, the thermostat prevents the furnace from firing. So the basement where the dogs are kenneled gets colder. So far it hasn’t gotten colder than 50 down there even when we hit 27 below. I still worry. I want my pups to be comfortable. I have their crates wrapped in mylar camping blankets, and padded with rugs, mats and blankets. Their confinement probably bothers me more than it bothers them.

I can only accommodate one dog at a time upstairs for rawhides and snuggles. This place is small. My husky is a cat killer, so she must be on a leash and watched carefully every second. She absolutely loves chewing and is frighteningly focused.

My border collie is completely neurotic about keeping his eye on the cats and paws dangerously at my face in frustration (I used to be able to toss him a ball in the old living room). It takes him a while to let go of his obsession enough to actually chew that rawhide. He's easily distracted and needs me to keep him on task. He lifted his leg once on my camera case (never done that before) so now I watch him carefully too.

My cattle dog used to be a poop eater, but that chore has been handed off to the border collie. I think she cured herself of that habit one day when she threw up in her crate. It was over-the-top disgusting—even to her! Her big thing is sharing. She wants me to help her chew her rawhide bone and will jump onto my lap and press it into my face whining in ecstasy at being with me. I'm really thankful she's given up that icky habit.

My shepherd can wolf down a large rawhide in less than an hour and has a bit of reticence about giving up any portion of it to me. Every other dog readily pops whatever is in their mouths out upon my command to DROP! We're working on that and he's making progress. I like to allow my dogs to have personal opinions and preferences and so try not to abuse my authority.

My lab drools all over the place when she eats or chews therefore my carpet and rugs are often crusted with dried smears of her saliva mixed with masticated rawhide (just a bit of a chore to scrape that up). I try to keep her on one rug, but she looks for any chance to get onto the couch for a more comfortable chewing experience, so I have to watch her like a hawk too. 

My collie/shepherd is very calm and dedicated to her chewing pleasure, but once done is more likely to quietly get up and pee on the carpet than to alert me to her need. So, she must also be monitored closely at the end. She's alway had a tiny bladder for such a large dog. She will stand by the door wanting to go out and refuse to go down back into her crate after chewing her rawhide. She has me trained.

My life is a constant rotation of taking the dogs up and down the stairs to go out, bringing them back in, or coming upstairs then going back down into their crates. My thigh muscles are getting built up from traversing up and down the stairs all day; it seems my knees are stronger too; and I’m acclimating to the cold because I’m out in it so much. I’m toughening up as my dogs are experiencing enforced inactivity and becoming less fit. 

Until I can install a fenced play area in the spring their activities will remain severely constrained.  Their last play space was 400 feet of 6-foot high chain link fencing with 2 feet of fencing buried under ground to keep the husky in. They had plenty of space to play and we all miss it. Plus, I could take them out into the greater fenced in yard for frisbee and ball. The clay ground here will require a different kind of fencing. I cannot let them run loose.

The logging trucks on the wide gravel road can not stop or probably even slow enough to avoid a  hit. The road is wide, but very icy. In the past I’ve lost a dog to being hit and killed by a vehicle, and I know I’ll never get over it. Talk around here has it that the previous occupant’s habit of feeding the deer also resulted in quite a few of them being hit by logging trucks. I’m sure the drivers are glad to know I won’t be feeding the deer (and they do know). 

I trust my border collie and cow dog to come to me and to stay by me, but not if the collie/shepherd is also loose. They have gotten loose all together once, and I about had a heart attack. I was able to convince them to reenter their kennel though.  Avoiding the leash has also become a game for a couple of them now so I've got to be extremely careful. The shepherd and the lab feed off each other’s exuberance and would be long gone before they realized they were lost. The husky is on her own agenda always and would simply run off. She would come back when she chose to, but she’s also getting old and needs meds every 12 hours to survive. 

Not to mention the wolf and cougar presence. I’ll probably never be completely comfortable just leaving the dogs outside to play either due to the woods and wilds that surround me. Wolves prefer to avoid people, but dogs in their domain are not welcome and risk being killed. Cougars…well they are cats. I’m not sure they fear much of anything. And I suppose that anything that moves is fair game to them. (Then there's Bigfoot, but that's another  blog post!) I hate to say that people are both their best friends and worst enemies. Some would attempt to rescue loose dogs, but others would simply shoot them--especially if they are seen chasing deer.

When it’s relatively nice outside, the dogs can hang out in their outdoor kennel which is smaller than we’d all prefer, but nicely appointed with a weatherproof roof and individual dog houses packed with hay (yes, straw is better, but I am in possession of hay not straw). They have heated water buckets, lights, and a keeper who compulsively snatches up any poops that may appear hopefully before any miscreant has the chance to chow down. I also offer entertainment as I move wood, or work in the shed. Sometimes the UPS truck arrives, and they have something to bark furiously at. Maybe they see a squirrel—again more barking.

Okay, I may be a helicopter dog mom who over monitors, over worries, and over protects my pups.  I’m fine with that. Especially when it’s approaching 30 below zero. Circumstances are challenging right now. Add extreme weather, and daily living becomes even more challenging. The cold isn’t just simply inconvenient, it could be downright deadly. But then it will warm up.

Monday, January 7, 2019

60 Degrees of Separation

Only a few days ago, I woke up to 27 degrees below zero. This morning it's 32. It will likely rise a bit before the day is over, and that makes 60 degrees of separation!

I’ve been busy in anticipation of adverse weather conditions. Shoveling snow. Scraping ice. Stoking the fire. Getting the fuel oil tank filled. Trying to get snow off the roof in order to minimize the inevitable damage from ice dams. Moving wood. Making endless trips up and down the stairs with multiple dogs so that they can all go out and spend some time in the fresh air before it’s too cold to let them outside very long. Making sure I have enough water and food. Clearing out enough room in the barn to put my car. Getting the furnace fixed.

My fear about the furnace was not unfounded. On New Year’s Day in the late afternoon it started to sound worse than usual. Luckily, I knew whom to call and help arrived in about a half hour with a new blower motor. I knew what to do because I’ve been anticipating this and therefore had asked a lot of questions of anyone and everyone.

This morning I woke up to a half inch of granulated ice on everything outside. The wind blew last night and I could hear chunks of snow and ice slipping off the roof and landing with a thud. I wondered if the tarp I’d added to the wood pile would still be there this morning. It was, but only because the ice held it down. The wood I’d used as weights to keep the tarp on were all on the ground.

There are other implications to the idea of 60 degrees of separation too. I’ve observed that there are a lot of old women living Up Here. A lot of old men too, but more old women. There’s even a women’s social organization called WOW (Women of the Woods) and I’m looking forward to attending the next gathering (if the weather permits). I’d say the majority of the 30 or so women there at my first meeting were over 50; many over 60; some older. I think I’m in pretty good company.

I’m not such an anomaly then after all. Challenges that contribute to separation include the roads which are often long, dark, and slippery, and potentially containing wildlife you really don't want to hit! Trouble while out here driving alone day or night could mean more than simple inconvenience. In the winter cold it could mean life or death.

We are separated by degrees of physical and mental isolation as well as the weather. I’ve mentioned my aversion to leaving my house and I’m sure I’m not alone with this experience. The challenge is to overcome the tendency to cling to relative safety over the longing for connection. To risk. To close the gap between the degrees of separation—real and imagined.