I Cannot Speak for the Dead

I cannot speak for the dead.

Their voices have sunk like lead.

I cannot hear them again

They are lost to time.

All that remains are echoes,

Shadows of improperly remembered memories.

We hear them speak,

But it is just the passing of the wind.

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Poem – Time

I look up at the sky

And see Time wheeling by.

Swirling in the constellations at night

Floating through air currents like a kite.

Riffling Ravens feathers as he soars.

Giving the Pot of Time new lore,

As he stirs and stirs

Rippling Time with his feathers.

Notes From a First Time Front Yard Farmer – Farming at -30

 

A farmers biggest fight is always going to be with Mother Nature. That lady has plans, and the farmer doesn’t know what they are. As you can imagine, disagreements arise. There will be too much, or not enough, or it will happen at the wrong time. If it’s not raining too much, it will not be enough. It will be too hot, or not hot enough. These are variables that cannot be totally controlled for, making the whole practice of farming an interesting one to say the least.

These truths were brought home to me this week when the temperature dropped from 20, and snowing to beat the band, all the way down to -34. Temperatures below freezing present challenges, but once it’s below zero it’s a whole other ball game for the poultry farmer.

The first thing you have to do is figure out how to keep your birds, and their water, warm.

You may be thinking that I put heat lamps out everywhere to keep them from freezing, but I didn’t. At this point, the birds should be all acclimatized to the temperature. I will admit, the first morning of -30, I was worried I was going to go outside and find frozen chickens, and was happy to see they were all fine, a bit grumpy, but that’s understandable. They have all the fat and feathers they need to keep warm. As the farmer, my job is to make sure they have the calories they need during the really cold weather because they burn more fat. The chickens were given extra corn and worms, and since the ducks and geese don’t like corn, they just got worms. I decided the ducks and geese would prefer to stay inside, and I figured if they were in their shelters their body heat would help keep their water in a somewhat liquid state. After they had all poked their heads out for a brief minute, they agreed with my assessment. The ducks were particularly funny. I had taken the lid off their cooler to fill it up, and they all quickly piled into the water. I was bemused to see how many could fit into that little rectangular space before I shooed them all out. They needed to share the water with everyone else.

I debated keeping the chickens in their coop, but I figured I would keep one door open so they get to the food and water. The chickens were hopping in and out most of the morning. Their heated waterer, which is supposed to cease working at -20, kept working, a pleasant surprise. Everyone got extra hay heaped into their homes, which they all happily burrowed into.

The hardest part, to me, was working all the latches. I had to take my mittens off for that part. The latches don’t like to work during the extreme cold, and my fingers froze to the metal, making it particularly painful to get in and out of their yards. Their doors also didn’t want to shut all the way, so I was holding them in place with my knees while I fumbled around. My legs had gone numb with cold, so I didn’t realize until later in the day that I had bruised the heck out of them. I also discovered when I came inside, that my boots had frozen to the rug in front of the door. It wasn’t too big a deal, I just needed wait for them to defrost.

At that cold, you and the birds agree. It’s painful to be outside. Unless you have a scarf covering your nose, it starts to hurt to breathe in the super cold air. If you’ve gotten your mittens wet (which inevitably happens) they quickly freeze to any surface they touch. You take your hands out of them to do anything like tossing worms, or messing with doors, and they are instantly, painfully, cold. The birds water is frozen up fairly quickly, so you are hauling extra through the day. For the birds, they are huddled in, doing what their bodies need to do to generate heat. If you have roosters with tall combs, frostbite is an issue, and you have to worry about their feet getting frozen. The ducks and geese refuse to move. They are sitting, and not going far. Frankly, I think they have the right idea.

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Photo by David Koster This was the view from our back window when it was -34. Even though you don’t want to be outside long, it’s beautiful.

I’m glad the cold only lasted a couple days. I know this used to be the norm. My husband remembers temperatures like this when he was in middle school and high school, but we haven’t had this in a long time, and I’m out of practice. Luckily, I still knew what to do to keep myself warm, and the birds as comfortable as I could make them until it warmed up a bit (2 above this morning, felt like a heat wave).

Dear Mom

I know I should just wait, and post this tomorrow, but I’m thinking about it today. Tomorrow, January 18th, will be the third year since my mom has passed away. For someone who was only 4″11″ she was a giant. Her personality, and will, were much bigger than her actual height.

In her town of Seward, Alaska, she was the longest serving person in city council history.  Her town, and civic duty, were important to her. She was tireless when it came to people and their needs. She was also tireless when it came to her family.

I read this letter at my mom’s memorial service.

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Pictures of my mom that were shown at her memorial service.

Dear Mom,

I have been thinking about my memories growing up, and I’ve thought a lot about you.  You have been the best mother I could ever ask for, and it has been difficult to enumerate how.  You always said, “I’m your mom, not your friend.”  When I was little, that was true.  You weren’t my friend.  You were the one who drilled manners into me, responsibility, made sure I played nice.  As I got bigger though, you were my mom, and my friend.  I could, and did, tell you everything.

I started thinking about the quilt I started making for you back when Owen was a baby.  I think of each red, flowery square, and each one is a memory.

Do you remember when we were little, and Stewart, Wes, and I would fight over who could sit next to you on the couch?  You finally set up a nightly rotation so we all got our time next to you.

I remember wanting to shave my legs so bad, and you said I had to wait until I was 13.  And I waited.  13 could not get here quick enough.  Finally, the day arrived, and I could shave my legs!  You looked at me and said, “You think this is great today, and it might even still be cool next week, but after a while you are going to think it’s a nuisance and not want to do it.”  I remember thinking that’s ridiculous, I’m never going to think that!  But, as is often the case, you were right.  To this day, I think of what you said every time I shave.

Remember when Grandma Shafer came to visit, and you guys taught me how to play pinochle?  When she left we started playing over at Kathy Caroll’s, and pretty soon we were playing with all kinds of people. Those evenings, sitting at a table with you, and all your friends, are some of my fondest memories. I don’t play it often anymore, but pinochle is still my favorite card game.

Remember my last day of high school?  You insisted on taking me, because you said, you had taken me to my very first day of school and you would take me to my last.  You and Melody then drove me to college in Fairbanks that August.  It was going pretty well, until we got there, and you left me alone in my dorm room for a bit to get unpacked.  At that point it hit me I was leaving home.  Frankly, it scared the hell out of me.  It probably didn’t help my roommate had gotten there before we did, hung up a naked Barbie doll studded with nails, and left.  We gave the Barbie doll a long look, and went to dinner.  By the end of the next day, I had almost convinced myself college was not for me, and I sat on your lap in Melody’s van and cried, and you cried, and after a while we decided it would probably work out, and I should stay.  You then did something you do so well.  We were in the dorm elevator, getting ready to go to the store, when this young women gets in with us.  You looked at her (and she must have had the same scared, lonely look I had), and you looked at me, and you said, “This is my daughter Stacy and this is her first day at UAF.  What’s your name?”  The young woman said, “Dolores.  This is my first day too.”  You invited her along with us to the store, and after that we started hanging out.  I had my first friend at college.

You were there when my children were born.  You cut their umbilical cords, held them in your arms when they were brand new to the world.  You came home with us from the hospital, and stayed with us for a week to help us adjust to our growing family.  I always knew I could call you when the kids did something that threw me for a loop.

I ask myself, who am I going to call during the day?  I called you every day to say hi, ask how you were doing, to tell you the funniest thing the kids had done, to tell you any hurts.  You always listened, laughed in all the right spots, and told me when I was being ridiculous.  I want to call you when the kids are teenagers, and do something particularly ridiculous.  We’ll reminisce, and you’ll tell me stories of things you and dad did, and scrapes Stewart and Wesley got into.  We’ll laugh, and agree whatever had happened isn’t such a big deal.

Like a quilt with a certain number of squares, I only have a certain number of memories.  Each memory I have is as rich and varied as each red square.  I can pull each one out when I need to, and hold it in my heart, and you will be there.  Like all things, you always hope for more time, more memories, but I am happy with the ones I have.

 

Notes From a First Time Front Yard Farmer – Farming Stinks in the Winter (Literally)

Farming in the winter time sucks. It’s cold, dark, and everything is frozen. The water freezes not long after you pour it into the birds buckets, and you spend all of your time either chiseling it out, or trying to figure out how to keep the water in a liquid form. The birds poop is frozen, and you can try to chisel that, or give up and just toss more hay on top (that’s what I do). Not only are you cranky about having to go out every morning, no matter the temperature, wind, or snow, but the birds aren’t thrilled either. It’s glares all around.  After the past couple warm winters, this winter has been a bit tough because its actually been cold. It’s been below zero for the past couple weeks. What we haven’t had a lot of is snow. Of course snow also presents its own challenges. Its wet, accumulates everywhere, and you have to figure out if you need to actually to do something with it (think shoveling), or if you can get away with just packing it down by repeatedly walking on it.

All winter, folks have been talking about how we need more snow. Heck, I’ve even caught myself saying it. For outdoor enthusiasts this means they can bust out their skis and snowshoes and go tromping around in the wilderness. I like it because it makes the dark less dark, and after weeks of chiseling ice out of water buckets, it was nice to go outside this morning and just have a thin skim to contend with. The snow provides a nice bit of extra insulation to the goose’s and ducks house, and keeps their inside water ice free, and hides all their poop that’s frozen to the ground. So, when I heard we were going to get snow yesterday, I thought maybe a couple inches and didn’t think too much of it.

What the National Weather Service had said was a bit more than that, and this time they were actually right. They said we were going to get between 4 to 7 inches, and they were almost spot on. We got between 6 and 8. I know, I know, it’s not even foot, so nothing to complain about. Heck, I remember times when I was a kid and we got four feet in a day, and this is nothing like that. Still, the snow was high enough it presented its own special challenges.

When I stepped outside, I quickly realized I was going to have to shovel a path on the porch and stairs before I did anything. Luckily, the snow shovel was where I had left it propped up against the house, and not buried somewhere out in the middle of the yard where you won’t see it again until spring. That done, I starting wading from one bird house to the next. Deciding I didn’t want to carry the water buckets and wade at the same time, I walked around, tromping down a path for myself.

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Photo by Stacy Koster The snow was over the top of my feet, and in the duck yard, it was almost up to the top of my boots.

 

When I let the geese out the snow came up above their bellies. I could tell they were happy it was warmer out, but not sure about the white stuff. When they stepped out of their yard they looked like little big bellied ships sailing low in the water. They quickly became tired of trying to waddle through the snow, and took to flying to where they wanted to get to.

The ducks ran out, and started enthusiastically swimming around in the stuff, ducking their heads down into the snow and popping back up. They started bobbing their heads at me making pointed gestures at their water bucket, telling my to hurry up and fill er up. When I went to let the chickens out, they glared at me, and the snow, taking the weather as a personal affront to their dignity. I cleaned the snow off their ramp and outside perching bar, and stomped on the snow in their yard, flattening it, and spreading hay everywhere. The chickens seemed to agree I had slightly improved the situation, and looked a bit mollified when I promised them an extra corn ration.

I then dumped the snow out of my wagon, and went to get out the hundred pounds of feed and hay I had in the car. Normally, getting it all in the wagon and to the shed isn’t too big a deal, but it was a bit tougher this morning. The snow was up above the wagon’s wheels, making it harder to pull. After some creative language, and a few breaks, I finally got it all back to the shed, and everyone fed.

With the snow falling, and looking cold and pretty, what I really wanted to do this morning was stay in with a hot cup of tea and my knitting. But, the birds must be let out, and fed, and watered. I got on my snow gear, walked out, and shoveled, made a path, and did all that. Now I will settle in with the tea I wished for, and enjoy the cold beauty from my comfy chair, wishing for spring.

Photo Caption: Photo by Stacy Koster

The snow was over the top of my feet, and the duck yard, it was almost up to the top of my boots.