Cold Weather Diary

Cold Weather Diary

This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.

Editor’s note: This piece is from Barnaby’s archive.

It was the kind of day when icicles don’t drip, cold and grey, with a stiff wind out of the north. The thermometer stood at zero. It was that sort of weather when warmth and comfort couldn’t be taken for granted, and the woodpile shrank by the hour. No birds came to the feeder; they were holed up. I noticed a nuthatch peering out of a birdhouse out behind the shop.

A lacework of frosty ferns had grown on the window panes over my workbench the night before. I got out my wife’s old hair dryer and defrosted them to see what I could see. There was snow drifted right up to the windowsill from the last storm, and out of each window in turn, I saw piles so high and so wide that I knew another storm or two would leave me no place to push it all with the plow.

My old lab, Hussy, who’s not so well winterized as her breeding might suggest, circled around in a deep pile of pine shavings on the floor and made herself a dog nest.

Near noon, my good neighbor, Bob, dropped by with a couple of cups of hot onion soup he picked up at the store, and together we huddled around my shop stove and sipped at the steaming stuff, talking about what the old-timers used for insulation back in the day, things like corncobs and crumpled-up newspapers, and how much difference a little sun can make. But I think he found my shop a bit too chilly, judging by the way he moved his feet about, and, soup gone, he left for home with warmth on his mind. His way of dealing with this weather, he said, was to get out the catalogs that afternoon and order his seeds. And that wasn’t all; he was going to make up a big spaghetti feed for supper with hot Italian sausage in it. There goes a methodical man, I thought.

It was not a good day to run low on things like dry firewood or long underwear or anything needed for wintering, but, procrastination being what it is, it does happen.

A while later, the door opened without warning. I thought it was the wind, but then a man appeared in the doorway, a stranger. He was all bundled up and had a worried look on his face. “I wonder if you might have a bag or two of sawdust,” he said.

Assuming he had car trouble and was stuck somewhere, I asked him if it was for traction.
“Nope,” he said. “My cow. It’s a cold day, and I’ve run out of bedding for her.”

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have picked such a day to dig for anything under two feet of snow, but a cold cow – we couldn’t have that! I happened to have some dry pine shavings I was saving for my chickens, all bagged, and I knew just where they were. After a few minutes with a shovel, I dug them out, and the man was soon on his way.

It was that kind of day… when men sit in shacks looking out the window, or maybe fishing through a hole in the ice, and when the only ones about are carrying cups of hot soup or searching for bedding for a cow.

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.