A cold winter morning and the frost lies hard on the land. This is like Minnesota! Larry says, approving. Minnesota is not easy, I think, but keep the thought to myself, because it is beautiful, actually euphoric. I mean, look at it:



Christmas cookies! The tree waiting out on the porch to come inside and be strung with lights! But first, we need to check on the chickens. We arrived last night after dark, and have faith that the girls are tucked into their warm roost, and that there will be two days of eggs. The girls need a little love in the form of dried corn, so out we go. To find that their watering tray has frozen over. Not good. (Six eggs, by the way.)

Here’s the thing. We have to go over to Black Butte to turn off the water, move the deck furniture into the garage, make the beds and dust the corners, chores that should have been done a month ago and can wait no longer. Especially the water thing. We plan to head on over, but are constrained by the weather report, which tell us that the next few days here in Corvallis will also be cold. Chickens need their water. We break the ice, scatter the corn, and decide to go to Wilco in order to see what solutions they may have.

Which is when we learn that the gate across our drive has stuck open. Sigh. Can’t run off to Black Butte with the gate wide open. Larry calls Applegate to ask for a tech to come by. The “gal” will check with the tech, currently out on a call, get back to us. We decide to proceed to Wilco, with a stop, first, for a restorative pumpkin-spice latte. Larry’s enthusiasm for this Minnesota weather has diminished, one might say, judging from the annoyed frown. Gal comes back on the phone to tell us, with steely resolve, that the earliest we can get tech assistance will be January 4. What! We can’t leave our gate open for a month! We’re going to Sun Valley for Christmas, but Larry wisely doesn’t explain that to her majesty.

Well, one thing at a time. Imagining how we might drag one of the many farm gates, lying about the property, across the drive, secure it with chain and padlocks, we go to the Costco of the farm world. If Wilco doesn’t have it . . . And they do. We are assigned to the care of “Darren” who leads us through consideration of plastic watering jug, which we innocently purchased last summer, versus metal. Of heating bases and/or cubes, of extension cords and their diminishing power over their length (100 yards, in our case). Of water nipples (really) or trays. Will our chickens learn how to use the nipples? Who knows? How would we know? With a sigh, we purchase a new system and return to install it.

We’ve decided that Larry will have to go to Black Butte alone while I stay here to monitor the open-gate situation and the chicken-water situation. Honestly, I say, to cheer Larry (this rarely works) let’s be glad the gate is stuck open! We get the watering system installed, and Larry prepares to leave. He will phone me from the bottom to let me know if the gate has miraculously recovered, but I decide to ride down and walk back up instead. We are both astonished to find that, in fact, the gate has indeed repaired itself and is now firmly closed. But will it open to let Larry leave? Yes! Apparently the mechanism has simply frozen, now thawed, and all is well. We decide that Larry will go on without me anyway and I will, instead, work out what to do with the dozen-or-so-and-counting eggs now in the basket.

Ice cream! I find a recipe using 5 egg yolks! A score, because now I will have 5 egg whites I can use for Vanilla Strips, a beloved Christmas cookie involving ground filberts.

P.S., Larry went over and back, and got home in time for a late chicken stew dinner. No, we don’t plan to murder our chickens and turn them into stew when the time comes, though that had been the topic of conversation at dinner with friends Sunday night. They laugh at the idea of Larry wringing a chicken’s neck, or using the hatchet-on-a-stump method. We will see, won’t we?

Now Wednesday morning, I pull on my flannel shirt (thanks again, Nancy) and head out to learn if our new watering system has succeeded. Fingers crossed!

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