Before we knew we were moving to Maine, I worried about how our Tennessee chickens would fare during the winter. I did a lot of reading about what breeds are winter hardy, and how to take care of them when it drops below freezing. I was so worried that our backyard setup was not going to be enough for them.
As it turns out, a neighborhood coyote was more of a threat than Tennessee winters that rarely see daytime temperatures below freezing, and then we moved anyway.
Going into our first Maine winter, the chickens were, again, my biggest worry. We have a wood stove, and good winter clothes. Our house is well insulated. But the barn is not. I filled it with hay during the fall and did more reading, and even still go out to the barn every day with trepidation.
Yet, the chickens don't care. They warble at me if I walk in while they are trying to sleep, or flock to me for their water refill, following me outside because they know I am the Bearer Of Treats.
Instead, our winter problems have been more dangerous, with a much more dire learning curve.
We ran out of firewood early on. Our 16 acre homestead had us southerners foolishly convinced we would be fine; what we did not take into consideration was how long it takes wood to properly dry, or just how much we would need. We bought a chainsaw when we got home from our East Coast Tour trip in late October, and got to work bucking and splitting the massive pile of logs in our backyard. But that didn't go far, and after sitting outside in the elements it was all fairly wet. We took down a couple of dead trees; still wet. I have stressed more than I can say about the smoke and creosote, and how fast we were going through it.
Early this week, we finally started to get into a good place. Friends loaned us a truckload. I bought half a cord from someone just down the road. We have a huge delivery scheduled. We'll stay warm!
Only then, Billy came home from work saying he had the sniffles and a cough, and something in my gut just knew. I finally found a Walgreens with Covid at-home test kids in stock...and Billy tested positive. Somehow, two tests over two days showed negative for me, but we all had PCRs done and I'm not optimistic about my results on that. Silver lining? Billy feels fine, and the kids don't show any symptoms at all. Vaccines work, and I am so grateful to live in a country where we have free access to them.
Of course, his positive diagnosis comes during the coldest weather we've had up here so far--negative degrees at night AND during the day. So enter our next lesson on Maine winters: frozen pipes.
The first night of subzero temperatures we left the kitchen and bathroom sinks dripping, but despite that the next morning we had no hot water to the bathroom sink, and no water at all to the bathtub or washing machine.
The next morning, the bathroom sink had no water, and the kitchen sink had very little water pressure--pressure that bottomed out until the sink was at a drip...and then a slower drip...and then nothing at all.
Thank the stars for community, and for friends. The same couple who loaned us firewood they gave me a plumber recommendation who, while not available to come out to our plague-infected house on such short notice, texted me through some troubleshooting. After a couple of impulse decisions like booking Parker into the kennel for the night, and wanting to just take the entire family to a hotel for water (and realizing we couldn't because...Covid)...we set up a space heater underneath the house, and had a family party of bringing buckets of water from the creek inside so I could heat them to wash dishes, and then bringing buckets of snow in to fill the bathtub so we could at least have water to flush the toilet and wash our hands.
And during the Great Snow Collection, about an hour after turning on the space heater, the kitchen sink sputtered on. By the end of the night, I was able to take a deliciously hot shower.
I have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. It reminded me of April 2020, when we were still sheltering at home and the tornadoes his Chattanooga. Up to that point, it was easy to stay home, and the weather was nice so we were always outdoors. But then we were forced into going places because there was massive destruction in the area and people we loved were right at the center of it. Our Covid bubble popped, and the reality of living in the time of a pandemic--and being adjacent to a natural disaster simultaneously--was almost too much. I was angry about Covid. I was angry that we were supposed to have a two week long shutdown that was stretching into a month and showed no signs of slowing down, and I felt ashamed of booking us into a hotel.
So when our water went out yesterday and I again wanted to flee...
Once upon a time I was really good in a crisis. Parenting through a pandemic takes a lot of that away. We are collectively all living on high alert at all times. And with young kids asking what we are going to do and looking with "mommy always has the answers" eyes, I don't have that minute to mentally entertain every possible outcome. It felt easier, then and now, to choose the route of least planning necessary, even if we are better equipped than most people we know for things like power outages and water shortages due to all our time camping. Having the choice made for us--you cannot go to a hotel when confirmed positive with Covid--helped me recognize that I needed to ask for that minute. The kaleidoscope of crisis management happened. And then...I could just laugh, because what else can you do when it's below zero, you have no water, and the pandemic you've managed to evade for almost two years finally found your house?
Maine weather takes no prisoners, and this was our second major lesson about winter preparedness. I know there will be more, but for now? Crisis averted.
And when I went out to check on the chickens before bedtime, they warbled at me from their perch, confused about why I was interrupting their sleep.
This was originally written on January 13th. As of now the kids and I are still negative for Covid, Billy's PCR confirmed a positive result, our water came back, and we are all really tired of wearing masks at home. And the chickens still just want fresh water and treats.