Wind Chill Factor

It feels like this winter has already lasted eons, and yet there is no end in sight. This is the fourth weekend in a row that we've gotten a snowstorm. Tonight the wind is whirling around the corners of the house again, trying to find a way in. The windchill factor is -28 degrees. Did you see that minus sign before that double digit? Yeah… it's cold. 

I know when the summer heat feels smothering, this cold will be but a distant memory. But right now, that summer heat is exactly that. Not that I long for it. I like the seasons in between the extremes of winter and summer. I used to love autumn best, but I've come to enjoy spring just as much. I need to remember that Spring will show her beautiful face in the coming months. Perhaps she'll come drifting in on a gentle breeze, bearing blooms and birdsongs. Spring reminds us that life has cycles, and that new life and regeneration is part of what she represents.

When I think back to the winters of my childhood, there were several things that used to happen in the middle of February that signaled that spring was near. The first of these events was when we used to wash 900 to 1000 sap buckets, in preparation of sugaring season. I wrote about that in Why I Left the Amish.

Here is that excerpt:

One afternoon in February when we came home from school, Mom was working in the basement in a cloud of steam. She had heated water in the big iron pot for washing sap buckets. The iron pot sat on a steel jacket that had a door so we could build a fire inside it under the pot and a stovepipe that connected this jacket to the chimney. We called the whole thing a “cooker,” which we used it to heat water for washing clothes and once a year for washing sap buckets.

Most people just washed their sap buckets after they finished using them, in late spring. Datt washed them twice. While they were still hanging on the trees at the end of the season, he scrubbed them with a brush, rinsing them with the last of the sap still in them. Then we emptied the buckets, turned them upside down on the ground, gathered them, and finally stacked them in the sugarhouse. Then next year, before we used them, we washed them with a brush and hot water. Datt believed the syrup would be lighter that way, and he took pride in producing the lightest syrup in the area.

The tops of the stacks of buckets were lost in a cloud of steam when I got to the basement. Dad said we had over nine hundred buckets to wash.

He separated them carefully. When two stuck together, he held them in one hand and tapped the rim of the bottom bucket with a hammer until they came apart. My sisters and I took turns washing and rinsing, then we carried and stacked the clean buckets.

I liked building pyramids of buckets in rows all along the cellar wall. We first made a line of upside down buckets, then placed the next row on top of that, resting one bucket on top of two underneath. I’d build each pyramid as high as the ceiling, then begin another one in front of the first one.

As I counted and stacked, I heard Datt’s tap, tap, tapping on the bucket rims, then the hollow bang as the bucket hit the cement floor. I heard the grating of the buckets against the tub and the swish, swishing of Lizzie’s brush. I hummed a tune and the sound vibrated around the rims of the buckets. I left room for a path through the middle of the basement and filled up the rest with pyramids. I walked the buckets, two at a time, into the bigger part of the basement, and when it was getting full I said,” Only room for one more row.”

“How many are there so far?” Dad asked.

“Four hundred and seventy,” I said. We would have to wash the rest the next night.

When the last row was stacked, we emptied the tubs by pulling the plugs, and then we swept the water toward the drain in the floor. When we were finished, Dad and my older sister, Lizzie went upstairs.

My two younger sisters, Sarah and Susie, and I stood in the path between the pyramids and called out vowel sounds, then listened to the sounds bounce around each bucket rim in turn, before fading into nowhere. We called out “OOOO, EEEE, AAAA!” and waited for the echo.

Sarah and Susie went upstairs when they were tired of playing. I listened to my echo by myself, and then I sat on the basement steps and looked at the faint light coming through the little windows over the tops of the pyramids. I thought of all the other years when we created an echo chamber with the sap buckets. I felt as though I was a little girl again, even though I was ten. I wondered if in another year I would think I was too old, as Lizzie had.

I was sitting in the dark when I got a whiff of Mom’s supper and I realized how hungry I was. When I walked into the kitchen, I blinked in the bright lantern light. Mom was pulling baked beans out of the oven, with rows of sizzling bacon on top of the pan. She placed it on hot pads in the middle of the table next to slices of bread and a big bowl of applesauce. After our silent prayer, we all ate heartily.

After the dishes were done and the floor swept, and everyone was reading, sewing, or playing games, I felt what the Amish call sot, the way one feels after having eaten a satisfying meal. I liked that word, and there isn’t one like it in the English language, because you can feel full without feeling satisfied. Sot was that feeling of being nourished with a really good meal after working hard.

So when Old Man Winter has me in his icy grip, I need to remember that this really is only for a time. Eventually spring will melt those icy fingers. Eventually the mountains of snow on street corners and parking lots will shrink and finally melt away. I have to tell myself that, especially when these mountains keep getting bigger instead of shrinking. They remind me of the nightmares I used to have as a child when everything in the dream was out-of-porportionally huge.

While I wait for the mountains of snow to shrink, I will continue the activities that have gotten me through this long winter: playing Scrabble, reading, watching Downton Abbey and Mystery on Sunday evenings, and staying in touch with friends.

When the slate-colored juncos stop arriving at the bird-feeder, and the goldfinches start wearing their lemon-yellow coats with black wings, I will know that snow is something we don't need to deal with until next winter. Maybe I will do a happy dance in my yard, and people will think I've gone coo-coo-nuts. And they'd be right!

How about you? Are you looking forward to Spring? What is the first sign of her arrival where you live?

SapBuckets

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28 thoughts on “Wind Chill Factor”

  1. Spring is already here in Florida. The migrating birds are back and on their way north. The trees are shedding their old leaves as the new ones push out. Spring here is not as profound as it is further north but we still feel and see signs of another season.

    1. Katie, my thoughts are with you, basking with you in the park on a sunny day. It was not yet a year ago when we did that… And now I’m so far away from that, and it’s so cold here.

      Enjoy the spring and the sunshine of Florida!

  2. I thought I saw a robin sitting on a fence post yesterday. In years past I’ve seen them in January. The Daffodils are out of the ground and have some buds on them already. But then, I look at the weather forecast, and they say we COULD POSSIBLY have 10 inches of snow by tomorrow and Wednesday a low of 7 and a high of 23. Maybe I should just stay in bed and snuggle up with the dog and cats and some good books the rest of the week! (Yes, Saloma, I’ve already read your two books!) I’m itching to get in the garden and see my favorite color – GREEN!
    P.S. Stay safe and warm.

    1. Christine, that sounds like a good option… snuggling up with the dog and cats until winter goes away and leaves you alone.

      Green in place of white would be soooo refreshing… AH! I can just imagine!

  3. This has been an odd winter, to say the least. Record-breaking amount of rain, less than half the normal amount of snow. A good share of the winter we’ve had temperatures in the mid to high 40s and with only one or two nights they have gone down into the single digits. And this is Alaska!

    I noticed about 10 days ago that the rhubarb knuckles are showing, and crocuses have been up for some time, a good month early. For that matter, although I haven’t seen any yet, it is quite certain that bears are leaving their dens.

    Spring?

    The times, they are a-changin’.

    1. Just today I was thinking, gosh, if it’s like this here, what is it like in Alaska? Imagine that… you are seeing signs of spring while we are in the deep freeze. So weird.

      You enjoy your oncoming spring… maybe I’ll have to go north to get warm :-)

  4. Saloma, I loved your story of getting ready for sugaring season. Good on Datt for his sanitary practice of washing the buckets again just before use! I LOVE real maple syrup and won’t use anything else. I even bring a small container to restaurants if going out for breakfast, as most places don’t have the real stuff. As I say, “I didn’t move back to New England for no ‘Ant’ Jemima!”

    The Jan/Feb issue of Yankee Magazine has a provocative article about changes in the sugaring industry, called “Boom or Bust in the Sugar Fields”.

    The winter is wearing on me, too. I feel your pain! Good thing you work from home and can stay cozy. I just want to get out and WALK again. Cheers! Lori Milner

    1. Lori, good to hear from you. I ask before ordering in restaurants. If they don’t have real maple syrup, then I don’t order pancakes or french toast.

      Yes, I am fortunate to be able to stay warm in my home. But it’s also what makes me stir crazy sometimes… not getting out more often.

      Stay warm and dry!

  5. I should familiarize myself with birds more. In the fall, huge masses of birds gather here (NJ) before migrating elsewhere. I don’t know what kind of birds they are, but I always love watching them. They form huge “clouds” that change direction in unison. It never occurred to me to look for spring-time bird-sign, but I would like to be able to recognize it. I usually look for the crocuses.

    I hear San Diego has perfect weather. Every season is springtime there. Of course, every season is earthquake season there, as well…

    1. Stacy, I love crocuses too! And I am so ready to have them bloom! You know, I’ve never been to California. I would probably love their weather, but I am not too fond of earthquakes. When I was eight months pregnant with our older son, we had an earthquake in Vermont that shook the old brick farmhouse we were living in at the time. Pretty scary!

      It sounds to me like the birds you are seeing in huge clouds are blackbirds. They fly in those patterns.

  6. I enjoyed rereading your maple syrup time experiences. We’re having a winter freeze this weekend. I’m enjoying it though because it makes me feel cozy in my house (cold and bundled up with my oven on for extra heat but yet cozy). But last winter I was DONE with winter by this time, so I understand your frustration after four weekends. I think of you every time I hear the weather reports for the northeast. May your spring come soon!

  7. This is the time of year to head to a local greenhouse. The colleges in the area have some lovely ones. There’s a butterfly ‘museum’ that can serve the same function, with tropical plants, animals and temperatures. In the very hot summer, I sometimes reread a book like The Long Winter by Laura Ingals Wilder, to remember the times I’ve been cold (altho never as cold as they were.) Funny, reading about very hot scenes in winter doesn’t help much. Last night I was watching a live broadcast of the Detroit Symphony and they were even making jokes about the cold on stage.

    A friend of mine who grows most of her own food is starting seeds soon. That thinking ahead is required in her calendar.

    1. Johanna, that is a great idea. I’ve been to the butterfly museum before, and it is heavenly. Today I have a friend coming to play Scrabble, but that is something I should get out and do one of these days.

      Starting seeds requires more faith than I have… that spring is coming…. lol. I am not a good gardener, but that sounds like a good thing… seeing something GROW.

  8. Winter is tough as well here but I just realised that the days are getting longer again and some of the birds are starting to have their chirping concerts in the morning.
    So hopefully this season shall pass soon. Stay warm. :-)

    1. Thank you, Miriam. I’m trying to. Stay warm that is. Yes, the days are getting longer, so that’s a blessing for sure. The mountains of snow are haunting me, though. On Saturday I am heading into Boston, where they have even more than we do.

      Enjoy the birdsong and the longer days.

  9. I’ve been reading your blogs for a while now and have read your books. Very interesting about washing all the sap buckets. That was A LOT of buckets to wash and stack! I am definitely looking forward to spring. I am a warm weather person. I live in MD and we have had several nuisance snows (major dustings) so far this winter but very cold temps. We are now waiting for a real storm to hit later on this evening and over night to give us more of an accumulation. Previously I always watched for the crocuses to pop out of the ground. Now I watch the buds on the trees in our community. We too are watching Downton Abbey on DVD during the long evenings. Last night we made a batch of chili to have for dinner on an upcoming evening.

    1. Phylis, I saw some footage of the storm down in your area… wow! And you probably don’t have the snow equipment to deal with it.

      We have gone through several big pots of chili this winter. It really hits the spot on cold nights.

      Enjoy Downton Abbey. Have you ever seen “Lark Rise to Candleford”? I like that series even better than DA.

      Stay warm and dry!

  10. Hi Saloma, I don’t want to rub it in, but I’ve found SUMMER on my vacation in Maui. When I return next month one of my first trips will be to Conewango visiting friends and chewing the fat in their sugar shack and smelling the steam coming off the evaporator. If I’m lucky pancakes will be offered with hot syrup drawn from the evaporator. For me this means that spring can’t be too far off. Stay warm and put an extra quilt on the bed. Tom The Backroads Traveller

    1. Tom, thank you for not rubbing it in. I’m actually glad someone is in a warm place. Yes, how well I remember the smell of the steam rolling out of the sugarhouse! That is the first sign of spring in Ohio. I don’t think anyone will be tapping the trees around here for a while!

      Enjoy the sunshine of Maui for me!

  11. Dianne H. Plourde

    Love your stories so much. I look forward to each new one! Pretty much, I spend my winters as you do. :o) Thank you for taking the time to write and share as you do!

  12. The mere mention of maple syrup gets me drooling! We have been out of that good stuff for awhile, so we too are anxious to have the sap running. Did you make maple cream?? That was/us a family favorite. Spreading that on bread fresh & warm from the oven or dinner rolls…YUMMM…it doesn’t get much better than this…

  13. First of all I enjoyed your story of the preparing for the maple syrup season. You worked hard when you were growing up like so many children did in your group. It brought back many memories of how hard my family all worked. However I would like to talk about the winter weather. I came to Michigan Jan 30. On the Sunday evening of the Super Bowl it started to snow here in the Thumb of Mi. and a lot of snow was dropped. That snow is still here and we have many days of minus degrees. Church was cancelled one sunday because of the cold. I haven’t experienced so much cold and snow for ages and I am so thankful however that I am able bodied and can get around in it but I am also very much aware that there are many people who can’t and to be homeless in this kind of weather is something else too. Tomorrow I will be going back home to Holland and it is in the 40’50’s there. I might feel like I am in the tropics. Mary

    1. Mary, it’s nice to hear from you. I am so sorry that you moved to Michigan just in time for the cold and snow. And you remind me of something I need to be grateful for… our health so that we can also get around in the snow. And that we do have a warm home to live in. In that light, cabin fever seems like something I can handle.

      Have fun traveling to the tropics!

  14. We are in the single digits here, too, with night temperatures at zero or below. I think one night with windchill we got down to -16. Just the other day I was walking in the backyard and thought, could things really grow here again? It seems impossible to be confronted with a cold barren desert that will actually produce tomatoes six months from now. I won’t believe it until I see the first daffodil. Stay warm up there!

    1. Hello Monica. David and I just got back from our day trip to Boston, and let me tell you, that was one hairy ride home. The Mass Pike wasn’t plowed, and it was so stressful! We were biting our nails. This morning when we left, it was -17 below. I’m crying uncle… this winter has the best of me!

      I know, I was just telling David as we drove past a place where we had canoed this summer… gosh, that seems like forever ago! Hard to imagine it will be summer in less than six months, is right!

      Warm wishes to you and your family as well.

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