Water, Snow, and Ice

Drip. Drip. Drip. I wake to the sound of rain on the roof. Rain? Yesterday morning it was 5 degrees and snowing. I must be dreaming of spring.

No, it is no dream. As I look about outside, I see a yard filled with puddles pooling atop the partially frozen ground. Soon Kyra and Kai are out there too. Yesterday it was snow pants and sleds. Today is it tricycles in the mud. Welcome to winter.

In one sense, I am relieved. It will be easy today to water the animals.

Watering is our latest challenge—not the water itself, but its transport from house to barn. We have a lovely well, sunk halfway up the hill behind our house, with the sweetest of water in a county where many wells are flavored with sulpher. The quality of that water was the one condition we stipulated when we bought the farm, its quantity too. We heard it could support a hundred head of cattle. Should be enough to supply showers, dishes, and laundry for our family of six, we thought. At the time it didn’t even register that there was no plumbing to the barn. What would we need it for? Besides, the pipes would freeze if there were.

Then we got animals. In warm weather, of course, water transport is no problem. A string of hoses connected to our outdoor spigot does the job perfectly. Our furry and feathered friends have all they need.

When the temperature drops, however, the spigot freezes, the hoses harden and split, and the challenge increases. Last year we resorted to buckets, filled up one by one in the kitchen sink, and hauled by hand to the barn.

But last winter we only had two large thirsty beasts. This year we have two more great guzzlers—Marvin our horse and Dandelion our nine-month-old heifer calf—with another two arriving this Saturday. (The bull calves are coming!) Our ninety-five-gallon cow trough needs filling every few days. Marvin’s fifteen-gallon dish empties in a matter of hours. We will need a lot of buckets! And Pop-eye arms. And patience with all those booted feet stamping in and out of the house. Isn’t there another way?

So far this year, we have opted for an alternative called “emptying the hose.” After a watering, we—often Jordan—drains the hose completely, lying its separable sections along the downward slope of our backyard. Then, in the sun of the day, even if cold, we can usually get the spigot pumping water through those tubes.

Except when we can’t. One recent frigid morning, Jordan spent about a half hour trying to get the water flowing. He was so darn patient, until facing those last remaining recalcitrant coils. I suggested he bring his frozen fingers into the house. We stuck the stubborn length of hose into the sink for faster warming. We got it working. Better than a bucket.

When we finally had the water flowing, I turned to find Jessica filling buckets at the sink. My spent effort nearly erupted. Why wasn’t she using the hard-earned hose? It took a moment for her to confess: “Marvin likes his water better if it’s warm.” OK, so here I was about to yell at her for being thoughtful. Still, maybe we can treat Marvin to a hot toddy, but what about the rest?

There is another solution. We could spend oodles of dollars to have a standpipe installed—a hand pump that sticks straight up into the air and plunges down into the earth about four feet, to just below the frost line. Water that doesn’t make it out the pump drops back into the warming earth, and refuses to freeze.

Problem is, we have thought that we might rebuild the barns, or move them up the hill. If we do, there is no sense in investing in such a system here and now. So we are stuck. The issue hangs, unresolved. Back to the buckets.

Today, however, the weather is warm. The hose will be soft and pliable. The spigot will flow; the containers fill. Our arms will rest.

Perhaps we could just arrange to have a thaw on every third day?
Tomorrow it is supposed to snow.

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