Originally published in January of 2000. We urge the reader to seek out Lady Celia Congreve's The Firewood Poem for a lovely lesson in what wood is best for winter heat – spoiler alert, "ash new or ash old is fit for queen with crown of gold." Enjoy.
It was just thirteen years ago this week, and our small herd of sheep was residing in the converted garage (over between the barn and the granary). This same garage, which used to live down on the roadside – just opposite the bottom of the old driveway – was dragged up into the dooryard and left there when the highway crew was busy improving our road and needed more space than the old dirt track had demanded.
It’s had a busy life, that garage. It stayed where it had been dragged for a couple of years, threatening to rot into the ground, and then got moved (again), down beside the barn where it changed careers (again), this time into our chicken house. As a chicken house it has been a great success. Its previous residents, the sheep, were not enthusiastic.
From where I sit I can look down across the new driveway and the pond we built to collect the water that used to run down the old driveway – especially in the winter – across the now-paved road and down into the corner of the field below the road (just where the stream re-enters our property). In that whole expanse, and ignoring the leafless trees, the brown grasses and the frozen pond (all of which might very well represent late November), the only indication that winter is upon us is a slight dusting of snow along the woods on the eastern side of the lower field.
The water is still running in the barn.
I do not remember the state of the water to the barn this time thirteen years ago. I do remember the state of the dooryard and the adventure of feeding the sheep. Writing of the snow in front of the sheep pen, I said at the time:
“The only practical route is by means of a direct ascent up the North Face and then a tricky passage down the back of the slope to where it intersects with the door of the shed. I have done it more than once, mentally translating it into the last few feet to the summit of Everest, although as far as I am aware Sir Edmund Hilary was not toting a water bucket. From there it was – and still is – the merest work of the moment to bend double, squeeze through the entry, which resembles the eye of that needle through which camels and the rich (not to mention bales of hay) cannot pass, and slide blithely down the drift inside the shed the three or four feet to the floor.”
I remember that drift very clearly, and, since I crossed over it at least twice daily, I am in a position to say exactly how high it was. It was as high as the peak of the garage roof, or about ten feet. The sheep never got used to the arrival of their food via a celestial messenger.
The best we have been able to do recently to get winter to remind us of the old days was a good glaze of ice on the driveway and between the house and barn. I had taken the trouble to spread ashes in the morning, on all the various pathways we use to navigate this hillside, but by early afternoon the ice had disappeared and taken most of the ashes with it.
Mind you, I’m not complaining – exactly. As the fellow said, “You don’t have to shovel rain.” And our woodpile is looking almost unused, a good thing since this year we are burning white birch. Still, winter without snow, seems a bit sad.
We had one rather wild night a while back, with a rapidly falling barometer and huge oceans of air pouring past, out of the east, making the bare trees roar, and then hurling sleet to rattle at the windows. But an hour or so later the sleet had turned to rain and then near dawn all the air that had gone west in the first part of the night came roaring from the west again to scramble back east as fast as fast.
I don’t sleep well when the wind is high, not because of fear, I think, but perhaps out of fascination with all that huge alpha and omega of power which roars around the house and makes the trees vibrate like so many tuning-forks, and yet is totally invisible. It makes me think that our trendy coziness with the Third Person of the Trinity is brazenly shoddy. Saint John was no paper tiger. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.