Thursday, December 10, 2009


I moved away from Michigan in 1988 for a reason. Well, for several reasons, but one was the frigid cold that dominated at least half the year. When I moved to the Pacific NW, it was like Fall all Winter to me. I didn't mind the Moist Season because it usually hovered around 50 degrees, so I could throw on some gortex and still bike and hike and enjoy the outdoors in relative comfort. Every 3-5 years it seemed we would get some extreme weather in December or January, and most years we would get a day or two of snowfall.

Over the past 5 years, the weather has changed dramatically around here. We've seen more winter storms, and the past two years were marked by incredible floods, high winds, and landslides. We came close to some flooding this year in November, but the rain eased just before the Chehalis River crested. I am definitely grateful for that, but over the past couple of weeks, we have had some of the coldest temperatures I can remember in WA.

I have to admit, the blue skies and sunshine on the glittery, ice-covered landscape is stunning. Along the steep roadsides, incredible ice formations decorate the rock walls. When I pass by a small local lake in the mornings, just as the sun is hitting the water, thick steam swirls up in spooky wisps, looking like a huge crowd of ghosts dancing on the surface.

But this cold is causing me a whole heap of frustration and delay. I've been rushing to meet the deadline for installing this mosaic because the clinic is scheduled to open on the 18th. Last week, I spent two days putting up an exterior mosaic in 35 degree temps. My fingers were swollen with cold and my toes were numb. Luckily, the thinset seems to have cured without problems, which was a concern. I expected it to warm up this week for grouting, but it has only gotten colder, so I haven't been able to finish the work. If the grout freezes, it will compromise the curing process.

Meanwhile, I have 3 glass-on-glass mosaic panels in my studio that were supposed to be installed in the entryway of the clinic by now. On Friday, I started grouting early because I needed to leave for the night in the late afternoon. The cold caused the epoxy grout to cure very slowly, and I was not sure it was ready for me to leave it when I finally had to go. Sure enough, there is a light haze on the glass, so I have been painstakingly buffing each piece with superfine steel wool for the past couple of days, and I'm still not finished buffing the first panel. The third panel is still waiting for grout. I'm worried also that a couple hundred dollars worth of adhesives have frozen in my studio, deeming them unsuitable for use.

Our pipes froze on Monday and we have been having a water shortage ever since, despite wrapping our pipes excessively with heat-tape and insulation. It has become clear that we somehow lost pressure in our water tank, which is something I'll be working on today. No water is always difficult, but is extra problematic when I am responsible for the care and feeding of so many animals. They are all very thirsty. I keep a container filling under my one trickling faucet, and use this source for all of our cleaning and as drinking water for the animals. Water for drinking and cooking comes from the store for now.

It doesn't help that I was really sick with a stomach bug at the beginning of the week, and could barely get myself upright. I'm just now feeling almost normal.

When it gets below freezing, it seems the raccoons become really desperate for food. Last year, we had a cold spell and lost 8 chickens and 9 ducks in two weeks to raccoons. They were ambushing during the day, when the birds are free-ranging. We have interrupted a raccoon attack on our turkeys each of the past two nights. The first night, one managed to bust through the chicken wire near the top of the coop. Last night, it reached through the wire, got hold of a turkey, and chewed on its shoulder before we got there. The turkey had managed to escape from the raccoon's grasp, and had somehow climbed the wall and wedged itself in a corner of the ceiling, using its wings to brace itself there with its feet holding onto the chicken wire. She is wounded, but recovering.

Beyond these major inconveniences, there are the small annoyances. The coop doors are frozen shut, the car won't warm up in the morning, Mike had to drive to work two mornings with no heat at all (45 miles!), the eggs are frozen when I get to them, and I'm having a hard time keeping the house above 60 degrees.

All of this typing served mainly to postpone going back outside to solve these issues. I have to repressurize the water tank (wish me luck!) and try to make the turkey coop more secure. All I can say is that, despite the sunshine and absolutely stunning surroundings, I am longing for the good old days of incessant drizzle that used to be the bane of December and January.

But, I realize that we can count on our weather just getting stranger and more unpredictable in future years. I guess I just need to suck it up and be more prepared. And I'll try to enjoy the sun while it shines on the glistening ice-covered hills.

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