Polar Vortex


Living five miles from Lake Michigan, winter delivers gale force winds and white-out blizzards, but rarely do the temperatures drop below zero. The wind chill might hover around minus fifteen, but not the actual outdoor temperature. Because the warm waters of Lake Michigan warms the air, and brews snow clouds.

We like winter. During the summer the work never stops, but on a winter afternoon, we can jump onto our cross-country skis and zip across the farm. Or we invite friends over, drag our toboggan over to Blueberry Hill (the one rising to the south of the blueberry bog) and race down the steep slope. Snow brings fun. For years, I volunteered as a snow spotter for our local weather bureau, measuring and recording the daily snow falls. Now, my data keeps track of the amount of moisture created by the snow, and is submitted to an online weather site. Those scientists watch for trends that could lead to droughts or saturated soils.

Winter offers time to repair equipment, clean cupboards and order kidding supplies. John spends hours preparing our taxes that are due the first of March, the filing date for farmers. I hunker down and write…magazine articles, essays, a picture book, and polish the latest novel. Evenings provide extra time to read and practice our instruments…You should hear John thundering away on his accordion as he plays along with a CD featuring his favorite Irish musicians. My harps produce more soothing Celtic music.

Then the polar vortex blasted Michigan. A banshee tossing heaps of snow, and penetrating cold that froze the water in the chicken coop. We shoved more wood into our boiler, kept the wood cook stove burning throughout the morning, and filled the bird feeders each afternoon. Venturing outside required numerous layers of clothing, leaving only a slit for our eyes. But with a goat soon to kid (thank goodness she didn’t) and eggs freezing within a couple of hours, we trudged back and forth to the animal barn, feeding extra sunflower seeds to help keep everyone warm.

First, the relentless wind died down. The snow turned into powdery fog that drifted across the porch. On the fifth day, the sun brushed away the clouds. Snow draped trees, frosted the evergreens, and animals left trails as they searched for food. On my skis, I plowed through the upper layer of snow, skating on wind-packed fields, following deer and coyote tracks.

Eighteen degrees felt like early spring, because in many ways, spring is creeping towards the farm. Any day now, baby goats will bounce off the walls of the barn. In two or three weeks, we will drill hundreds of taps in our sugar bush, and spy the return of bluebirds. The Polar Vortex will join our stories of past winter blasts as the snow melts and the sap rises.

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