Since 1998, when Prentice was given his first cow, we have had anywhere from one to ten cows through the winters. Most of those winters have been weathered here at the Village Farm in Freedom and most have involved long, stiff lengths of frozen or freezing hoses that we have used to water the herd. Last year, Prentice had an idea that was "just the thing," everyday brilliance, let's say. . . of foregoing the hassle of the hoses in favor of an old fashioned solution: a hole in the ice.
Our "unplugged" barn (read: no electricity or running water) is 600 feet or so south of the house and what it lacks in conveniences, it makes up for in its charm. Sheathed in re-used metal siding (read: rumpled and peppered with holes), it isn't pretty. This fact has never occurred to me, but it doesn't have even one window. But it does the job, as they say, and it is in a wonderful site; the barn is situated on the south side of a little knoll and is smack dab next to a small pond.
We call this little kettle, "the barn pond" or "the frog pond" if it is spring.
I have a mighty fascination with pre-historic times and often find myself wondering at all the things we have forgotten over the millenia. Anyways, keeping a hole in the ice open, and dipping a bucket into it each and every day of the winter is the closest thing to going back in time that I have ever experienced. People have been doing this for thousands of years. There is something about that hole in the ice that is as primal to northern latitudes people as the fiery hearth. In some ways, it is the hearth's opposite: dark, cold and spooky. But, like the hearth, it is life-giving and elemental.
(Sometimes when I gaze into the hole, I pretend I am a polar bear, waiting for a seal to surface.)
Our four adult cows and two teenagers drink about 30-40 gallons of water per day in the winter. For me (Polly), that is 4 trips to and from the pond with an almost full five gallon bucket in each hand.
One January day, as I was pouring a bucketful into the cows' trough, I saw a black something in the water. It was a tadpole. I thought that tadpoles buried their little selves in the mud for the cold months! This one was quite perky and not at all muddy, and so I decided it would make a good surprise for the boys. The poor thing sloshed all the way up to the house with me and when I showed it to Josey and Ben, they politely told me to "please put it back, Mama." I was expecting them to want to keep it in a fishbowl --as a pet! But no. I suppose it was an odd visitor from another season and they just assumed catch their own tadpoles by themselves in the spring.
The hole in the ice is a winter treat and will go the way of the snowmen and snow forts in the weeks ahead. Needless to say, I will miss it and already look forward to tending its edges next winter.
Spring is on the way,