Could Be Worse

It’s fifteen below this morning on our little patch of prairie. I’ve taken to making a morning weather report on my Facebook page which is followed up by, “it could be worse.”

And, it could be. The winds are unusually calm right now, which means there’s no measurable wind chill. On the prairie, lack of wind always seems a little bit eerie, and one tends to stop in one’s tracks to listen and inspect the treetops and grasses for movement and wonder what’s coming.

“It’s quiet! Too quiet.”

Our winter visitors, a cloud of slate-colored juncos, is unphased by the bitter cold–they are busily crowding the feeders before the later-rising bluejays and woodpeckers muscle in on the food supply. Juncos go even farther north in the summer, and it’s pleasing to imagine that this, for them, is a warm winter hideaway.

My pullets are not as pleased with the white stuff, and have decided that the farthest they need to roam is the snow-free ramp that leads out to their run. A couple of weeks ago they were up at the crack of dawn making runs at the fences, clambering up over the top of the coop and into the woods, and exploring the wide world outside their generously-proportioned pen. Now, I wait ’til mid-morning to open the little door, and from the back deck can see them peeking out, looking suspiciously at the white-encrusted world, and going back in.

Done are the days of merrily scratching through the compost pile–they’ve been getting little treats inside the coop lately–a pie plate of leftover brown rice, the shell of a spaghetti squash–things that don’t make too much of a mess in their winter quarters.

The coop is unheated, though I do have a warmer to keep their drinking fountain from freezing. So far, they seem fine with the arrangement–their insulated house faces south and is well-protected from winds. Last spring, I mortared every crack of daylight in the stone foundation to protect from drafts and predators, so it’s actually kind of nice to hang out in there with my girls on a bright, bitterly cold day–it’s not warm, but it’s not brutal, either, which is the Minnesota winter measure of what can be borne with a reasonable amount of cheer and what is just plain miserable and OK to complain about with noncommittal phrases like, “cold enough for ya?”

Well, you know, it could be worse.