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Stonehouse Diary – The Snow Day

The Snow Day

An early February morning and the first heavy snow of the winter is falling, setting a fine mantle upon the land. We got a skiff when Mom was visiting over the Christmas holiday, but was a miserly snow, icy and thin. Nothing like this. This is a real snow. A snowman building snow. A snowball fight snow. A break out the sleds and hit the hills snow. Or will be, when it stops falling and the wind dies down.

Last night’s weather forecast predicted an accumulation of only an inch or two. So far we’ve gotten four inches and it’s still coming down. A little while ago, the weatherwoman said to expect up to six inches here before it stops. That’s fine with me. Especially since tomorrow’s temperatures are supposed to be well above freezing and Wednesday it’s supposed to rain. This is one of those “It’s Winter!” snows. A Fill Your Senses snows. An Enjoy It While It Lasts snows. It won’t be around long enough to become a bothersome snow, clinging and muddy and worn.

It’s lovely sitting here watching it fall. When it first started, well before dawn, it came down in a heavy curtain of frosted beads that pelted the roof and ground. It made little pinging sounds. Snappy. Curt. Insistent. By sunup, the beads had turned to wet, sticky flakes that clung to every surface they touched. A Robert Frost snow. Thick and decorative. Perfect for woods. Now, the flakes are large. Silver dollar-sized. They’re falling in a sweeping waltz, spinning circles on the breezy. Fred Astaire portrayed by Nature. It’s fun and generous and playful.

The dogs are excited by it. Three times they’ve gathered at the back door, begged to be loosed on the frozen landscape. Three times they’ve been let out to frolic and roll and run, nose-plowing their way from tree to tree in a garrulous hunt for squirrels. Three times they’ve scratched at the door, worn out, coats wet, feet caked with ice, to be let inside. Three times they’ve been rubbed down with towels, then welcomed in to warm up in the gentle embrace of the stout furnace and heated dog beds.

The other animals, all outside animals, don’t seem nearly as taken with the still-falling snow. The horses have moved under the trees. They’re standing with their heads down, fannies to the wind. Perhaps they’re sleeping. Or contemplating the effects of the snow on their newly grown grass. Or simply doing what I’m doing, ignoring my long list of chores and obligations and lazily watching the snow.

The geese are hunkered down on the lee side of a fat cedar near the barn. Lucy Goosey is on guard. She’s awake, alert, ready to start honking if danger nears. Take-A-Gander would usually be on duty, but he has an injured leg. Maybe one of the horses stepped on him. Or a predator, a coyote perhaps, caught him and he escaped, alive but scathed. Whatever happened, happened the night before last. His furious honking woke me, but by the time I’d put on boots and a coat and stepped out of the house, all was silent. I went back to bed without checking on him thinking it had been a false alarm. I don’t know that I could have done much even if I’d continued on to the barn, but I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not going.

Now, Take-A-Gander won’t let me get near him. He also can’t put any weight on his right leg. I hope the snow is helpful, will keep any swelling down. I’m also hoping he knows how to take care of himself, as animals so often do. I’ve grown awfully fond of the geese and want them to have a long and happy and productive life here.

The goats, all twenty-four, are lounging inside their large dry stall, damp bodies steaming against other damp bodies, some chewing cuds, others dozing, still others murmuring contentedly in that drowsy state between sleep and wakefulness. For the first time since arriving on the farm, none came out to greet me when I checked on them, though several rose from their resting place and milled around the doorway waiting to see if I was delivering sweet feed for breakfast. (Alas, I was not).

Even Sharif and Leilah stayed in the barn, preferring the comfort of their hay-covered blanket and dry wood floor over the frozen cold ground outside. They’re amazingly big now. Just eighteen weeks old, they are both already larger than my blue tick-black Lab, Lily, and are quickly closing in on Nikita’s size. By the time they’re five months old, certainly by six, they’ll be far and away the biggest dogs on the farm.

I don’t know if they’ll make good goat dogs. They are already showing affection for their soon-to-be ovine wards, playing with the younger ones, unafraid of the older does and bucks. They are a little too rough with the new kids to start living with the herd, but they’re right next door and eager to join them.

The problem is that whenever Leilah and Sharif are loose, they don’t stay with the goats, but instead hightail it for the house, even crawling under fences and cutting through the woods to reach it. A dear friend told me that keeping livestock dogs from “coming home” was one of the biggest difficulties in raising them. A man he knows, he told me, had to make it “very unpleasant” for his livestock puppies to keep them from running toward the house whenever they wanted.

Perhaps to the demise of my dogs’ effectiveness with the goats, I don’t have it in me to make it “very unpleasant” for Sharif and Leilah when they show up at the backdoor. I can’t beat them or threaten them or chase them away. It feels wrong. Like punishing love. Instead, I simply walk them back to the barn, refusing to play with them or give them treats until they’re back where they belong.

On a scale of harshness, that probably doesn’t reach the level of Tough Love, much less “very unpleasant”, but it’s the best I can do. That, and hope that when they finally join their ovine family, they find a good home there. One they will want to stay with and guard.

If not, there are a lot of walks to the barn in my future.

On this snowy morning, that thought doesn’t seem terrible. No more terrible, in fact, than getting up – again – to let the newly dry and warmed dogs out for another chance to play in the snow. This time, though, I think I’ll go outside with them, visit the filling woods, catch a few snowflakes on my tongue, feel them land gently on my cheeks, perhaps throw a snowball. Later, when we all get chilled, weary of the cold and wet, we’ll head inside to warm up again and nap. With all of the hustle and bustle in my life these days, I feel like a kid again. One who’s just gotten word that school is closed.

It’s a snow day.