This Month On The Homestead: Sunrises, Community, and Ice
If you’re just tuning in, this is a recurring series in which I document each month of our lives out here on our 66-acre Vermont homestead. After leaving urban Cambridge, MA in May 2016 to chart this wholly different life, we’re experiencing a constant learning curve of exploration (and plenty of stupid novice moments). Check out last month’s installment here.
January was icy and crisp. But mostly icy. The snow no longer melts and each new snowfall gently folds itself on top of the last. There’s no ground that isn’t white. Very few plants–other than trees–poke out of their snowy cocoons. And it’s gorgeous.
I’m sitting at our dining room table as I write this, looking out our gigantic picture window onto the yard, which is an unblemished field of rolling white. Trees jut at the perimeter, offering greens and browns, and in the case of one stubborn beech tree, a few loitering autumn leaves that missed their seasonal memo.
I snowshoed through the yard with Babywoods just yesterday, but our tracks were erased by last night’s snowfall. Such is life in permanent snow–our impressions on the land are meaningless and soon gone. What’s more, the sunrises and sunsets of winter are unparalleled. Vermillion, orange, fuchsia–the sky is on fire in the mornings and settles into a pastel quilt each evening. I never knew a sky could offer so many different iterations of color.
The Coziness Of Winter
Cannot be overstated. It is fast overtaking fall as my favorite season. Mr. Frugalwoods builds up the woodstove every morning and we bask in its warmth as we watch the snow fall. Winter encourages creativity and durability–qualities I think summer lacks. We cook huge steaming pots of soup, cradle warm coffee mugs (ok, actually these thermoses, but ‘mugs’ sounded better), and bake fragrant breads.
I do yoga in front of the woodstove while Mr. FW reads books to Babywoods in our overstuffed leather chair. We nest and cuddle together against the harsh realities of sub-zero temperatures. But we don’t suffer cabin fever–we go snowshoe hiking almost every day and revel in how different the trails look and feel after each snowfall.
Babywoods loves her sled and has taken to snoozing in there while we pull her up and down the hills of our land (it’s going to be a rude awakening for that child when she has to walk along beside us 😉 ).
When You Are Encased In Ice
January brought an unusual thaw-rain-freeze pattern that encased us in ice. In a normal winter, it simply snows repeatedly and snow piles atop snow. This year, however, we’re experiencing bouts of warmer temperatures, which are not a boon. What happens is that it’ll be too warm to snow, so it’ll rain, but then temperatures invariably dip back below freezing, which then coats everything in a skein of ice. Not good.
This isn’t much of an issue for us people since we use our metal-spiked snowshoes to tromp around the yard. And after a few unfortunate falls on the ice while doing his outdoor chores, we bought this pair of metal crampons for Mr. FW to affix to his boots. The ice is, however, an issue for our cars (despite their snow tires). As regular readers know, we are engaged in an ongoing dance of diplomacy with our quarter-mile long, hilly, steep, gravel driveway. I say ‘diplomacy’ because we mostly co-exist peaceably, but there are times when weather gets the best of us.
Before we even bought our homestead, we knew this driveway would bring us some amount of grief. However, the overwhelming upside is that we can’t see the road, we can’t hear the road, and we are beatifically surrounded by trees as far as the eye can see in every single direction. Ok, but back to the ice situation. We toughed it out with what amounted to an ice luge of a driveway for awhile and drove as cautiously as possible in our studded snow tires. But we reached a point where it no longer felt safe to operate a car on a bobsled course.
Reasoning that it would be far more expensive to
buy a bobsled hire a tow truck to pull our car out of a ravine (on our own driveway, no less… ), we ordered a load of gravel and sand from our neighbor. Our town garage has a pile of sand that residents are allowed to take a 5 gallon bucket from after each storm and we use that sand/dirt on our walking paths. However, there’s no way we could, in good faith, take enough free sand/dirt to cover our entire ski slope-esque driveway. Lucky for us, our neighbor was able to swing by and coat the driveway with gravel/sand for just $65. A bargain for our safety and ease of travel. Of course it has subsequently snowed, which creates snowpack on top of the gravel, which is actually good for traction. Mr. FW valiantly snowblows the driveway in our tractor after each snowfall while Babywoods and I watch from the window by the woodstove.
The one upside of total ice coverage is that, when the sun comes out, the optics are amazing. We’re talking arctic sunshine splendor. Each individual tree branch, each individual fir, each individual icicle is coated in a thin layer of icy magic, which shimmers when the sun hits. See below photo of our yard for an illustration. Even in the most challenging weather, there is overwhelming beauty and wonder to appreciate.
Winter Is The Time For Learnin’ and Plannin’
Since nothing’s doing out on the homestead in winter (except for recreation and, of course, snow removal, oh and wood procurement), Mr. FW has heartily thrown himself into the old Vermont adage of learning and planning during these barren months. I am ostensibly also doing this, but let’s be honest, mostly I am writing, doing yoga, and chasing Babywoods around.
Mr. FW attended the Vermont Maple Sugaring Association’s annual conference one Saturday in January, where he learned about all things maple sugaring. We have a fair number of maple trees on our property and would love to one day tap them and make maple syrup.
In addition to this formal learnin’, we’ve been chatting up our syruping neighbors for their tips and advice. I use maple syrup (which I currently buy from our neighbors) in our homemade whole wheat bread, so it would be divine to make enough syrup for our household usage every year. A future goal to be sure!
And next month, Mr. FW is off to a workshop on how to prune apple trees. This is a good idea considering we pruned our apple trees last year based off of YouTube tutorials and books. Not the same as having an in-person demo.
The Warmth Of Community
I’ve previously waxed poetic about our wonderful community here in tiny, rural Vermont, but they deserve more adulation than you all would care to read about. Living here makes me realize that true community was missing from my life for, well, almost my entire life. Before we moved here (“here” being essentially the middle of nowhere), I had some moments of minor–and not so minor–panic over how we’d ever meet people or socialize or connect with the community. Our closest neighbor is at least a mile away and we didn’t know a single person in a 100-mile radius when we bought our homestead.
I have been so pleasantly surprised to learn how very, very wrong I was to worry. We’ve made more friends here–and have a larger network of connections–in 8 short months than we did in all our years in Cambridge. We had some very good friends–and fabulous next-door neighbors–in Cambridge, but we lacked a true network. Now, we’re integrated into our community through our vibrant church, our active community center, and the baby playgroups we attend.
Vermont’s population is small and our surrounding area is even smaller and nearly everyone knows everyone else and is happy to connect. One of the more fulfilling aspects of our new friendships is that they’re multi-generational. In the city, we were mainly friends with people our age, because that’s who we knew. Out here, however, we recently went to a double birthday party for two friends who were turning 30 and 70, respectively. That was a perfect illustration of the nature of abiding friendship that transcends the confines of age.
Earlier in January, we had no less than three potlucks to attend in a single week: a potluck lunch at church, a potluck surprise 40th birthday party, and our town’s monthly potluck dinner at the town center. Everything is a potluck here–there are no nearby restaurants or take-out places and everyone prefers to cook for themselves anyway. As you can imagine, this suits us frugal weirdos perfectly well. Socializing is done at one another’s homes, at the community center (which is also a library, coffee “shop,” and a store that sells goods made hyper-locally), at church, and while hiking through the woods together.
Recently, two friends started coming over one morning a week to take care of Babywoods for an hour or two. This is a wonderful boon for us work-at-home parents with no childcare. Our friends–who are unrelated and refer themselves as an adopted grandmother and granddaughter–are aged 9 and 60 and spend time together on a regular basis.
They’ve decided to make Babywoods their third musketeer and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a perfect opportunity for Babywoods to interact with different generations and I’m delighted at how much fun she has and how much she learns from her two “buddies.” The generosity of this act is profound as they don’t charge me anything for this gift.
Mr. FW and I are working to become involved in our community and he’s now serving on the governing boards of two different local non-profit organizations. I periodically make brochures, programs, and fliers for various local events and for our church. We hope to increase our involvement over the years and I look forward to building decades-long relationships based around this interwoven ethos of community.
Something I’ve realized is that, while we were literally surrounded by people at all times in the city, we rarely connected with them. Everyone was busy and there were simply too many people to make any concerted effort to build a genuine community.
Out here, conversely, there are few people and so those who step forward–to volunteer, to help, to be friends–are welcomed with open arms, and given a job to do! It’s exactly what we hoped for and I’m grateful every single day that we landed in such a special little place.
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Onward to February frugal comrades!