It’s tempting to say that January is a barren, desolate time of year here in Vermont. But it’s not. Not really, anyway. And not if you’re attuned to the ever-present, ever-changing ecosystem of life that populates our woods. True, we’re shrouded in snow. True, we have more ice than greenery. True, some critters are hibernating.
Equally true is the shimmering beauty of sun on snow and the exhilaration of inhaling frigid air while snowshoeing and the unparalleled comfort offered up by our cozy woodstove.
All in all, January and I are on good terms. And why not? Complaining about the weather is among the more futile, pointless exercises one can partake in and you know I hate pointless exercises. Rather, I prefer to embrace this season of semi-dormancy and sub-zero temperatures. Everything in life is fleeting; weather claims no special exclusion.
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 and enjoy the best and worst (ok, mostly the worst) moments of our first year on the homestead here. Wondering if it’s less expensive to live rurally? Check out: City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown.
I have to start us off with the most hilarious happening of the month: turkeys. This saga began when Mr. Frugalwoods and I noticed two hulking silhouettes careening across our lower field. The back of our house is almost entirely windows (great for views; not so much for energy efficiency… ) and our yard slopes gently down from the house, which provides an ideal viewshed for monitoring the weather and the critters. We actually sit next to each other–as opposed to across from each other–at the dining room table so we can gaze out our big picture window together.
At any rate, it was while gazing out this window that we sighted these two large turkeys making camp underneath one of our apple trees. At first, there were just the two of them and they meandered around the yard, poking their beaks into everything of interest. After a few days, however, word got out on the turkey grapevine and an entire flock decided to make our yard their winter retreat. We are truly grateful because these beasts are absurd to watch.
Have you ever seen a wild turkey in action? Easily the most awkward birds. In the world. I mean, they can’t fly well, they can’t walk well, and they can’t run well. They’re essentially oversized, feathered footballs perched atop precariously spindly legs with an inability to launch into flight without bumping along the ground first. How they survive in the midst of our panoply of coyotes and other predators is honestly beyond me. I’ve never seen an animal so inefficient at moving its own body!
Needless to say, we get a lot of mileage out of watching our flock traverse the yard every day. They nose around in our apple trees trying to scam leftover goods and root in our dormant berry bushes, seeming to find enough sustenance based on their rotund constitutions. Having decided we’re not a threat, the turkeys now venture quite close to the house and eyeball us through the window, as curious about our foreign way of life as we are of theirs. The other morning, Babywoods announced, “there’s an animal out there!” and sure enough, several turkeys were craning their accordion necks to peer unrepentantly through our living room window.
All three of us walked over to take a closer look at our wild neighbors, who then gave us the wonderful gift of attempting to run up a small hill and jump onto the stone wall that abuts our driveway… a ridiculous endeavor. We delight in having these beasts as part of our landscape and are thankful they let us live here. They were here first, after all. Babywoods has expressed–repeatedly–an ardent desire to “hold turkey’s hand” and we have to continually repeat our household rule of “wild animals; don’t touch them.”
Fishers and Foxes
Lest you think turkeys are our only wintertime fauna, let me tell you, we’ve been visited by a fisher cat! Neither a cat nor a fisher, the fisher is a sort of large, furry weasel that’s often described as elusive and not a fan of being seen. Hence, we didn’t actually see this fisher in person but rather through the technology of our wildlife camera. Photo at right!
Back inside the house, once again gazing out our window (you’re going to think that’s all we do with our time… ), Mr. FW and I saw two red foxes dart across the lawn! Fox 1 had a small rodent clenched in its foxy jaws and Fox 2 was in hot pursuit. They bolted downhill and into the forest so quickly that even I–intrepid photographer of everything–couldn’t squeeze a picture in before they disappeared. We’ve seen foxes on our wildlife camera before, but never in person, so this was a moment of elation. Clearly we used to live in the city… 😉
In addition to these actual animals, we’ve made a hobby of noting all the splendid and varied critter tracks that dot the snowy landscape. Snow provides an excellent log book of everything that has waltzed by! So far, we’ve documented about 10,000 turkey tracks, fox feet, snowshoe hare tracks, coyote, and grouse. We spotted said grouse out the window once, but she was wary of us and much more agile than the turkeys (wouldn’t take much, to be honest… ), so no photo.
Snowshoeing, a Snowman, Plus a Snow Cave
Getting outside on a daily, or near-daily basis, remains a priority for our little fam and the weather’s been perfect for snowshoeing! Babywoods likes to walk for, oh, about the first minute of our hikes and then hops into her game sled to be pulled behind us. We traverse our woods scoping out critter tracks, frozen creeks, and fresh snow in our snowshoes. At 38 weeks pregnant, I find I can still snowshoe as long as my pace is slow and my breaks frequent!
Babywoods has a burgeoning interest in playing in the snow and so we’ve built “snowmen,” which are really just piles of snow on account of how icy the snow’s been and how unwilling it is to roll into proper snowman-shaped balls. No matter, she loves her snow piles and hugs them “to keep them warm.” She’s also a fan of snowball fights, which entails her picking up loose snow and then mostly flinging it back onto herself. In a feat of engineering, Mr. FW and Babywoods built a little snow cave with three walls and a ceiling. She informed us that it needed a door and a blanket, but was otherwise sufficient for her needs.
Year-round outdoor recreation was a major motivator in moving here and we’re thrilled we’ve been able to incorporate time outside on the land into our regular routine. It’s so true that there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing! For inspiration and practical details on how we get out there all year long, check out:
- How We Recreate In Winter: The Gear, The Mindset, and The Baby Sled
- Reader Suggestions Of Frugal And Fun Winter Activities
Moved Wood Onto Porch
Yep. This title pretty much sums it up. Mr. FW moved some more wood onto our porch. Ok twist my arm and I’ll elaborate… We heat our home with our wood stove, in which we burn wood we harvest from our land (and by “we” I mean lumberjack Mr. FW). Said wood must follow a several step process before it makes its woody way into the wood stove to be burned for heat.
It must first be chopped down (it does start life as a tree, after all), then it must be bucked into log rounds, next it must be split into firewood-like shapes, then stacked in a woodpile, allowed to dry for many months and then… moved onto the wood racks Mr. FW built on our back porch! The final step is for Mr. FW to wheel our handy-dandy homemade woodbox onto the porch, load it with wood, promptly return to the indoors, and load up the stove. Voila! Heating with wood.
The wood racks on our back porch hold 1.5 cords worth and we’d burned about a cord so far this winter. Given this depletion in our porch supply, on a particularly balmy January day, he got out there and reloaded the rack with a cord of wood from our “wood playground,” which is to say the many scattered piles of wood we have hanging out around our property.
We do not, as you might’ve surmised, have a woodshed, which is the reason for our many and varied woodpiles. It is, as you might’ve surmised, very high on Mr. FW’s summertime to-do list to built a woodshed to house all of this varied and sundry wood. But the random piles suffice.
And now, we are stocked up with another full cord and a half on our porch racks, accessed quite easily via the french doors in our living room, conveniently located right next to our wood stove. All very civilized indeed.
Homestead Closing Anniversary
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that January marked the second anniversary of us closing on our homestead! Lo those two years ago, we trekked up to Vermont with a teeny, tiny baby and a hound in tow to close on what we hoped would be our dream-come-true homestead. This place, these woods, the people in our community–all of it has far exceeded our expectations and we are thankful every day that we get to live here!
I will tell you that the day we closed on our homestead was actually quite a bit more traumatic/full of drama than these sentences belie. It’s a story I tell in great detail in a chapter in my forthcoming book, which is now available to be pre-ordered (for which I will mail you a signed bookplate!). Check out this post for all the details. Not to leave you with a cliffhanger, but I really can’t write it any better than I did in the book!
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Onward to February, frugal comrades!