Rob's Blog Archive

November 20, 2011

Battening Down the Hatches










Snow came early this year and it doesn’t look like it’s going to melt off anytime soon.  We’ve started building the winter snowpack.  With a little luck, I’ll be on my sled the day after hunting season ends. 

With the early snow, the final chores preparing for winter are due or past due.  This is different from where I grew up, Los Angeles, where “winter” meant rain and the really cold nights got down to 40F.  My last winter in L.A., we didn’t turn on the heat at all.  I’ve been running my wood stove 24 hrs a day for a few weeks now and we’ve already seen our first sub-zero night.

For most wild animals, fall also means preparing for winter.  Fattening up and/or stocking food caches is their form of “battening down the hatches.”  Winter snow hides food and makes traveling much more difficult.  Being unprepared is fatal.

My being unprepared wouldn’t kill me or my dogs, but it would make life more difficult.  Dog food was in a few weeks ago and vaccinating the kennel was done last week.  The truck delivering the 2,900 lb. of dog food drove on a clear driveway and vaccinating the kennel happened on a pretty nice day, even if the yard had a couple inches of snow in it.  I sealed up the cracks on my dog box roof just in time to catch a pair of sunny days in October.  Rain after this showed my work to be successful, at least so far.  Usually, I try and get my wood in during the summer, but I’ve been batting about 0.500 with this.  This year, it was mid-October. 

The two tasks that were past due when I completed them were changing my tires and re-spacing my dogs’ platforms. 

I changed the tires on my truck this past Monday, but that was after having to chain up for my driveway.  My driveway features several side-slopes and the steep portion, at least a 15% grade, has sharp turns at both its top and bottom.  I believe grading it was contracted out to a consortium of devils.  I have to admit, though, I usually put off the fall tire change until after it becomes necessary.

On the other hand, I’m usually pretty good about checking the spacing of the dogs’ platforms one last time before they are stuck in place for the winter.  During the summer and early fall I do a cursory job of maintaining the separation and right before things freeze up, I walk around with my ten foot stick and make sure the spacing prevents dogs from getting tangled.  This year, not so much.  Everything was frozen by the time me and my stick went walking through the dogyard.  Thankfully, my cursory job worked for most of the dogs’ habitats.  I only had to move two, though both were pretty well frozen into the ground.  I had to wedge a crowbar through the snow and underneath each platform.  I then levered under the crowbar with a pick.   This broke the platforms free.  With this done, dragging them into the correct position was work but it was only ten minutes.  Thankfully, the double lever succeeded, otherwise I would have had to do a lot of hard digging.

After wrestling with platforms stuck in ice, the final tasks were pretty easy.  These were moving my barbecue out of the snow and under cover and fixing a hole in the fence.  The hole is high enough that the dogs don’t notice it when the ground is bare, but if we get a three foot snowpack like last year, it will be just below their eye level.  And with fixing the hole, I was done.

The exception to battening down for winter in nature is the wolf.   Healthy wolves can stand any cold and as grazing animals grow weak from lack of food compounded by the cold, wolves have an easier and easier time hunting them down.  Snow gives a slight advantage to an individual wolf over an elk or deer, but that advantage multiplies many fold for an organized pack.  Moreover, the grizzly bears that did rather well by stealing wolf kills are sleeping.  Winter is when wolves truly thrive.

Like a wolf, I thrive in the winter and this winter is shaping up to be better than most.  My plans are challenging, but unlike years when I was training for the Iditarod or distracted by personal difficulties, I can just enjoy the challenges.  That will be great.  There’s only one downside, however.  In previous years, I could count on the work I had to do outdoors to drop my weight even as I ate anything I wanted.  The data show that I am going to have to watch what I eat.  Unlike a wolf, I don’t want to fatten up during the winter.  Oh well, I guess that’s acceptable.

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