I’d been looking forward to winter at Muntanui: the natural slowing down that comes with short days and cold weather. Stick-to-your-ribs soups. More time to work on very important projects, like daydreaming about next summer’s vegie garden or how to set up a fully-functional Polytunnel of Love.
With Farmer Wan away for a few weeks, I made ready to implement Operation Reverie. I put together a routine of animal feeding, domestic chores, garden maintenance and trips to town for supplies. I revelled in slow-cooked dinners and sat in cosy snugness every evening while the log burner glowed and the temperature outside plummeted. In short, I lived the winter dream.
Until last Wednesday, that is...
At midday. There were still "Yay!"s to be heard.
Last Wednesday brought frigid easterly gales flinging copious amounts of snow everywhere. Snow! I thought at 9am, when it began to settle on the ground. Yay!
I was still Yay!-ing at midday as the wind hurled snow horizontally over the tree-tops.
At 3pm, when I had to go outside and push a hay-laden wheelbarrow up a slope to get to the back paddock where the cows were sheltering, I quietly put the Yay!s back in their box. Twenty minutes later, when the electricity went off, I padlocked the Yay! box and resolved not to open it again until Farmer Wan returned home.
The power situation wasn’t really a problem – I could heat a pot of soup on the log burner, the candles lent a romantic ambience and our emergency plug-in phone (as opposed to our standard cordless, electricity-reliant phone) meant I could still have contact with the outside world. Besides, the service was restored just under six hours later. The real bummer was when the water went off. In the middle of my shower. On the coldest day of the year. Terrific.
I knew what the problem was: one of the water filters was blocked. I knew how to fix it: next morning, walk up the slope to the tank. Dig through the snow to uncover the pit where the filters are located. Turn off the supply to the tank and the house. Use a hammer and wedge of wood to unscrew the filter housing. Clean filter. Return to housing and screw back on. Turn supply back on. Do the I’m So Capable! dance.
There were some things I didn’t allow for, like turning off the wrong valves. Or watching while freezing water spilled out the top of the tank and flooded the filter pit. Or having to run up and down the slope in knee-deep snow to make four increasingly panicked phone calls to Farmer Wan.
I got everything fixed in the end but was a little too winded for the Capability dance. Anyway, there were still the tiny matters of digging out paths and excavating our front gate.
I knew that winters here are long and harsh. I knew that they damage infrastructure and shut down services. But, despite knowing all of this, I didn’t really understand the implications. This is our first full winter at Muntanui and Farmer Wan will be away for most of it. I knew this would be the time when any weaknesses in our system would most likely be exposed and that our water supply would probably be the culprit.
In hindsight, I was wrong. The problem wasn’t our water system, which only needs regular maintenance to be trouble-free. The problem was my ignorance of how it works. I’d watched Farmer Wan checking the filters but obviously hadn’t paid much attention. Last week’s experience hit home to us both that I need to learn how to do things he’s traditionally taken care of. He’s home for a week, so yesterday’s lesson was how to fit snow chains to our 4WD. In another, improbable universe, it's possible I could even master reversing a trailer.
I’ll get to do that Capability dance yet. And I continue to hope that before the winter’s out, having mastered everything there is to master about the blokier side of farming, maybe there’ll still be some time for daydreaming in front of the fire too.
Posted by Farmer Nik
About Ewan and Niki
Scottish mechanical engineer with a deep and abiding passion for good food. Outstanding cook. Builder of lots of stuff. Cattle whisperer. Connoisseur of beer. A lover rather than a fighter.
Kiwi writer and broadcaster who hates cabbage, even though she knows it's good for her. Chook wrangler. Grower of food and flowers. Maker of fine preserves. Lover of dancing and wine. Definitely a fighter.