Persistence in Winter

Winds whip fresh snow past the morning window, as daylight gently grays up the receding darkness. It’s a timeless morning moment—could be October, November, December, January, February, March…even April. Winter settles into the farm for the duration, kept a little spicy by her mood swings in temperature and conditions.

If you’re going to farm homestead style in Northern Wisconsin, you’ll develop a real appreciation for winter, cultivating an appreciation for its exquisite beauty, it’s change of pace, and its lack of bugs. You’ll grow quite practiced at bundling up, thawing all things frozen, and enjoying cozy warmups after working outside in all types of weather.

Certainly, wintering on a northern farm is not for the faint of heart. There’s a rugged persistence that keeps you going despite the epic darkness, the next broken piece of equipment, and constant need to lug everything to where the animals have hunkered down in their cozy barns, as they aren’t walking out into the pasture to munch it off for themselves! The pasture is covered in a thick blanket of snow, recovering from last summer’s escapades.

Sometimes, it feels like I am the serving maid to a host of grumpy, demanding feathered nobility. “Where have you been!” the chickens demand. “We want our treats! We wanted them long before you showed up, so hurry up! And get those waterers thawed, would you. We’re thirsty! Can I drink from them now? Ugh, the service around here, really.”

I get it, they’re all cooped up. Winter can feel cloistered and boring if you don’t cultivate other facets of your being that would otherwise be craving novelty and diversion. Compounded by the ongoing pandemic and its continued need to stay home and keep everyone as safe as possible, it can create a wet blanket to an already cramped situation. The action antidote? Either change your situation or cultivate a new attitude towards it. Both are critical to that spirit of persistence surviving through the long throws of winter.

Changing the situation can include delving into an immersive creative project, learning something new that interests you, embracing practices of renewal and self-care, and rekindling friendships across the distance. It could be getting outside and experiencing the beauty of nature in winter, getting some good old “fresh air and exercise,” which has always been Mom’s preferred antidote to the winter grumpies.

Some folks opt to leave the area in winter, refusing to persist through the ice and snow anymore. Well, on a farm, leaving is not an option. You’re here for the animals through it all, in it all. And, while persistence can be gritty, it can also be playful.

There’s a fun folktale from Scotland I’d like to share, to illustrate. It’s called “Dougie and the Mermaid.”

Dougie played the pipes, and he loved to play, but he wasn’t good at it. “Oh Dougie!” the villagers would complain, “Take it outside! We can’t stand your playing.”

Dougie was getting frustrated, because he practiced all the time, and still all he seemed to play was a horrible, cacophonous racket. He was walking down by the shore, when he suddenly spied a mermaid sitting on a rock, combing her hair. Aha! This might be his moment! If you could catch a mermaid, she would have to grant you a wish.

With great care, Dougie crept behind the rocks until he was right upon her. He sprung up, throwing his great arms around her. She cried out in surprise and wriggled and squirmed, but to no avail.

“Alright, Dougie, you’ve got me. What is the wish I should grant you?”

“I want to be the best bagpiper in the world!” Dougie grinned.

“Well, Dougie, I can do that, but only in one of two ways. Either I can make everyone else think you’re the best bagpiper, but to you the music will still sound terrible. Or you can be the best piper in the world for your own enjoyment.”

Dougie thought a moment, then blurted, “But it wouldn’t matter if it doesn’t sound nice to me. So I’ll pick the second choice!”

“Then let it be so,” said the mermaid, and she slipped back into the ocean.

When Dougie threaded his way back up from the shore, he reached for his pipes with great eagerness. And Oh, the music that they played! He didn’t want to stop; he was so happy with his new skills.

The villagers still cover their ears and ask Dougie to take it outside, but he’s just as happy as he ever could be, completely convinced that he made the right choice.

Back on the farm, just the other morning when I was bringing out the order for a curbside pickup for Bill, one of our farm’s members, the songbirds, were busily flitting about in front of Farmstead Creamery. The sunflower seed feeder had been picked clean, and an intrepid chickadee was not pleased. It pecked at the feeder, then looked straight at me with it’s tick-tack-toe face, and cried, “Creeeeah!” in a most impertinent tone.

Flitting further up the feeder, it pecked again, looked back at me, and repeated “Creeeah!” in disgust with the lack of service. Even the wild birds are being as demanding as the chickens or Cinderella’s stepsisters. I was literally being chewed out by an adorable chickadee.

My response? I laughed in delight! Seeing the humor in a situation is just as much a piece of persistence as any of the other elements. How do you keep going in winter? How would you answer the mermaid if she had asked you to choose? Whatever you do, seek to find the joy in the moment. See you down on the farm sometime.

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