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Waiting Out a Fickle Winter

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Special to PINCH

January 13, 2010

  Winter weather, when it doesn’t behave as it should, leaves us confused about where we stand. And this January, living in a place that by now should be deeply frosted with snow, like a layer-cake covered with heavy white icing, that is the literal truth. I have to be careful about where I put my feet.
    My small backyard in the city, a frozen, snowy, Dr. Zhivago landscape this time last year, is in this rainy El Nino year, frequently a swamp. A soggy patch of sloppy lawn and boot-sucking mud. A mess. Then, in a few days, when the temperature drops again, it becomes a frozen tundra, as hard as concrete.
     It is also a place where three hens scratch and parade in the cold drizzle.
    My young urban chickens were last spring’s peeps. Three tiny balls of fluff, warming under the heat lamp, that have grown into plump, comic, egg-producing machines.
    All summer, watching them grow leggy and brave, watching them molt and then sprout new feathers, I worried and fretted about how to keep those hens healthy and happy when the bitterest part of winter descended on us. I plotted the route the shoveled path would take from the backdoor to the henhouse. I anticipated tender combs burned by frostbite and gray days so cold the hens would be happy to stay in the coop under the warmth of the heat lamp. I bought a heat lamp. I filled the nesting box with an extra layer of hay.
    What I didn’t expect was a winter that can’t make up its mind; that drops in and then melts and retreats only to sneak in another day or two of shocking cold before going back into hiding…

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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