A Winter to Remember

February 15, 2021…the storm of a century made its arrival in Texas. Consumed by preparation for the semester’s first exams scheduled for the 14th, i wasn’t really paying attention to anything else. I knew it was going to be cold. I couldn’t have imagined the events that would follow.

The day before the storm, an agarita berry bush tried to bloom. I was unsure whether to leave the door open on the coop during the day or just let the chickens ride the weather out locked up. I called the local feed stores to get their opinion but they were closed. Finally i tried tractor supply. As usual i made contact with a teenager who had never owned chickens and didn’t know anyone who had. (Smack face…drag hand down) the girl at tractor supply was not very friendly and told me that the whole town was out of stock when it came to heat lamps and if i hadn’t already purchased one my chickens were doomed. She told me point blank, “they’re going to die.” Over the next 45 minutes i read various articles on cold hardiness of certain breeds of chickens. My chickens were said to be able to tolerate temperatures of 17 degrees or above. It was forecasted to be 5 degrees. I had never experienced 5 degrees in my life. I didn’t know what that number was, what it was like… 5 was quite a bit different from 17. All the literature stated that a heat lamp was the wrong way to go. It thawed the poop in the bedding and increased moisture in the coop, contributing heavily to the possibility of frost bite on feet and combs. For some reason i just knew that finding a heat lamp was not the way to go. I probably had one left over from the plant boxes last year buried somewhere in the tool shed but for some reason i just knew it would be no help in the matter. The tractor supply teen’s words echoed in my head, “they’re going to die.” I threw open the shed door and cleared a path. I dragged my stock watering tub over the threshold, down the stairs, and across the yard. I filled it with wood shavings and hay. I put an old chick feeder full of pellets in there and a basin of water. Then one by one i carried the chickens from their pen into the house, placing them in the tub and then covering the top with a latched screen i had hanging out in the shed. Once i had all the chickens in the tub i placed books over the screen to hold it in place against the tub. These chickens would not die on my watch.

On the night of the 13th i was frantically trying to cram as much information and software know-how into my head as possible before it was too late to do so. Upon examining the forecast i took a break from my studies to ready the property for the approaching storm. I took the lantern to the extension shed and in the bitter cold and dark i shifted everything around to pull the plywood rectangles out of the back of the shed. I had home depot fashion them with their jigsaw back before i had curtains, when the sun was heating the house like an oven and i needed to give the a/c unit a break. With single paned windows and uninsulated walls, i needed to try to keep as much of the cold on the outside of the house as i could. I knew my wall unit was finicky and unreliable and i had a sneaking suspicion it planned to die in the middle of this approaching winter storm. I figured the plywood window inserts would put less stress on it and prolong its life so i hauled them inside the house and hoisted them into place on the window ledges behind the curtains. In the morning i would examine them more closely and shift them so that the gap was as minuscule as possible on each side.

The ice actually arrived in quantity on the 14th. I know this because both the dogs and chickens had to be present during my google meet video exams. It was 20 degrees outside and i couldn’t leave them out there so my exams were conducted amidst a frenzy of squawking, egg laying, whining, and incessant barking. It was amazing i passed at all. Finally when time was running out on the clock and i could no longer think through the merciless, ceaseless barking echoing through the tiny house, i took off my jacket and laid it on the floor. I told Cashew she could pee on it, rip it up, do anything she wanted, so long as she quieted down. She moved the jacket around a bit, turned in three circles, and both dogs bedded down on the jacket. She went to sleep. There is a God. I finished my exams and managed to pass though the scores were nothing to write home about. I’m sure the proctors were very entertained…either that or ready to pull their hair out as well.

When i saw the amount of ice accumulating on the roads, fences, and trees, i checked the forecast and noted the temperature was not going to get near above freezing for days. None of this ice was set to melt. There would be no way i could make it to work for my shift on monday if the roads remained iced over like they were. Being that we were outside of any formal city, we were not entitled to services such as city trash pickup or city road maintenance. That meant no one had spread sand or gravel on the road prior to it freezing solid. The road beyond the driveway was coated in a thick layer of ice. I stood on it in my down slippers and began to do the splits. Yup, there was no way the tires would do anything other than what my feet had done. It was clear and glassy. I could see the asphalt trapped beneath the frigid coating. What a sight. I watched the group message board as people attempting to make it to work slid on the ice, rendering their cars stuck on bridges or smashed into trees. I called into work and let them know i wouldn’t be able to make it monday. No one was succeeding in getting to work by driving on the ice. They were merely wrecking their cars in trying. The policy began as “it is your duty to get here”. Once a good many had tried and failed the policy quickly morphed to “please stay home”.

The gate latch was frozen solid to the pole with a thick layer of ice encasing it. It looked invisible, one with the metal, but it was certainly there and very strong. I pulled and pried with all my might until the ice broke and the latch released. The latch scraped my arm as my hand flew back and punched my own nose with a force that surprised me. For a moment i wondered if i’d broken my nose. I concluded that it was fine. From then on i did not latch the gate to the dog run. Freezing precipitation continued to fall and i did not want a repeat of my earlier 1 woman boxing show.

all of a sudden, the yard was overtaken by 50 to 60 red breasted birds. They were fat birds with long skinny legs and scruffy brown feathers. They were bigger than the songbirds i was used to. I had never seen this kind of bird. The yard was soon overrun by them, hopping about and pecking at things in the icy grass. They swooped and flew across the yard, criss crossing each other and calling to each other constantly. The chickens huddled at the fence in the pen and watched them. They seemed to be listening to the strange birds’ chatter. I texted my great uncle a video of the birds and asked him what kind they were. The maker of birding software for his entire life my great uncle immediately responded that i had a yard full of american robins. How on earth? A real robin. 50 of them! I watched them for hours, intrigued by the mere amount of them and their peculiar hopping gait. I was entranced. The chickens were too. Unfortunately Cashew finally had to be let out to go to the bathroom and she chased them ceaselessly until they all flew. They left the property completely littered in burnt red bird poop.

The chickens started out in the pen but when temperatures reached the twenties i closed up the pen and the coop and relocated them to the house. They seemed grateful for the warmth and shelter from the wind.

The icicles began to accumulate on everything and reminded me of hanging Christmas lights strung up around the edges of structures during the holiday season.

As the ice began to accumulate the tree limbs bent towards the ground and some threatened to break. They made the strangest crisp rattling noise when the bitter wind blew and all the ice particles knocked together. It was eerie, a sound i’d never heard before. I began to understand that this was real winter, not texas winter. It wasn’t an hour or two of ice or a half centimeter of snow, a two degree dip below freezing. I began to understand that this was something different i had never known before and i was ill prepared.

At 19 degrees the water in the pex tubes under the house froze solid and we officially had no water. I began taking in rain water that had frozen into a solid block in the yard in an attempt to thaw some for the chickens to drink.

Ice laden branches leaned heavily on the fence and threatened to bust. I was glad i had taken out my study frustrations by trimming many of the property’s trees just days before the temperatures dropped.

Rain continued to fall and ice continued to form.

Trees that normally stood upright now became more like bushes.

I began using the space heater to thaw ice into water for the chickens. They stunk up the house to high heaven and my aussie was barking continuously and breaking things left and right, but i was determined to keep everybody indoors and keep us all alive. Cashew broke my childhood stoneware dinner plate. I ordered a replacement. She tore a giant hole in the mosquito netting. I ordered a replacement. It got to the point where i figured there was no use in putting the credit card away as long as she was stuck inside the house. It was only a matter of time before she broke something else. Best just leave it on the table.

The chickens continued to lay eggs in the stock water tub in the house. In fact they didn’t go a single day without giving at least 1 egg, usually 3.

It seemed like we would be fine as long as we all stayed in our respective compartments of the 1 room house.

Midway through the morning of the 15th the rolling blackouts began. It was 21 degrees outside. The lights cut off and the noise of the heating unit died. The power was out. I figured a branch had fallen on a power line somewhere and crews would have to go out and fix it. The dogs and i huddled in the bed together and the chickens huddled in the stock tub. I tried to call to report the outage but the line was busy. In forty minutes the power was back on. The heater began humming and the lights came back on. I thought all was well again. 40 minutes later, like clock work, the lights cut off and the heater fell silent. I called to report the outage and this time was greeted by a recording stating that my area was experiencing state mandated rolling blackouts in increments of 40 minutes and that the power company was aware of the outage in my area. No duh, they created it. At first i wasn’t worried. 40 minutes, though inconvenient, was a reasonable and manageable amount of time to do without power, even during a winter storm. If it was necessary to manage the power demands at the time, i figured we could tolerate it. Then the power cut on for forty minutes and off for two hours. With the only house insolation in the ceiling and single pane windows, we faired worse with this model. For each two hours the power was off the temperature in the tiny house dropped lower and lower and the forty minutes the power was on could not offset the amount of temperature change that had occurred in 2 hours. It became colder and colder in the tiny house with each cycle of 40 minutes to 2 hours. Then it became 2 hours and 5 minutes, 2 hours and 15 minutes…the time the power was off stretched longer and longer while it was only ever on for 40 minutes exactly.

When it became apparent that the electric company had no qualms about killing us, and i don’t mean us as in my household, i mean us as in texans, i realized we would have to take steps to rectify our own situation. I heard via cell phone from those in austin that people were going without power for 16 hours at a time over there, succumbing to hypothermia in their houses, roads impassible. Though the power companies were holding press conferences and people were calling for them to stop the madness that was killing people, they seemed very set on their plan and the governor assured people the temperature would be back in the sixties in a week. I wondered if the governor understood the science behind hypothermia.

Realizing we were in trouble, i made a run for the shed. It was around 10 degrees at this point and the door was iced shut. The gloves were probably buried somewhere in the shed but that wasn’t what i was looking for. I knew there was a possibility that i had stashed a down comforter from years ago when i had a full-sized bed in one of the storage toy-boxes in the extension shed. That or i had donated it to goodwill. It was the only thing that would save us. I had to look for it. I broke the door away from the ice coating that had covered the front of the shed. In the short amount of time it had taken me to run from the house to the shed my bare hands had gone numb and i was now fumbling to understand what they were doing. I thrust them about, willing them to do my bidding, but the interior of the shed was freezing as well and i could not warm them up. My hands remained numb and near useless as i tried to use them to open toy-box after toy-box. This one held vitamins, that one clothes, this one towels…none of them a comforter. I tucked my hands between my legs and tried to warm them wedged there but to no avail. My fingers began burning and stinging and i almost preferred the numbness to the horrid sensation. I was running out of time. The numbness was creeping up my arms. I would have to go back inside soon. I could only do these ventures from the house when the power was on so i could warm my extremities next to the heater upon returning to the house. How many trips would i have time for? I couldn’t believe it but i was going back to the house empty handed. Maybe i had donated it to goodwill after all. In a furious fit of frustration i threw all of the remaining toy boxes down from their stacks and ripped the lids off with uncooperative zombie fingers that no longer took heed of my orders. I heard a clicking noise and i felt the vibrations rattle through my arms but i didn’t yet understand with what force i was hurling and slamming the boxes about the shed. I tore the lid off the last box with a snap and there was one bundled mass of white down comforter. It was a beautiful sight. I grabbed it and lifted it out, straightening the boxes a bit before locking the shed and running with the down comforter back to the house. I was so excited to show the dogs what i had found. I threw the down comforter on the bed exclaiming, “this, this is going to save us.” My mother had asked if i had one days before the storm arrived, which made me think about whether i still did. It turned out i did not donate it to goodwill in the downsizing after all. As i let go of the comforter i realized my nails were short and jagged. There were cracks running into the middle of my fingernails. I had torn my fingernails off rooting through the boxes in the shed and ripping their lids off. I hadn’t felt a thing. My hands were numb. Now i tried to clean the wreckage up a bit with the nail clipper. The power cut off and i gathered the dogs in the bed under the new found treasure i had retrieved. I told Sili to “load up” and she did. I had to hoist Cashew into the bed. I got them covered and then i joined them for a nap, setting the alarm on my phone for the next possible time the power might cut on.

The road was completely coated with smooth treacherous ice. It looked deceptively benign.

When the power came on i threw open the oven and set it to 400 degrees, turned all the stove burners on high, turned the space heater on high, and set the wall unit to heat the room to 82 degrees. it never got there but it gave it something to try for. I plugged in my external phone battery, my phone, and my lap tops. I made it as warm as i could for the 40 minutes we had power and then we would wait until it was time to do it again. Within the first hour of the electricity being off it became uncomfortably cold in the tiny house. The place was not well insulated. As i lay in the dark waiting for the power to cut back on so i could throw open the oven and turn on the stove and heater i thought that both the governor and the electric company were sort of cruel. It wasn’t like a natural disaster was doing this to us. Nothing had fallen on the power lines and taken them out. People behind a computer were switching our power on and off strategically in an attempt to conserve power for the hospitals and nursing homes which were to remain always on the grid no matter what. They were deciding who lived or died and it felt personal.

The dogs seemed excited about sleeping together in the bed at first. They thought it was a party. I needed them to keep me warm. I wore every down feather garment i had.

Sili, my ever intuitive dog, seemed unaffected by either the weather or my mood. She seemed unbothered. Strangely it was Cashew who keyed in on the fact that something was wrong. The chickens were in the house. I was emitting anxiety from every pore. She was in the house. She just couldn’t make sense of it. She became very clingy and needy and anxiety ridden. I made a note to myself that when i was rich i needed to buy a medium sized dog thunder jacket. She was driving me crazier than usual. I managed to get both dogs settled and lying wedged against me while i wore my down vest, down jacket, and down slippers under our down blanket. Cashew thrashed and squirmed like an octopus but when Sili was pressed against my vest she held still and close and shared the insulation of my vest, melding her heat with mine.

The thermometer on the porch became completely encased in ice.

One morning something strange happened. I went to bed listening to the roof being hit with tiny ice balls. It was pouring ice balls. I woke up to silence. I called the dogs to the door to go out potty. The moment i opened the door we all stopped dead in our tracks. My eyes didn’t know what to make of it. Where the porch should have been was a good 2 or 3 inches of white. I stared at it. What was it? Why was it just standing in the doorway like that? I looked at the dogs as i realized, it was snow. Lots of it. At some point in the night it had snowed. Except for during infancy, i had never seen real snow. I just stood there staring before realizing the door was open and slamming it shut. “I musn’t become so mesmerized by its beauty that i forget about survival”, i thought.

It was very beautiful. I was tempted to go out and explore, walk in it, take photographs. When else in my life would i be seeing snow in Texas? But, it was still 8 degrees. I needed to limit exposure to outside and only go out when there was power, when i had a way to warm up afterwards. I kept my excursions from the house to a minimum and took just a few pictures though i wanted to take 100. I didn’t venture far from the door when i did go out.

The snow was dry and powdery. A Texan, i was used to dip’n’dots ice balls. Never had i seen real snow in such quantity. It was surreal.

The heating unit began displaying an error message and switching off at some point during the night. The next morning i went to check on it and found it covered in snow. I used my hands to swipe all the snow off of it. The error message disappeared but i never heard the fan blades roar to life again.

The freezing and thawing would ruin the watering can. Later it would pull apart like a tin can of tuna, pliable under the gentlest fingers. It was baffling how its properties had changed.

I began collecting snow for the chickens to drink. I didn’t realize snow was 5 parts air and 1 part water. It took a lot of snow to water the chickens. All that snow would create just a little bit of water and it took forever to melt.

The mr cool wall unit began displaying an error message again.

Still well below freezing, the sun made its appearance. It melted the ice on the roof into water droplets which slid down and refroze in the frigid air on the icicles hanging from the house. The icicles became large and elongated as a result.

I had never seen this view from the porch. The property didn’t look like mine. It looked like we were somewhere else.

I thought all of it would melt under the sun but it was so cold that it didn’t.

Here we were heading into that night; the coldest night of the storm. The low was set to be 4 degrees and nature didn’t disappoint. I knew how insane an idea it was to be in a remodeled shed in the middle of nowhere with two dogs and no power heading into a night that was forecasted to get down to 4 degrees. I wasn’t sure if we would survive. The tv in austin told my mother that those who felt they needed rescued could call 911 and a rescue crew would come get you and take you to a shelter. My dogs and chickens weren’t welcome. Only i would be allowed to go. This was not an option for me. We lived or died together. That was my decision. As i pulled the comforter over our heads i cuddled both of the dogs and told them i loved them. In case we didn’t make it i wanted to have a good moment with each of them. The survival plan hinged on the insulating properties of the feathers, our ability to huddle against each other, and my ability to wake up every two hours, weary as i was, to throw on every heat emitting thing in the house for 40 minutes.

It was cold. By now i had been waking every two hours to heat the house for days and i was delirious tired.

When i woke the following morning the first thing that i realized was that we were alive. Both dogs were breathing and had eyes open looking at me. The chickens all stirred when i nudged them. The air in the tub was amazingly warmer than the rest of the house. The chickens had huddled together and generated heat. The next thing that i realized was that i must have slept through one of the alarms and missed a time when the power would have come on. It was light outside and very cold in the tiny house. I had definitely slept several hours. I hadn’t gotten up and thrown the oven open or turned the stove on. Outside the thermometer read 5 degrees. I looked down and realized ice crystals had begun forming at the edges of the dogs’ water bowl. That meant it was freezing inside the house.

I looked at the forecast on my phone and realized we still had a good four more days of temperatures well below freezing. That meant the blackouts would continue, the lack of consistent heat would continue, the fight to survive would continue. To add insult to injury, the power didn’t come back on until 3 hours that morning. I was furious. Who were these strangers behind computers who were actively trying to kill us by playing God with electricity. They should do rolling blackouts for forty minutes for everyone, spread the outages around evenly, so everyone could be uncomfortable but live. Instead they decided nursing homes and hospitals needed the power and everyone on the grid with them got it by default. There was a flaw in their logic. Several elderly citizens existed in homes in the community. Not everyone lived in a nursing home. They too needed oxygen to breathe and when the power cut off their plug-in concentrators didnt work. One elderly gentleman made a trip across his iced-over driveway to get to his truck where he had a spare tank of oxygen. When he finally got the ice off the doors and made it inside he realized the tank was empty. He died sitting in his truck, exhausted from the effort. His family said he prepared for the storm, ordering an extra shipment of oxygen tanks, but it never arrived. He had no choice but to face the storm relying upon electricity and the electric company purposely cut power to his house to save it for the nursing home across town. When the power company says they must conserve the electricity for “the elderly” they should consider that only a fraction of our elderly live in nursing homes. The old man was not alone in his plight. In the same town an eleven year old boy perished doing exactly what the government told us we should be doing through these electricity blackouts. They told us to get in bed, cover up, and huddle together. I guess the boy didn’t huddle as close as the other family members. He succumbed to hypothermia quietly as they slept and in the morning they found him dead. What a horrible way to lose a child. When the governor downplays the seriousness of this situation i hope he remembers that 11 year old boys name and the look of anguish on his family members’ faces as they try to understand that their boy’s death was chosen by their own state government in order to prevent the death of others.

The forecast called for more snow; multiple days of it. we had a small window in the next 6 or 7 hours before the weather began again. Something snapped in me. I stood at the window looking out at the yard, washed in a pinkish gray light. I looked at the ice crystals forming in the dogs’ water bowl. I said aloud, “We’re getting out of here.” And with that, i was on a mission. I understood that to stay here meant death. We would join the others. With the howling wind and lack of insulated clothing, there would be no using ice laden wood to make a fire outside. Without electricity, there would be no heat inside. With more snow coming, we were about to be stuck for good. If we were going, now was our last chance. I was taking it. Rushing around outside, getting everything ready for our trip, i realized i had to make this work. There was no turning back now. I was opening and closing the door at a time when the power wasnt on and i was becoming very cold with no way to warm up for the next few hours in the house. I would need to do this to ready the car and the property for our departure but i had to be sure i was doing this all the way because failure would mean a return to a very cold house with no conserved left-over heat from the last time the power was on with frozen limbs.

The first thing i did was liberate the trashcan. People who don’t know me won’t understand this. It would seem i would need to be focused on more important things. However, the following day was trash day. I was pretty sure the private waste removal crew i paid to take my two bags a week to the dump was not coming in the middle of a snow storm but, you never know. I was leaving my property. I was abandoning my post, and if i was gonna leave it, i was gonna leave it right. The trash would be on the curb where it usually was. This meant i had to shovel the snow from the doors of the tool shed with my hands and beat the ice off the padlock with my keys. I finally grabbed hold of the doors and began prying wildly this way and that until they were shaken from the grip of the ice and slid backwards. I grabbed the trashcan from inside the shed but i also grabbed a few more things. I grabbed all the scrap wood i could carry, intending to use it to wedge under tires if we got stuck. I grabbed the shovel, intending to use it to dig the snow from the tires if we got stuck and the boards proved un-useful. I locked up the shed and dragged the trashcan towards the corner of the intersection. It left a track in the snow all the way to the gate. At the gate i realized we were stuck. The padlock was completely encased in ice. So was the chain. The gate was too slippery to climb. Instead, i climbed over the barbed wire fence and then lifted the trashcan over after me. I climbed back over the barbed wire to get back on the property. That would be a problem. We would have to find some way to get the padlock off the gate if we were to make our escape. The next problem was that the gate was held in a hill of snow. I would have to get the shovel and dig it out. The bigger problem still was the car. I had parked it under the oak trees. One side was clear and the other was covered in ice and snow in an epic way that would not allow the doors to open on that side of the car. The windows could not be seen out of either. I first cleared the snow with my hands. Then the ice became visible beneath it. I grabbed an old piece of scrap fence railing and beat the ice off the windows of the car on one side. Then i put my foot against the side of the car, grabbed a hold of the door handle and thrashed violently back and forth yelling “come on, come on…” until there was a crunching and creaking noise and the door popped open, dumping ice and snow onto the car seat. I cleared it out and began working on the next door. I put the key in the ignition and the car started up after some protest. I turned the defroster on. The window was stuck. Without being able to roll the window down i had to leave the door open to keep the car from locking with our only key inside. I went back to the house and began gathering more things. I would return when the windshield was somewhat melted. There was still half a foot of snow at the base of the windshield wipers which were encased in ice and plastered to the windshield. I cleared as much of the snow as i could and got behind the wheel. I had never driven in snow before. I needed to practice. I rolled about the yard in the car at 5 mph, getting a feel for how the car moved and how much traction i had on the powdery snow. The snow moved as i tried to roll over it and sometimes the car seemed to be rolling but not moving forwards. Other times, i meant the car to go forwards but it moved sideways and forwards. I began to understand that for best results one should drive slowly and use the brake sparingly and gently, focus on steering rather than stopping the car. I felt a couple turns around the yard gave me the info i needed to make a go of this and i began loading the car.

I tried to think about what we would need. If i was going to my friend Cindy’s house we needed to not tax their resources. We needed to hold our own lest we become a burden. They too only had the food in their house. They too had no access to water. I had 6 three gallon jugs of drinking water but as it turned out, when i had the car fully loaded, i would only find room to take 3. I packed the car as tightly as i could but the remaining 3 jugs had to be left behind. I emptied all of the food i had in the refrigerator into a box i had been using as a kitchen island. I took fruits, vegetables, a small bag of cooked rice, and a half a freezer bag of cooked quinoa. I grabbed my medicine. I loaded my computers so i could do school work at her house if we made it. I grabbed all the clean clothes out of the dryer and stuffed them in the laundry basket with my medicine and alcohol based soap. I threw that in the car. I filled a bag with hay from the shed. That would be bedding for the chickens. I hoisted a dog crate full of hay into the trunk of the car and wedged the bag of dog food and the bag of chicken feed beside it. I put some little water bottles of water for the chickens and a spray bottle for the succulent plant into the car. I figured it would be useful as extra chicken water. I wedged my 3 jugs of drinking water in the car. I took the leashes and dog bowls. I ran to the shed. I knew there was toilet paper in there from before i started buying “septic safe” toilet paper years ago. Sure enough, i found half a bag. I threw that in the car. I folded the remaining dog crate and wedged that in the car. The dogs would share one and the chickens would have the other. I put my purse in the car and began collecting the chickens. One by one i wedged them under my arm and tucked their feathers in so they couldn’t fly. One by one i took them out in the cold and put them into the hay lined dog crate in the car. They looked bewildered. I told them, “we’re getting out of here.” I grabbed my school notebooks. I put the dogs in the dog run to potty. I slipped a few extra clips into my hair. Without showers i may need those to keep it in place on my head. I grabbed a work shirt and my badge just in case i couldn’t make it back by saturday, my next shift. I grabbed the broccoli stems i had on the counter. We could cut those up and give them to the chickens; make the feed last longer. I now had a car full of chickens and dogs waiting in the dog run. Everyone was freezing. I knew i had to get us out of there. I left the car running with the defroster on and i ran to the gate to break the ice off the lock. Upon doing so i realized that the ice was also somehow in the keyhole of the padlock. It was all solid ice in there. I ran to the house and got the lighter. I held it underneath the lock. Every time i did the wind blew the flame out. This would not do. I ran to the house and found one of my two soy candles. I lit it. I shielded the flame all the way to the gate but the moment i revealed it to stick it under the lock the wind blew the flame out.

Now i was getting desperate. I ran to the house again with candle in tow. I grabbed a stick from the yard, tore some pages from my spiral notebook, rubber banded them to the stick, lit the candle, placed it against my body, used my arm and shoulder to shield it all the way to the fence, where i lit the notebook paper on the end of my make-shift torch on fire and for a second had a ball of flame which i held underneath the padlock. The paper quickly burned itself out and the ice covered stick wasn’t interested in burning.

I didn’t take a picture of the padlock in the moment as i was a little busy but here it is a day later. I rubbed some of the soot away with my thumb so i could see the keyhole.

I examined the lock. Did it work? It was black. I wondered if i had somehow melted the lock. I rubbed it with my thumb. The keyhole emerged. It was just soot. I stuck the key in the keyhole. The padlock popped open. It worked! We were free! I pushed the gate across the driveway. It made an awful creaking noise. I ran back to the house in my excitement. I called to the dogs, opening the gate, “get in! We’re doing this. We’re getting out of here!” I made one remaining torch just in case and put it under a seat. I took the lighter with me. It had come in handy. I didn’t know if we would need it again. I told both dogs to “load up”. Sili loaded. Cashew danced nervously. She was sort of bow legged and awkward. She could not balance on the seat like her sister and so had historically ridden in the trunk. The chickens and all the supplies were in the trunk. The car was packed to the brim. I needed them to share the front seat. Cashew wouldn’t go for it. I grabbed her and hoisted her into the car, closing the door quickly before she could jump out. She would have to make do on the seat. Her poor legs shook the whole way there. She was just not good at balance the way her sister was, but she would make it. I was about to leave when i stopped the car. I ran back to the house and unlocked the door. I grabbed the down comforter that had saved us and threw it in the car.

I didn’t take a picture of the car full to the brim because by then i was focused on getting us out of there and not documenting but here’s the car half-packed.

I locked the door again and got behind the steering wheel. If we didn’t make it to Cindy’s, the comforter would be the answer. It would keep us warm and mean the difference from dying in our car or surviving and waiting for rescue.

I pulled the car across the yard and through the gate. We were sliding as we struggled to get up on the road and then stay on the road. There was so much snow you couldn’t tell where the road was under it. There were no snow plows in texas. I made the decision to leave the gate wide open. If i got out to close it we might get stuck. And so we were off.

I prayed to God the whole way to protect the car and let us make this journey and arrive safely without incident. We lost traction often but we never went off the road. I held Cashew’s collar with one hand while she tried to eat the chickens in the back seat and drove with the other, feathering the brake at times and driving 5 to 15 mph the whole way there. What should have been a 20 minute drive on the highway took an eternity. I learned to prefer the snow because the snow began melting and then refreezing as ice and the icy patches were much more slippery to drive on than the snow. We had to go over a couple bridges to get to Cindy’s. These were worse than the roads but we made it across at a creeping pace. I just kept driving and just kept praying and holding onto that dog’s collar so she couldn’t turn round and eat the chickens. When i pulled into the town Cindy lived in and neared her street i realized we were going to make it. When i pulled into her driveway i realized we had done it. She was on the grid with a nursing home. She would not lose power. We had made it. We were saved. I let go of the steering wheel i had been white knuckling and told myself “you waited too long. Next time we leave the property sooner.” I was so happy to see people. I was so happy to see lights and heat. Cindy’s son carried the chickens to her closed in back porch and i took the dogs potty one by one. I set the crate up in her spare bedroom and put them in it. Then i began unloading the car.

All 5 chickens had made the journey and would survive with us. I knew people who had left their chickens outside and were sure they were dead now. Daisy, Rosie, Petunia, Lily, and Buttercup would not join these chickens. They bedded down in the hay in the dog crate on the back porch. My friend Cindy had put a heater out there for them and my favorite chicken Daisy liked to turn her fanny towards it and let it ruffle her feathers like wind. We put towels and burlap over the back end of the crate to keep the cold out and their body heat in further.

The dogs slept under our down comforter in her guest bed with me. They seemed super comfortable, enjoying the heat and lack of need to duck their heads under the covers. Cashew moved and squirmed most of the night. It was like sleeping with a restless toddler, but i was glad she was alive to be able to drive me crazy.

I did a little bit of school work but most of my time was spent getting the dogs and chickens food, water, and potty breaks in their captivity. There was no fence here. The dogs could not be allowed loose, and i hadnt been able to fit the giant chicken water dispenser in the crate, so the chickens had to be hand watered by holding a plastic bowl into the crate and securing it against the crate wall so they didnt tip it while drinking. It snowed two more times while we stayed with my friend Cindy one town over. We had heat and electricity the whole time. Sometimes it pays to live next to a nursing home. I thanked the Lord that my friend Cindy was so generous to take us all, even the chickens. I thanked the Lord for allowing us to get there and telling me when it was time to go.

Now that there wasn’t such a possibility of death, the snow was beautiful.

I had never seen anything like it. Neither had south and central Texas. That’s why the pipes weren’t buried too deeply. This turned out to be a problem.

Some days the sun would melt all the snow and then the following day the weather would put it all back.

This photograph was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.
This video was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph was taken by my dear friend Cindy Thomas.

Cindy had fruit trees that had been trying to do what my avocado tree and agarita berry bushes were doing when the unforgiving ice encased them.

This photograph is courtesy of my friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph of a snow angel is courtesy of my friend Cindy Thomas.
This photograph is courtesy of my friend Cindy Thomas.

Cindy’s house was our safe haven. None of us had water but we were all happy to have heat and electricity. Cindy had a fire place and lots of wood. Every time Cindy’s son went into work he brought some of their firewood to give away to people who might need it. I loved Cindy’s family’s hearts. They were always looking out for other people and seeing what they had to give, how they could help. We had plenty of food, good company, and Cindy and her son taught me some new card games and one with wooden tiles with different shapes painted on them.

I was due to go back to work on Saturday so i knew i would have to return to our property Friday night but something told me i would be better going on Friday morning. Thursday around midday Cindy and i went to the local market to get food for the next week. The ice had melted from the streets and was now just on the grass. People were panic buying and the stores were becoming empty. I figured less people would be at the market than the big chain stores like HEB and Walmart and the managers at work had wanted us to not take all the resources from the customers so i figured going to the market was the best thing for us. I was lucky enough to get the last bunch of bananas and the last box of mushrooms. There was plenty of veg left. I got apples, oranges, plums, a bag of carrots, a bag of chopped dates, a can of refried beans, a can of olives, a can of pumpkin, a box of almond crackers, a couple packs of d batteries for the lantern, broccoli, a bag of baby potatoes, a box of grape tomatoes, asparagus, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. There was a lot left at the market and i was thankful. However, there was no water. I figured, juice was liquid. It wasn’t water but it was liquid. It would keep us alive. I bought two jugs of apple juice. Cindy drove us back to her house and i thanked the Lord for providing us with all this food and the apple juice.

The morning of our return i loaded the car, then the chickens, and then the dogs. Upon trying to lift the crate with the chickens in it i wondered how on earth Cindy’s son had managed to carry them. He made it look easy but each bird weighed up to 10 lbs and then the weight of the food and hay and poo on top of it. I dragged the crate through the snow, around the house, and up to the trunk. Cindy helped me lift it in. Cashew seemed excited to go home. Sili was pensive as usual. She would see where we were going first and then decide how excited she should be. I was sad to leave my friend Cindy who i had become accustomed to sharing meals with. However, i did feel this pulling need to get back to the property i had abandoned and make sense of it. I didn’t like the idea that i had left it unattended but it was the best option at the time.

Pulling up, i was surprised at how much snow there was still on the ground. Things were melting quicker one town over.

The gate was open just as i had left it. As i pulled into the property my concern was on where to put the car so that it wouldn’t get stuck in the melting slush, so i’d be able to get it off the property to go to work in town the following morning. However, as more of the property came into view i realized that was the least of my worries.

I left the car running for the chickens and the dogs and hopped out to manage the crisis before my eyes. Water was spewing through the wall of the well house and seeping underneath the door as well. I could hear rushing water and as i put the key in the hole and flung the door open i got my first look at the geyser erupting from my well pump. The softeners were covered with water droplets. All of the insulation was soaked. I soon became wet as well. My focus was now on cutting power to the well pump. We had to stop the gallons of water just pouring out of my 250 foot well. We had to save the water. I reached for the red handle that would normally cut the water off in an emergency but that piece of pipe was after the break and now no longer connected in any way to the pipe. I had two breaker boxes. I had to find the corresponding keys. I called a well drilling/repair company. It was the first and last time i would get somebody to answer in hours. I had one question, “inside or outside breaker box?” The lady on the other end of the line said, “outside”. I jammed keys into the padlock until i found the right one, lifted the box lid, located the switches labeled “well”, and flipped them to the side. The geyser stopped. Thank God. I surveyed the damage. Around half our two acre property was covered in water, which had melted the snow. To get to the house i sunk ankle deep in icy mud slush. The water had gone under the house. Thank God it was raised up. The water had gone under the house, come out the other side, and was now past the chicken coop and into the dog run. Dear God what a disaster. Time to begin damage control.

I took pictures of the damage, filed an insurance claim, called repair men all day, and began making a list of all the things that needed fixed.

The problem was that everyone’s well had busted. So, there was a month long waiting list just to get repair men out to your property. With a busted well pump i was looking at a month with no water. I heard the national guard was coming with water. As i sit and write this they still haven’t reached my town and in the bigger cities where they are already there’s lines of hundreds of cars waiting for one 24 pack of water, which is a problem because there’s no gas to put in the cars. Its almost dangerous how people hound the tankers when they come into town. They follow them in search of gas and then the truck drivers can’t park for there’s a swarm of cars that want to be first to get the gasoline the tankers are bringing.

The flood was a mess. Unfortunately, between the snow and the flood, at some point the a/c/heating unit died. It was unrevivable. The a/c repair man i usually used was really nice and agreed to come out that day. He took a look at it and said the motherboard was dead. I would need a whole new one. He would have to order it but the company was historically impossible to get ahold of. I knew all too well. The government asked me to identify why my structure was no longer livable in order to be eligible to receive repair funds in our recently declared state of disaster. I checked the boxes “no a/c/heat” “no water” and “flood”. We’ll see if anything ever comes of that but i’ve got to go ahead with the repairs…can’t wait on the government.

It was at this point that i made the decision the dogs would need to be farmed out elsewhere. I had to stay here and fix the property. The chickens would be fine to stay with their insulating feathers and hay, but the dogs couldn’t be left her in an un-climate controlled tin box with no water while i was at work. I called every reasonable vet in town. They were all booked solid with people who had already figured out their structures were unlivable and farmed their cats and dogs out. I then tried one of the most expensive vets in town. They had a few slots open and agreed to take my dogs for a week. I rushed the dogs over before they closed and gave the vet tech my dogs and their food. I asked for them to be boarded together so they could sleep on one another and keep each other company. I knew they would think i had abandoned them. I dreamed of a day when i had fixed the property and could come back and get them and bring them home. I didn’t want to leave them but i knew in order to make money for the repairs i had to go back to work. To keep my job i had to go back to work, and i couldn’t leave them in the house with no heat or air. They were safer at the vet. The vet tech said they had had lights and water for 24 hours so she figured they would have resources for my dogs. I left and hurried back to meet the next repair man on the property and continue to try and get a hold of a well repair man.

I took stock of my property. It was a real mess. It was set to get into the twenties that night. I planned to use the oven and the space heater but when the space heater overheated i went to using the oven exclusively to heat the house. It was cold. I needed to make a go of this. The property had to be fixed and i had to be here in order to make that happen.

I went out in search of juice and found four bottles of apple juice. My friend Cindy went out and found many bottles of grape juice and mineral water. She brought them to me. Since there was no water i repurposed the shower as a refrigerator. It was on the edge of the house and much colder than the rest of it. Cindy brought me two buckets of water collected from melting ice for the chickens. I spent a couple hours in the yard filling my big red feed bucket in the yard with ice and packed snow so that the chickens would have a big reserve of drinking water. When i was finished i pulled the piece of plywood over it to keep it from evaporating. I had become so used to 10 degrees that 48 felt hot. I didnt need a jacket and the sun felt really warm. The a/c repair guy looked at me like i was crazy, bundled in his jacket. I guessed he hadn’t spent as much time in the elements as i had pottying and watering animals all the time and going back and forth to the shed.

I drank the juice and saved the drinking water for tooth brushing, sink baths, and the chickens. Many of my coworkers and friends lost some or all of their chickens to the cold. They found them dead in the coop when the weather cleared. I feel blessed to have mine still. People tried everything to buy the eggs but i won’t sell them. I use them to barter or to repay someone who has done something kind for me without asking anything in return. That is the way that feels right to me and that is the way i will keep it. Many who wanted to buy my eggs weren’t comfortable offering me water or a place to shower in payment which just confirmed the sanctity of my policy on selling vs giving eggs away. Do what instinctually feels right and you’ll veer off the path a lot less often.

I got on the phone and started texting people looking for someone who would let me take a shower, someone who had water. I hadnt had one in 6 days and was fixing to have to report to work in the morning. A coworker who had water opened his home to the rest of us and invited anyone who needed a shower to come on and bring a towel and it was theirs to use. I took him up on it. I tried to pay him in chicken eggs but he wouldnt take them. I showed up at the address given with soap and a towel and they let me take my first shower in 6 days, my first hot shower in a year. I felt human again. I was now appropriate for work. I called around and found four other people with water. I would rotate between them until the well got fixed so that i wouldn’t tax one person’s water bill. Every day after work i would line up a shower before leaving town for the property. People were very generous. I laughed when people in northern states said we were looking for a handout in texas asking for the government to come rescue us. The government didn’t rescue me. My neighbors did.

i finally did get ahold of a well company in a small town two towns over from mine. They agreed to come out and take a look just to see what would need ordered when they could get to me. While they were out looking they managed to rig the piping to the well pump fixed with some pvc pieces and some purple glue. I couldn’t believe it. We cut the power back on to the well pump and it didn’t bust. It held and i had water. They informed me it was a temporary fix and wouldnt withstand another storm but would hold for now until the disaster waiting list was cleared at least. I could have hugged the both of them i was so happy but remembered my social distancing. The a/c repair guy informed me the company wasn’t responding to him so i called home depot and ordered the only a/c/heating window unit that wasn’t on back order. It arrives in nine days. I called the vet and booked the dogs in for another week. Once my repair guy puts in the window unit the dogs can come home. Until then i use the oven to heat the house and open the windows to cool it. It’s very quiet and lonely in here without my dogs and im having to be more hands on about keeping the coyotes, foxes, and one stubborn raccoon from the chicken pen. All the animals notice the absence of the dogs and are reclaiming the property, coming closer and closer to the coop and the house. With coyotes in the yard at night i’ve started wearing my machete on my hip again. They’re fearless well-fed coyotes that prey mostly on the neighbor’s sheep. He hates them. Anyways, with the water back at the property i can use the toilet once more. I was peeing in a pitcher and dumping it outside in the grass and pooping into ziploc freezer bags for quite a while there. If i had to say what i missed most out of the resources it would definitely be the toilet. Squatting with arthritis in every joint is just no picnic. Sitting is a luxury. I know that now.

58 people died as a result of hypothermia or carbon monoxide poisoning trying to use what they had to keep warm during this storm. Many of them were children. I know their souls are with God. My heart is heavy for those left behind who grieve them.

With all hands on deck at the grocery there were no parking spots at work. I had to park across town in the garage and walk. It was 38 degrees and windy. As i walked a woman pulled her van over and asked if i wanted a ride to the grocery. She saw my uniform and knew where i was going. She said she didnt ever do this sort of thing but God put it on her heart to give me a ride that morning when she saw me walking. I thanked her. She drove me right to the door. I told her to have a blessed day and that i would pray she found gas soon. What she didn’t know was that moments before i had asked God to help me get to the store. All my stuff was falling off my shoulders and out of my arms and i was cold and the wind kept whipping the pages of my book up and i asked him to help me get there, and he sent me a woman in a van. People at our store opened their homes for me to shower in, brought water from their tap or well for me and the chickens, and told me i could do laundry at their places. I ended up doing laundry at my friend Cindy’s and watching her do some late night baking. I couldn’t believe how generous people were being to each other. Then i heard what the store had done when the power went out. Unable to use the cash registers, the employees had formed a line and the remaining customers in the store were told their groceries were free. The employees told the customers to be safe and have a blessed day as they left with hundreds of dollars of groceries at no charge. I saw evidence of God everywhere in this mess. It was beautiful.

Curbside was closed so we worked in whatever department we were needed. We unloaded trucks, faced shelves, and bagged at the registers. I was bagging when a customer asked if he could give me something. I started to say no as i knew we were not allowed to accept tips. Plenty of people did but i knew it was a fireable offense and even if others didnt find out, i would know. Plus, there were cameras everywhere, so i had actually thrown a tip back in the backseat of a car and run several times in an attempt to keep my hands clean and have job security. However, when he pulled it out, it was a penny with a cross punched in the center. Since it was no longer whole it could not be used as currency and i could accept it. I thanked him and took it from his hand. I will wear this penny around my neck for the rest of my life to remind me of the beautiful ripple effect of God’s love that i was able to witness during the aftermath of the winter storm of 2021.

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  1. I have a small (10,000 BTU) Kerosene heater that I use when I’m out working in my shed.

    At “full heat”, it uses about a gallon of kerosene each 12 hours of use. I keep 5 gallons available.

    The heater is rated for indoor use, but a window must be kept “ajar” to allow outside air to get into the shed. I also have two carbon monoxide detectors in the shed to warn me just in case something goes wrong.

    1. That’s smart. I think the reason this storm was so devastating for us is that we don’t have any measures in place to deal with this sort of thing. Before last week i didn’t know 4 degrees was possible in texas. I definitely need to pick some northerners’ brains. I know what to do when its going to be 113 outside…that’s more my element.

      1. I agree completely about the heat. I can deal with the cold well enough, but I’m much more comfortable in the heat……to me, it’s not hot until it’s more than 115F, but I’m all wearing at sweater at 70F degrees!

        4F??!!!???….is the F for Fahrenheit, or “Fing cold”. 🙂

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