a Winter Storm is Coming

The talk around town was a winter storm was headed our way; one that was expected to resemble last february’s ice-pocalypse; the one that was responsible for the deaths of 58 people and shut down roads in Texas for over a week. The weathermen were just about peeing their pants with enthusiasm. They whipped everyone into a furious panic with their fervent radio broadcasts across the hill country. People flooded the grocery in droves and scooped everything from the shelves into their baskets with frantic arms. With all the shouting and elbowing people were doing you would have thought it was black friday. Meanwhile the local authorities were trying their best to tamp down the mass panic stating that they were sure it would not be as bad as last year’s storm and the precipitation was not expected to stay a whole week and a half but rather four or five days max. They swore that we were not looking at a historic low of 4 degrees Fahrenheit but rather more like 16. People chose to believe the weathermen and the mass panic continued. The city put out gravel a day in advance, as usual, so that the panicked shoppers stock-piling supplies could sweep it all to the side of the road with their car tires. The grocery shelves were empty and void of product. As fast as we got the items off the truck and onto the shelves, people put them in their baskets and the shelves were bare again within an hour.

At home i was preparing the property for the arrival of the storm. I made sure the heat lamp was on in the well house. I covered the spigot with the frost cover. I put a thick layer of fresh wood shavings in every nesting box and closed the window to the hen house. I filtered a whole bucket of well water a half gallon at a time and set it inside the house so that when the well froze i’d have something to wash hair with and give to the chickens. I topped off all the jugs of drinking grade water for myself and the dogs in the house. There were 6 three gallon jugs and a 1.5 gallon dispenser in the house. I left the gate open so that i would be able to get the car in and out if the chain to the gate got iced over. I parked the car up on the mulch pile under the oak trees. I took my potted plants into the house. I watered all the plants and fruit trees outside and then covered them with blankets and towels, placing the rabbit and deer proof wire cages back over them. I made sure i had a lighter and the shovel in the house. I did a bunch of laundry while i still could. I drove up to the dollar general and bought two cans of tuna and two cans of black eyed peas in case the power went out and i couldn’t cook or open the refrigerator. Then i took a bag of oranges and a bag of apples out of the refrigerator and set them on the counter for the same reason. I filled a couple cups in the bathroom with water so that i would have it to rinse the sink after spitting toothpaste in there without having to use the drinking water. Then i made sure the lock on the electric box was not rusted and labeled the key so that i could shut off power to the well house quickly if the pipes leading to the pump busted and i had to put an end to a geyser before it drained much of our water source. After doing all this i sat down in the house and waited for the weather to arrive. I turned on the weather radio and listened to the latest broadcast. They had changed their opinion a little bit. Now it was set to arrive half a day sooner and the lows had dropped a few degrees. The coldest temp expected went from 16 to 14. My breed of chickens was only cold hardy to 17, which is why i had brought them inside during ice-pocalypse last year. This year i had intended to leave them outside, as i had two juvenile chickens that were not friendly or hand raised that would not likely come willingly and taking their four sisters inside was pretty much a death sentence for the remaining two who would not have anyone to huddle against for warmth. I had intended to leave them all outside to preserve the two that i knew would not come to me, but at 14 degrees i knew their feet and combs would frost and that was not what i wanted for my hand raised four that i cared deeply about and could easily be prevented from frosting. So i made the decision. The four older chickens would ride the storm out in the house with me, along with whichever of the juvenile chickens i could catch, and the remaining one would likely die.

The weather was coming in now. It was raining and there was a cold blustery wind whipping all the empty plant containers about the yard. I knew what i was about to do was going to be messy so i couldn’t wear my jacket. I threw on a ripped pair of homestead jeans and an old stained t-shirt with holes in it. Outside my skin pimpled up with goosebumps and the hairs on my arms stood at attention. I wanted to hurry up and get this underway. I opened the shed door. The wind grabbed it and threw it against the wooden railing with a thud. I pulled the stock water tank out and slid it down the steps. I tried to get new wood shavings spread across the bottom of it as quickly as possible because the rain was picking up and i didn’t want the shavings damp. I ran backwards across the yard, dragging the stock tank as fast as i could, trying to get it under the shelter of the porch roof so that it would stop getting wet. I pulled it up the porch stairs and into the house where it would be dry. Then i got the pieces of wire panels from the shed to act as the lid and fetched a chick feeder. I carried the dog food bags and the chicken scratch bags into the bathroom of the house and set them on the floor. I put the sumac harvest in the house to avoid the freeze while i was at it. Then i gathered heavy items to hold the lid in place and prevent the chickens from escaping. I settled on glass Tupperware for a water dish because i knew the chickens would knock a chick waterer down and just waste all the water and soak the shavings. Once i had everything set up in the house i cut some apple and asparagus, the real tender parts, and took it out to the chicken pen. I cut a lot because there were 6 chickens so i needed to keep them within range long enough to make multiple trips to the house and come back. I got in the pen and threw the food out across the ground. The chickens came running. I saw my opportunity. Ellis was the least friendly, most psychotic, ptsd riddled chicken. She was the one of the two juvenile chickens i was sure i’d have to leave behind. She’d never come willingly. I’d forgotten that she loved food. There she was eating right next to my leg. I saw my opportunity and grabbed her. She squawked and flapped and tried to wrestle and kick her way free but i wasn’t letting go. I folded her wings down and tucked her like a football. I held onto her with an iron grip and walked briskly to the house. I put her in the stock water tank and returned to the chicken pen to get another. I picked them up one by one and carried them into the house until only one juvenile chicken remained; Oakley. There was still asparagus and apple on the ground but she wasn’t interested. I had miscalculated. Ellis would not be the most difficult juvenile to fetch. She was food motivated and nuts. Oakley was smart, and could not be enticed with edibles. It was looking more and more like Oakley was the one that i would have to leave behind. Without the others she would freeze to death. To leave her outside was to know i’d be consenting to her demise. I had made my decision. The health of the flock was more important than those of the stragglers that wouldn’t likely cooperate. I’d made my decision, so why couldn’t i stick to it? Oakley could not be enticed with apple, asparagus, pear, grass, or chicken scratch. I then tried to barricade one side of the circle around the hen house with the idea that i’d chase her forward until she hit the fencing barricade and then corner her from the outside of the pen. Once i got hold of her feathers through the metal bars i planned to advance her forwards until we were at the door to the pen at which point i would use one arm to open it and then grab her from the inside of the pen before letting go from the outside of the pen with my other hand. This did not work because a panicked Oakley thrashed and rolled about until she managed to use her body to toss the barricade to the side and fly around that side of the hen house anyways. I abandoned the barricade lest she poke herself on the exposed sharp metal edges of the cut fencing piece. I then tried to slide on my belly through all the chicken poop and discarded scratch to get under the nesting boxes to the back of the pen where she was hiding. This did not work because every time i did this, with great difficulty, she ran around to the front of the pen and every time i slid back under she was in the back of the pen before i even finished standing up in the front of the pen. I was now covered in chicken poop and rain, smelly, cold, and mad. I was feeling mighty defeated but something wouldn’t let me stop. I didn’t know how i was going to get her but i couldn’t stop. To stop would mean i was accepting that Oakley died. The weather was only going to get worse. It did me no good to go inside now and come back later. I would try until sundown if that’s what it took. Eventually this chicken would have to make a mistake and when she did i’d be there to capitalize on the moment. I went back outside the pen and started running along the outside of the pen in the rain. My tactic here was that i had to exhaust and stress the chicken to the point where she wanted to hide instead of flee. If i could get her into the hen house, i could corner her. I ran her round and round in circles, this way and that, switching back every time she did. I was on her every time she ran in any direction. Eventually she became stressed and tired and headed into the hen house. I couldn’t believe my luck. I quietly crept into the chicken pen and closed the door behind me. I opened the door to the coop and there she was in the corner. I reached for her and she ran right through my legs, out and around the back of the hen house. My heart sank. I was so close! So close!! Devastation set in. I picked myself up and went straight back to my activity, running her in circles from the outside of the chicken pen. If it worked once it could work again. I just had to stress her enough to make her want to hide and then this time i’d watch my legs better and not give her the opportunity to run under me to get away. Sure enough, she returned to the chicken coop. This time she flew over my shoulder and around the back of the chicken coop. I returned to the activity of running in circles in the rain while covered in chicken shit around the outside of the chicken pen. After what seemed like an eternity she ran into the chicken coop a third time. This time i opened the hen house door and pounced on her like a ravenous animal. I held her to the floor while she flapped and squawked. I folded her wings in, pressed her against my chest, and held her with a death grip. I carried her out of that chicken pen with all the triumph of a thousand gladiators. I was flooded with a feeling of success and relief. This chicken was going to live. I put Oakley in the stock water tank with her sisters and wiped the hair from my face with a muddy shitty hand. I took a look at myself. Well, that was quite a lot of trouble for one chicken. I shook my head. I told myself she was a good egg layer but that wasn’t what it had been about. We don’t leave anyone behind here. To give up is a waste of life and when you have little funds every animal is worth a lot. When you look at all the time, resources, and hand rearing that would go into replacing a chicken of her age, it was worth the romp in the ice-cold smelly mud. All 6 chickens were in the house, which for some reason made Cashew eternally anxious. She would whine ceaselessly for the next five days until i thought i might put her outside in the cold just to get some peace and quiet, but i never did, because i love her.

The dogs were in. The chickens were in. Everyone was set. I locked up the chicken pen and went inside to take a shower while i still could before the pipes froze.

I kept having to add heavy items to the lid of the stock water tank because Ellis was just bent upon escape and kept flying directly into the lid with great force. I used the lawn mower batteries and cartons of oat milk as weights. Occasionally they’d lay eggs and i’d carefully reach in and pull them out before they were trampled.

The storm arrived as promised. The pipes froze. The era of pottying in the bucket and paper towel baths began.

The first day brought ice balls but the second day melted the ice balls into water which then hardened into a smooth sheet of ice when it froze again. A moment of sunshine made all the difference in drivability. I had to call in to work. The roads were coated with a solid slick layer of ice.

On the second day i was supposed to head in to work the sun came out in my little town. It began melting the precipitation and so my boss told me i could try to come in around noon. I saw that the precipitation was melting at a pretty good rate and i began heading in around 10:15 am. it was not a good idea. I’d forgotten that i had to cross two bridges to get in to the city. They were still completely frozen. I drove like a snail and focused on steering, trying not to touch the brake. Then once i got out of my little town i realized the sky was still completely overcast towards the city. The ice had not melted at all. I was driving on a thin tire track worn by cars before me in a couple inches of thick ice coating all the roadways. Everything was fine until i needed to change lanes or turn. Then i slid across the ice and struggled to keep the car on the road. The sheriff and the police cars were just kind of out there monitoring the situation as people tried to make it into town for work. They had begged people to stay off the roads but our employers wanted us there so we didn’t listen. I saw whole parking lots iced over like skating rinks. It was really quite trippy to think this was happening for a second year in a row. Maybe winter was a thing that happened in Texas now. Maybe february was our new winter and we’d better learn what things like snow chains were. I managed to make it to work and park on a platform of ice in between two yellow lines in what used to be the employee parking lot. I gathered my things and carefully walked to the street to cross to the building. Upon doing so i realized the whole sidewalk to get to the building was in the shadow of the building and just absolutely as icy as it had ever been. I ended up getting down on my hands and knees and crawling to the employee door after nearly slipping and falling several times. I crawled up to the door in the bitter wind for what seemed like an eternity, scanned my badge, and i was in. The store was cleared out and people were all there looking for more supplies. The trucks were stuck on i-10 which had been shut down for hours after 7 semi trucks jack knifed and two people died. They weren’t sure how to get everyone off i-10 without further accidents so the highway remained closed and everyone already there just sat. A good samaritan had his kids ride around on their 4 wheelers and bring sandwiches, bars, and water to people stuck on i-10. Our trucks never made it in and so when they did arrive they all came at once. Our staff scrambled to unload the trucks fast enough to get the waiting trucks in for unloading next and we struggled further to get the massive amount of product arriving onto the shelves. It added insult to injury that after working so hard to out it all out and pile up all the produce displays people took it off the shelf in an hour and we just had to do it all again. It was hard to keep the morale up when they felt like there was no point in making the displays and we should have just set the boxes on the floor and let the people have at it. I was put in charge of the baler. I went around and collected everybody’s empty cardboard boxes, threw them in the baler, pulled the cage down, turned the key, and it flattened everything to nothingness. I was fascinated. I loved this new task and took great joy in it the rest of the shift. My coworker in town agreed to let me come over and shower at her place after shift. I did that. Then i drove home and tended to the chickens and the dogs. At 4:30 am i was back at the store ready for duty. And so all the animals survived. Another winter storm was on the books and for me life went on.

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