ANN BAILEY: Braving the cold -- good for my physical and mental health
If the weather outlook is accurate -- and I hope it is -- temperatures will have warmed by the time this column is published in the Herald. According to the forecast, temperatures will climb into the 20s today. But as I write this column, it's st...
If the weather outlook is accurate -- and I hope it is -- temperatures will have warmed by the time this column is published in the Herald. According to the forecast, temperatures will climb into the 20s today. But as I write this column, it's still early last week and temperatures are 40 degrees south of that.
The thermometer outside of our kitchen window is reading 20 below, and it's not expected to get any warmer today. Frigid weather in North Dakota in January comes as no surprise, but it is, none the less, challenging. Though, I've lived on the Northern Plains all of my life, it never seems to get easier to weather the cold. My instinct is to hibernate in the house under a pile of blankets and not emerge until April. But raising children and taking care of animals doesn't allow for that, so I have to venture outside, like it or not.
Though it's hard to see the good in it when I have to climb out from under my warm covers at 5:30 a.m. to take the dogs outside, once I am outdoors, I can't help but admire the beauty of the stars which shine even brighter on crystal cold mornings or be in awe of the power of nature when the wind is roaring through the trees like a freight train.
Usually, after I take out the dogs, I would have horses to feed. But this winter, I am horseless, so I head back into the house with the dogs and feed them and our three cats. Once they're fed, I shower and awaken Brendan, Ellen and Thomas, then I put on my insulated coveralls, heavy snow boots and mittens and drive to my mom's house to take care of the chickens.
When I enter the chicken coop, I usually find them still on the roost or in the nest boxes. They watch as I empty the straw from their feed pans, then run over to them when I pour in their mash. Once they are fed, I take their water pan, which is thick with ice, outside and beat the bottom until the chunks fall out.
By the time I come back inside, the chickens are gathered around the pans, singing. A few come over to me and start pecking at the snow on boots as I pour warm water into the pan, then take deep drinks when it is full. After I finish watering them, I scatter handfuls of corn and oats around the chicken house and they immediately leave their mash to start scratching and pecking at the straw.
I check for eggs before I leave, usually finding one or two in the nests. I stand holding them in my mittened hands for a couple of minutes before I leave, watching the chickens. They seem much warmer and are alternately singing, clucking, scratching and pecking, signs to me that they are contented.
I'll return to the chicken house in the afternoon to check their food and water and give them more of each, if needed. I'll also check the bird feeder at our house during the day and fill it if necessary.
I know that it's impossible for any creatures; human, animals or birds to be completely comfortable during the brutal weather of last month, but it makes me feel good to know that I am doing as much as I can for the ones in my charge.
Though it's tough to do some days, there's no doubt that braving the cold not only is good for my physical health, but also my mental health.