In October, I closed the last journal entry by wondering how we—and the animals—would do once winter set in. Our summer and autumn experiences were great, but once there was snow on the ground, how were we all going to adapt our routines?
I’m pleased to report that the state of the flock is excellent! Winter has certainly posed its fair share of challenges, but so far we are weathering them. Below are a few observations on our experiences:
We have had snow on the ground since about the middle of November. As most visitors to this site know, we love snow; however, snow poses a number of challenges for us. We must keep the paddock gate area clear so we can enter and exit, and a path open from the paddock gate to the hay cabin, where we also store the grains we feed the animals.
Most of these things we anticipated before the snow fell. What we didn’t know was whether the llamas would beat their own path from the barn to their community loo, or whether the animals would have any difficulty getting to the water bucket around the back of the barn. What we found was that in heavier snow storms both the sheep and the llamas preferred to stay in the barn. Now, some readers might think that’s a “duh” moment, but we also noticed that the llamas like to be outside while it is snowing … on them. The llamas would beat a path to the potty site, but in a significant snow storm we found it useful to shovel a short path for them so they wouldn’t go in the barn.
Speaking of such things, the sheep—unlike the llamas—aren’t as courteous, and go wherever they happen to be. This meant that in order to keep the barn clean we need to be able to get the wheelbarrow to the barn and then to some other destination. While it was warmer, we started our first manure … err… compost pile in a spot we believed convenient for us and a safe distance from the creek. Maneuvering a wheelbarrow full of pre-compost through the snow created new challenges, but we identified a spot just across from the hay cabin (where we store the wheelbarrow under the lean-to shed) on the other side of the driveway, which should easily get us through the winter.
Another thing we learned is that the sheep will take hay from the feeder in the barn, but that they prefer to “graze” outside. We also learned that the added benefit to this is that if we feed them outside they don’t soil the barn as much. We mind the weather, but if it is sunny we always put at least some of the hay outside the barn.
Easy enough, right? Well, we learned two new things and realized that we couldn’t just throw the hay in the front of the barn every time. For one, see above where I speak of the sheep and their lack of civility. But we also had to be cognizant of where the snow on the roof would shed. Snow accumulates on the metal roof, and can come down without notice, much like an avalanche. The snow shed travels further than one might think, and we watched from the house as snow fell from the back roof and nearly trapped Caramel, who was using a path we had cleared. We couldn’t tell if she was hurt or not, but as I started toward the barn Sarah saw the lamb push her way out of the snow and jump to a clearing. The sheep was fine, and now we know where we can and can’t dig paths or put hay.
Even if it isn’t snowing, the low temperatures here pose challenges for the humans and animals. After a brief Christmas thaw, we have had a very cold January. Over the last few weeks we have seen overnight temperatures dip to -30°F (-34°C) and about zero (-17C) during the day. When it gets that cold the animals—and especially ruminants—need a little help to keep their energy up. On the advice of Marian White, we gave the sheep a mixture of grain and whole or crushed corn kernels. For us, the cold temperatures mean we have to bundle up to do our daily barn chores, and it takes some effort to work chains and latches when one is wearing gloves.
One of the things were are glad we learned of before winter set in is the heated water bucket. This thing is awesome. The water bucket we have has a thermostat built in and keeps the animal’s water from freezing. When we built the barn, we had an insulated wooden box built around the water pressure tank that helps brings our water from the well we dug this summer. The box has thick blueboard foam walls on the inside and a 100-watt light ball attached to a thermostat to help keep the space warm. We thought that the insulated box coupled with the heated bucket would work for us. When the pipe that brings the water from the well head across the drive way to the barn was installed it was buried a good distance. However, the day before we were to leave for South Carolina for the holidays the water didn’t flow when we turned the faucet on. Luckily there was plenty of clean snow for our farm sitter to throw in the heated bucket, but it was equally fortunate that the temperatures reached the high 40s (~8C) while we were gone. Now we let the water trickle at all times to keep it from freezing up on us again (see video at right or on Flickr), which makes for some interesting ice sculptures.
Otherwise, most everything is good. We still have a good supply of hay, and all the animals are healthy and growing lovely winter sweaters, which we plan to shear off in March.
Last year we attended Town Meeting Day in Tunbridge, even though we hadn’t closed on our house yet. We knew we couldn’t vote, but we wanted to go anyway to see how our adopted town worked. We learned a great deal about our town and our neighbors last year, and came away feeling that we not only made the correct decision about the house we bought, but that we had lucked into a great town.
Since last year’s town meeting we have made many efforts to get involved. Sarah volunteered to fill one of the vacant auditors positions. Our town usually has three auditors, but Jim Wick had been working on his own the previous year, so he was very happy to welcome Sarah. After a trial period Sarah was sworn in as an auditor last year. She is up for re-election in 2009. Thankfully, the town elected another auditor this year to join Sarah and Jim since Jim is hoping to step down at the end of his term.
Last year’s town meeting ran very smoothly and—including the lunch break—only took about five hours. None of the elected positions were being challenged either, so we had no need to go to a paper ballot. Every incumbent was renominated, and every incumbent was reelected by a voice vote. Neither of us even recall hearing any nay votes.
This year there was some concern that things might get a bit heated. Since last year’s meeting, mold had been discovered in the town hall and the town offices. The mold was so bad that our Town Clerk had become ill. The Selectboard picked an abatement company, and the offices and the town hall were closed while the work was done. But the abatement wasn’t done well, costs and time on the project escalated, and apparently the work was started before a contract had been signed. In a nutshell, the job appeared to have been mishandled and a few weeks before this year’s town meeting one of our select board members (rightfully, in our minds) resigned over the matter.
We’d rather not go into too much detail, and this post is not intended to air dirty laundry or place any blame. In fact, overall, we believe the Selectboard, the Town Clerk, and the citizenry did a great job of handling what was a very difficult situation.
Below is a summary of the 17 articles the Town of Tunbridge discussed and decided at this year’s Town Meeting:
- We reelected Euclid Farnham as our Moderator.
- We reelected Wendy McCullough as our Town Clerk.
- We reelected Ann Mallary as our Treasurer.
- We listened to and approved all of the Town Officer’s Reports.
- We agreed to pay our taxes on or before November 1, 2007 and interest on delinquent taxes.
- We approved the budgets of the Selectboard and Highway Department.
- We agreed to allow the Selectboard to borrow money as needed for current expenses in anticipation of taxes.
- We approved the budget for the Tunbridge Volunteer Fire Department.
- We approved a sum of money to support the First Branch Ambulance operating budget.
- After much polite, yet enthusiastic, debate we approved a measure to use remaining funds in the Capital Improvement fund to help defray some of the remaining costs of the mold abatement project at the Town Hall and Town Offices.
- We approved the appropriation of money for the Capital Improvement Fund for future Town Building Capital Improvements.
- After a presentation by one of the Cemetery Commissioners, we approved money for a reserve fund for a new cemetery on land owned by Tunbridge.
- After some debate—and an attempt to introduce an amendment to cut the amount in half—we approved the allocation of money to finance the purchase of a new tanker truck for the Tunbridge Volunteer Fire Department.
- We approved a tax exemption for the Tunbridge Volunteer Fire Department and the Tunbridge Grange for the next five years.
- We approved roughly $8,000 in support money to a number of organizations including: Central Vermont Adult Education, Central Vermont Council on Aging, Clara Martin, Central Vermont Community Action, Chelsea Senior Center, Green Up, Kid’s Place, Orange County Court Diversion, Safe-line, Upper Valley Services, Vermont Association for the Blind, Vermont Center for Independent Living, and the Vermont-New Hampshire Visiting Nurses Association.
- We elected a new Selectboard member (Tim Wolfe), which required two ballots. With one exception, we reelected all other elected positions without contesting. The exception was a member of the Library Trustees who declined nomination and nominated his successor. The nominated successor was elected.
- The last article of business was “other nonbinding business” where the town heard from a variety of people, including announcements of fundraising dinners for school trips; information on organizations working to reduce energy use and global warming; expressions of thanks to various people for their hard work—including a round of applause for the Selectboard member who had resigned, but who had not attended this year’s meeting. The town also voice voted on a nonbinding resolution to call for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The vote was relatively close, but the ayes had it. Lastly we heard from our state representative, David Ainsworth, who spoke briefly about what was happening in Montpelier, and who encouraged people to contact him with any concerns they had.
We also had a lovely lunch sponsored by the Friends of the Tunbridge library, which included meat and vegetarian lasagna, a salad bar and more pie than any town could have possibly eaten in one sitting; although a neighbor kid announced to Rick that in addition to eating his lunch he had eaten 4 pieces of pie. Rick congratulated him and told him he hoped he didn’t get sick in his mom’s car on the way home. At lunch we got to meet one of our Cemetery Commissioners, Floyd McPhetres, and his lovely wife Eloise. Floyd is probably in his late 80s and has lived in town all his life. He lives in a house next to the one where he was born. Another woman who ate with us, Mary, was a student of Floyd’s when he taught high school many years ago.
The entire meeting, including lunch, lasted about four and a half hours, but went by very quickly. It was great to see so many of the people we have gotten to know over the first year we have lived in this great town, and it was nice to make new acquaintances.
A little less than a year ago we ventured up to Vermont for the first time.* While we were visiting, we drove around for hours exploring the small towns and back roads. We even purposely came during “mud season” because we had heard from friends and family that if we liked Vermont in mud season, we’d love it the rest of the year.
We ended up liking Vermont—and mud season—so much we decided on the flight home that we really were going to sell our house and move.
The most difficult part of the transition hasn’t been the brutal Vermont winters—this one has been significantly more mild than usual, as we understand it—but acclimating to living in an apartment again. It may even be more difficult for the dogs. Let’s face it, when you’ve had a house, a yard, and a garden to poop in, it’s tough to go back to having to go for walks on a leash. Errr, I’m speaking about the dogs, mind you.
Back to us.
While Montpelier has been wonderful to us for these last seven months, we have been chomping at the bit to find our dream place. So, after even more driving around Vermont, we are all very happy to have someplace to call our own again. It’s a cute little 3-bedroom, cape-style house that sits on a mostly-wooded 10-acre lot with a brook running through it and a small one-room cabin.
Now, we just need to find jobs to pay for it. gulp.
* Perhaps our first opinions of Vermont had been skewed by the fact that we had such wonderful hosts who generously opened their home and gave their time to relative strangers. We’re still glad we’re here … so thanks you two!
When we moved to the house in Silver Spring, Maryland I was looking forward to taking classes at the Takoma Park campus of Montgomery College. Specifically I was interested in their Landscape Technology certificate program. However, that plan died when I realized that classes for the program were almost exclusively taught at the Germantown campus, 25 miles away, and not at the campus three blocks away from our home.
I mention this because our recent house-hunting has given me the itch to get out of this flat and back to gardening. I have also been thinking about taking classes again, so I was very pleased when my friend Ann passed on a link to the Vermont Master Gardener program at the University of Vermont extension. The program is a little different than the Landscape Technology certificate, but it is a nice first step for me to get back into being a student. Plus I like that the program is designed to create a network of volunteers to help in their communities.
If I adjust to being a student again, I may look into Vermont Technical College’s Landscape Development and Ornamental Horticulture program. For now I will try my hand learning about turf, weeds, entomology, plant pathology, soils, woody ornamentals, perennials, annuals, applied pest management, invasive plant control, vegetables and landscape design. The last two being of the most interest to me.
I still have to drive 25 miles to get to the classes in Randolph, but 25 miles in Vermont is a pleasure compared to the hell that is DC/Maryland traffic.
Wish me luck.
It’s official: our Vermont house hunt has begun. We’re starting in an off-season and giving ourselves plenty of time to explore our options so that we can get a good deal on a prime property. Our requirements? At least 5 acres, a newish or newly-renovated house with at least 2 bathrooms, and a decent parcel of flat land for our dogs and huge garden. We’d like to be within 5 miles or so of a small town, but not on a major road (might be ok if we have a long driveway).
So far, we’ve checked out New Haven/Bristol, Randolph, Woodbury, Hardwick, Morrisville, Moretown, and Plainfield. We’re trying to keep our options open, but of course some of these areas are more affordable than others, and each town has varying amenities. Check out some of my Flickr pictures for various shots of towns we’ve visited.