Southeast Alaska, where I used to live, is known for massive amounts of rainfall –around two hundred inches per year. Hurricane force winds and deep snowfall plagued us too, but in all those years of fierce storms, I never felt the weather to be as dangerous as the weather we‘ve experienced the past forty-eight hours in Oregon.
Overnight fourteen inches of snow fell on Mule Springs. Hours of freezing rain followed. The snow became covered by over an inch of ice. Tree limbs broke under the weight, and ice coated power lines and fences with a thick clear glaze. Trees fell; people could not stand up outside of their homes, and plowed roads became skating rinks.
Yesterday, between surgery cases, Bruce tried to drive to the barn so that he could feed my pigeons. He stopped at the farm entrance and realized the snow was too deep to reach the barn. He couldn’t tell where our road was. All he saw was a glass covered rolling meadow. He wasn’t certain he could find the road even if he could plow through the deep snow. He decided to back up. He got off course, and his car slid over the embankment and came to rest against a barbed wire fence.
He got out of his car and began to hike to the hospital, because he had a surgery to do in one hour. It was slow going; the road was slippery. And it was a lonely walk for no one else had ventured out. Finally, a state trooper, who lives near Mule Springs, headed in for work. Bruce flagged the officer down, and he gave Bruce a ride to the hospital.
Today we tried again to reach the birds. We took my car and parked at the gate. The dogs, Bruce, and I broke through the ice and knee high snow and hiked one half mile back to the barn. Until today I had been delighted to have such a long driveway into the main part of the farm. Now I see a half-mile is a long and treacherous distance to maneuver after an ice storm.
Bruce plowed ahead. Then the dogs stepped into the tracks he made. Still, jagged bits of ice sliced at their pads, and I saw the snow ahead of me was dotted with blood. We were breathing hard by the time we reached the barn. The pigeons had been without food for twenty – four hours, and they cooed and pranced in circles when they saw us nearing the loft.
I fed the pigeons and gave them enough provisions to last for several days.
Bruce got on Big Red—his new tractor – and slowly went up and down the road packing the snow and ice into a traversable path.
I sprinkled wild birdseed on the dry floor in the wood shed and under the porch in front of the pigeon loft. I could see the songbirds were having troubles. Their feathers were icing up, and the dark-eyed juncos kept shaking their wings in an attempt to rid the ice. Their tail feathers were jagged and separated, and, overall, the birds seemed off balance. They flitted around the oaks at the barn, and I spied quite a few small birds hiding in low spots where the freezing rain could not reach them. When the birds flew, they seemed to barely crest the snow level as though weighted down by the ice. Like the birds’ feathers, the fabric outer coat of my down parka was becoming completely encased in slick ice. This is the modus operandi of freezing rain. Whatever it touches transforms into a statue of ice.
Bruce drove Big Red to his quail feeding stations around the farm, and seeded the feeding areas with fine cracked corn. Meanwhile Big Red became blanketed by ice. Ice like this kills wild birds. Probably no other weather event is as disastrous for birds as an ice storm. Ice traps the birds and prevents them from getting to food. The majority of quail at Mule Springs may be wiped out by this unexpected storm.
When we finished doing what we could for the farm animals, we walked back up the long driveway to my Jeep. The freezing rain continued, and by the time we reached the farm entrance, I had icicles hanging from both sleeves. Plus my gloves had become wet through and then froze, and my fingers were on fire with stinging pain. I shoved the stiff hands into my pockets, but it didn’t help much.
Bruce was smart and brought a gallon of hot water from sink in the tack room. The Jeep was wrapped in ice, and he poured hot water on the doors, windows, and the rear view mirrors. Finally he melted enough ice, and we were able to open the vehicle doors.
Just last week everyone was complaining that winter had passed us by. The farmers said it hadn’t been cold enough to kill bugs, and moisture levels weren’t high enough to ensure a good harvest season. Overnight Father Winter visited with a new prediction.
I’m stunned by how quickly the landscape changed and by how hard it was to get into the farm. Had the donkeys been there my urgency to reach the barn would have been greater, because they need to be fed twice a day. We’ve learned we need markers lining our long driveway, so it won’t get lost in deep snow conditions. In addition it wouldn’t hurt to get a plow and have the tractor at the farm entrance instead of at the barn when deep snow is called for. I guess this ice storm was a wake up call telling us we need to be better prepared.