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Monday, January 11, 2016

Cabin Fever

I made a major realization last night.  Since December 18th, I have only been off this acreage 6 times! And those, with the exception of one trip, were quick one/two stop trips to town; one trip to the hardware/feed store, three trips to the market, and one trip to take The Boy to work in the city.  The longer trip was the trip to Stromsberg, mentioned a couple of posts ago.   NO WONDER I'm getting squirrely.

This actually happens EVERY year.  From about the middle of November until the middle of January, I'm pretty much here all the time, except for the market and my volunteer job in the city.  I highly dislike the insanity that comes with the winter holidays, so I avoid shopping areas and the inevitable crowds.  Even the market gets crazy as you approach Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, the race towards Christmas turns people truly nuts.  Then the holiday themselves shuts things down.  The predawn hours the day after Christmas bring out the gift returns and the bargain hunters. New Years Even and New Years shuts down the country life again.  Then JUST when you think it's safe to return to the world, the weather on the Great Plains knocks some sense into you.

We had 6 inches of snow on Christmas day, when the world was closed anyway.  A week later, we had an ice storm.  Since then we have been locked in with persistent rounds of freezing fog.  Which, while STUNNING to look at, isn't the best thing to be driving in.  So non essential trips to do anything are out of the question.  We have one road that we use as a cut through.  It shaves 6 miles off our trips to the west.  It's a nice gravel road, unless it rains, snows, or is ice laden.  We took this road on our Stromsberg trip.  After white knuckling the mile and a half stretch of solid polished ice, with a dirt cliff on one side, and a drop off and cattle pond on the other, I declared the pass CLOSED for the season.  Nothing quite like spinning your tires as you tack your car UP an icy hill knowing you're going to have to make it DOWN the other side in the same manner.  Go off the road, and they might find the car in the Spring. (no cell service area)
There are 80 head of cattle in this field. You can only SEE 3.

Our Giant Lake is frozen.

This week the cold settled in.  Canada left its backdoor open.  Our winds picked up, howling and rattling the siding.  The chickens settled in, puffing themselves up as much as they could.  The puffier they are, the more air their feathers can hold, the warmer they can be.  They can go from being little down filled jackets, to full fledged down filled ski jackets with a shake and a fluff.  This is why the cold doesn't bother them, but the cold and the WIND does.  The wind removes the warm air they are holding in their feather next to their bodies.  Saturday the bottom dropped out of the thermometer.  We hit -6'F.  The wind brought that down to -27'F.  Luckily the coop and run are well closed off from the winds.  Don't worry, the chickens can handle going down to -20' as long as they are well fed, dry, and out of the wind.  The Boy made sure they were WELL fed, the henhouse took care of the rest.

Like I've said before, winter hits here in January and February, and starts to loose her grip in March.  So except for volunteering and marketing, I don't get out much in the winter.  I do work outside, but that is really hard on this body.  Well, ANYONE"S body really.  I'm certainly not out there playing, reading, or kicking back watching the hens peck.  Some of the locals are out there hunting, riding ATVs, or ice fishing (I LOVE fishing, but ice fishing terrifies me beyond words.) I take advantage of being inside to clean, sort, clean, bake, clean, do laundry, read, write, and think.

Reading and thinking can lead you to some interesting things.  I don't know how I picked up the book The Best of the Covered Wagon Women but I am glad that I did.  It was fascinating.  It is a collection of diary entries from woman that crossed the country in the race for land during the Homestead Act and Gold Rush era.  Reading THAT lead me to research more on the trails that run through the state.  I already knew there was a trail in the southern part of the state and I knew that the Oregon trail ran through Omaha.  It was what I found when I dug deeper that kept me entertained with research for DAYS. 

The wagon train trails are not like modern roads.  They are, for the most part, general areas of travel.  They are the easiest path between two points, not necessarily the shortest.  And except in areas of extreme difficulty, like through mountain passes or river crossings, the wagons didn't follow tightly to each other, like cars at rush hour on a California highway.  So what did I find out?  I learned that a cutoff from a crossing on the Missouri river came within a mile of the acreage!  This trail continued along the flat land along the banks of an ancient creek before it turned northward through the next flat valley and met up with the main Oregon Trail.  No one living around here knew that.  The state park employees didn't even know about it!  Sadly, all of the land the trail covered has been plowed under and heavily farmed for 130 years. 

Wagon Trail Map

There is one 1/4 mile area north of here, not fit for farming, but only for pasture, that STILL has the old well worn and compressed wagon tracks in it. It is a steep hill where the wagons all had to use the same path to traverse from one valley to another flat valley.  They had to line up and take the hill one team at a time.  At the bottom of the hill are several wagon ruts off in slightly different directions as the wagons hit full speed toward the bottom and the trail feathers back out as they regained control of the wagon and teams and proceeded on their way.  When the snow clears, I'll try to get photos and post them.

Thoughts of the old days creep in like that. 

On the wall of my kitchen, I have a photo of the original homesteaders of this land.  Their log sod house stood at the other end of the property, on what is now State Property.  Sometimes when I am baking or cooking, I catch Phoebe looking at me through that photo with grand wonderment in her eyes.  What would she have thought of everything in this modern kitchen? Warming milk in the microwave,pulling dried yeast out of the refrigerator, water from the tap, tossing ingredients into the KitchenAid and pulling out bread dough for the week.  Cooking the dough in a smoke free electric oven, and throwing the whole mess into a dishwasher. 

We have no where NEAR the hardships they had.  Just GOING somewhere was huge undertaking for them.  That's what I thought about while driving west last week.  Zipping down the highway at 60 mph, we were traveling in ONE HOUR the distance they traveled by wagon in THREE full hard days.  It took teams 5 months to travel from the Missouri River to the west coast. And all with no gas station stops, or markets for food or supplies.  Let that settle in your brain.

The shopping, the laundry, and even food storage and usage was SO different then. (Granted, my flour does come in 25 pounds calico flour sacks, but that's about all we have in common.)
  Some days, thinking about those days pervade the whole day.   I still wrap my head around cabin fever.  How they didn't freeze to death is beyond me.  I get cold, I turn up the heat or wander down the hall and grab a sweater.  Their whole house was 10x20 feet, the size of my bedroom.  It's not like it was stacked with sweaters, multiple changes of clothes, or even cupboards full of blankets like we have now.

When the creek froze in December, water was had by thawing ice or snow.  Water was at a premium, so washing clothes or bathing was saved until the Spring thaw.

If you ran out of an item, you simply did without.

As for entertainment, I have no idea.  I'm sure there was music playing, needlework, writing, and reading, although many couldn't read.  Certainly they didn't have room full of books and definitely didn't have instantly downloadable books by the thousands.  The books they had would have been memorized by the end of the winter.  I honestly don't know how they made it though the winter without going insane.

Oh wait, twitch, twitch......

That said, Doc managed to entertain himself for a couple of hours a day for a few days.  He decided that he was going to make a wood version of the Dunrovin Station Star.  He did an AMAZING job! His How It was done post will be tomorrow.


  1. Doc did a wonderful job on the star.

    I think the settlers slept a lot, they didn't have electric light.

    Check out the Kansas Trail paintings by Dave de Armond (manfrommerriam)

  2. Wow, Doc is goooooood! Absolutely beautiful. Loving all that white stuff from my side of the screen. Though you know I'd be there in a heartbeat to play in it if I could :)