On the Stonyfield in winter

As a family policy, we do as little work as possible on Sundays. Of course, the cows have to be milked, but we avoid all work that isn’t absolutely necessary. This even means that we don’t make hay on Sundays during haying season, no matter the weather forecast! When we first made this commitment many years ago, it was sometimes excruciatingly difficult to turn our backs on the dairy farm and attempt to relax despite all the seemingly urgent tasks that were always awaiting us. It took some practice before we were able to actually enjoy ourselves, but nowadays, we usually find ourselves completely refreshed after a Sunday, and are ready to face the week again with energy and enthusiasm.

During some summer Sundays, we can’t be away from the farm for more than a couple hours. Especially during very hot weather, we need to watch our cows and make sure they aren’t overheating, as lactating dairy cows are particularly vulnerable to heat stress. However, on most winter days when the cows are in the barn, we can make them comfortable for several hours with a big pile of hay and lots of fresh bedding.

One recent Sunday, we found ourselves with a few hours to do as we pleased in the middle of the day, so after church we packed our station wagon full of sleds, fishing gear, skis, and lots of extra winter clothes (I figure at least three pairs of mittens per child for an ice fishing trip), and headed for nearby Lake Iroquois.

After the below-zero temperatures we’d been experiencing, this particular day had an almost balmy feel, hovering just above 32 degrees. The trees around the lake had been holding onto a lot of weight from a recent ice storm, and now the ice slipped, sloshed, and exploded off the trees with a celebratory sound. Feeling giddy as we parked our car near a family member’s camp, we piled gear and kiddos into a couple of sleds and slid down the bank, past the camp and onto the ice.

Sliding into the vast, flat, quiet whiteness is like entering another world, and setting foot on the ice for the first time in a year is always a bit scary. Even though the lake was dotted with other fishermen and recreators, I half expected to feel the ground give way beneath me, to feel the lake come alive again with the gentle waves of summer time. But the boys were already getting busy with the giant ice auger, and they soon counted six inches of black ice, which was covered with a couple more of fresh, powdery snow. My two-year-old son, Frankie, became enthralled with his job of scooping the crushed ice out of the freshly drilled holes, and got quite upset when he had scooped it all out. Fortunately, his big brother solved the problem by kicking more snow back into the hole, and they continued at this game for quite awhile, until Frankie slipped and got his arm wet up the shoulder, nearly losing his coveted, slotted ice ladle (enter extra pair of mittens).

At this point, I strapped on my cross country skiis and left the fishing (and the parenting) to my husband.

By the time I returned from my ski around the lake, the boys had caught a nice bucketful of little perch and exhausted our entire mitten supply. Ecstatic about their success, the boys yelled simultaneously their synonyms for “a lot of fish”: which came out sounding something like, “Mama! Look! Big-big-biggest-most-longest-fish-mostest-too many-FISH-we caught!

So we headed home to fry up the haul—and by the way, cleaning fish is pretty much the most perfect biology lesson you could imagine for a four-year-old. We rolled them in cornmeal and fried them in bacon fat, and in doing so participated in that age-old ritual that has so satisfied humans since the beginning of time: nourishing ourselves with food we gleaned with our own hands. I love it. My boys love it. And maybe – it’s that love that keeps us going as a farm family.

Stay tuned for more winter adventures on the farm!