The Snowman Cometh

 

Thirty-five years ago, Mr. She and I sold our house in one of Pittsburgh’s lowest-rent districts, moved ourselves into a tent in a field in Washington County, PA, where our prospective new home was nothing more than a hole in the ground, and started to build.

I’m sure the neighbors thought we were nuts.  Nevertheless, this area breeds stoicism and a fine sense of history, so they probably realized that–wherever we fell on the continuum of deranged behavior–we were fairly harmless; many of them befriended us, and more that a few of them took it upon themselves to shepherd us on our journey into country life, making sure that we learned from our mistakes, and gently steering us away from making any so damaging that real catastrophe might ensue.

And thus did we learn about septic fields, well-drilling, drainage, crop planting and harvesting, feed management, livestock-rearing, hay baling, and enough medical and veterinary lore to successfully navigate most farm emergencies: Mr. She amputates half his index finger in a tractor/fence maintenance accident?  Apply pressure, wrap firmly, elevate.  Get him in the car while he’s still upright in case he passes out, so you don’t have to pick him up and drag him up the hill.  Get a plastic bag with ice, wrap what remains of severed digit in paper towel and put in bag.  Move tractor (which is still running and facing downhill) into safe place and turn it off.  Only then, proceed to the hospital. Lambing emergency in the barn?  Get a bucket of soapy water, a hay bale, a bottle of Crisco oil, and (worst case) a bag of sugar, and get on with it. You’ll have a successful outcome more often than not, even though the bruises on your hands may take weeks to heal.  (AFAIK, there’s no treatment or manicure on earth that will hasten the process or cover up the damage.  Deal with it.)

The debt Mr. She and I owe our neighbors and friends is immense, and I’ve done what I can over the years to pay it back–although I don’t think any of them is keeping an accounting–with my “citified” skills, usually involving computers; still, my proudest moments are when one of my farmer friends calls me up and says something like, “I think there may be another piglet still inside my sow, but I can’t get my hand in there to find out.  Could you come over and have a feel around?”   And that’s when I know we made exactly the right decision all those years ago, and that I belong here.

Mr. She used to say that he’d acquired the equivalent of a second Ph.D., this one in country living, from our farmer friends and neighbors, as the two of us listened closely, learned from, and lived by, the lessons our new friends taught us.

More than a few of those lessons had to do with matters of meteorological prognostication. If you’re a farmer, even a small-time, hobby farmer like the two of us, you must pay attention to, and work with, the weather.  This can be difficult when your only source of forecasting is the unreliable and notoriously inaccurate National Weather Service.  So you find alternatives.

And one of the invaluable pieces of advice that came to us early, from an old gentleman living up the road, was to wait until the “Three Snowmen” had paid their visit in the spring before getting really serious about doing any outside planting.  Because April is an untrustworthy month, and while it offers enticements of warmer weather and better things to come, it also occasionally brings back unwelcome blasts of winter.  He explained that tradition (informed by experience) says that after you think that spring has arrived and that it’s safe to begin work outside, there will be three further, sudden and short, intervals of cold, snow and ice, before you can actually trust that the plants will be safe.  All the old-timers around here seem to know this bit of country wisdom; fewer of the younger folks do.  However, I listened and took heed.

But not without wondering where it came from.  So I did a bit of looking around and, as usual, the trusty Farmer’s Almanac (whose long-range forecast for this winter turned out to be spot-on) is a good place to start:

Perhaps you’ve heard the old proverb that warns not to plant until after the “Three Ice Men” have passed, but do you know who these mysterious Ice Men are? The tradition comes from Northern Europe, and is tied to the successive feasts of St. Mamertus, St. Pancras, and St. Servatius …

Apparently, the tradition originated in Northern and Eastern Europe as, over time, the dates of last frost in each area came to be associated with certain saints’ days–in these cases, a group of them known collectively as the Ice Saints, whose feast days fall between May 11 and 13.  Galileo is said to have engaged some of his students on an annual data-gathering study to confirm these findings, although the Royal Meteorological Society has said that the belief is just a myth.  Spoilsports, and just what I’d expect.

As the legend has evolved in these parts, it seems to have lost its religious significance, and we generally expect the “snowmen” to visit one-at-a-time, rather than in a contiguous group.  Although I thought this year might be different: A couple of weeks ago, we had a three-day stretch, two of which featured temperatures well below freezing, and the third of which was just above.  I found myself really hoping that was it, and we were done with winter.

But, not so fast.  I think what we saw earlier this month might just have been the pilot for a new CBS television series called Two-And-A-Half Snowmen.

Because the third little guy showed up this morning.

Fortunately, I was prepared.  Any tender annuals I’ve already put out are in baskets or pots, and I’ve moved them into the sunroom.  Indoor plants that I’d put out on the brick patio (it’s been in the 70s and even up into the 80s a few times since the second week of April) are back inside, and I’ve put cardboard boxes over anything in the ground I think will really suffer, including some of the less-hardy perennials. And for the next couple of weeks, I’ll continue the juggling act that always goes on at this time of year.  (The “official” date for “last frost” in my climate zone is May 31.  I never hold back for that, because the heat of summer comes galloping along shortly after, and if I did, all the spring flowers I love so much would wilt and die before they really got going.)

So today, it’s indoor work.  Projects include cutting a door in half to make a Dutch door for the utility room, and framing in a storage unit I installed the other day.  Plenty to do.

Or perhaps I’ll fill up the bird feeders and just relax in my armchair with a nice cup of hot chocolate and a wooly blanket, and–to slightly–misquote the Christmas poem, “settle my brains for a [hopefully short] winter’s nap.”

Here’s what I’ll be looking at out the window if I do:

How’s the weather in your neck of the woods?

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Yesterday afternoon. Taken from the window of the indoor pool. They predicted 1-3”, and there was a little more than 1” on the car roof – not quite 2”. It didn’t stick to the pavement.

    • #1
  2. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    I could use some neighborly advice on the climate in our new hometown. We’re so far south that the peach tree is already in fruit! I’m grateful the unusual Texas freeze in February didn’t completely damage this year’s blossoms. 

    Being a (mostly) mid-Atlantic resident until 2020, I need to figure out when to pick the peaches – before the local wildlife get ahead of me.

     

     

    • #2
  3. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Psymon didn’t need to think twice about the best place from him this morning!

    • #3
  4. Chris Oler Coolidge
    Chris Oler
    @ChrisO

    Lovely writing. We, too, had a visit from the snowman, just north of Indy.

    • #4
  5. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    NJ here.  25 miles west of WTC.    64 and drizzle.  Heading for 32 overnight.

    The lovely and green-thumbed Mrs E has me penciled in to bring all the moveable pots and containers indoors after work.    (My contributions to the garden are all in the strong-back-weak-mind category)

    Her rule of thumb for first planting day is Mother’s Day.   Pretty close to the Ice Saints.

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Snowed here, too. But, hey, it’s not like it’s July.

    • #6
  7. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Here in North Texas we had a freeze warning for overnight Tuesday into Wednesday. Much concern in the suburban subdivision because many of us had just planted new stuff to replace the plants killed by the February freeze. But I don’t think the temperature ever got that cold. What frost did form melted quickly as the temperature moved into the 40s by 9 am. 

    When we lived in western New York state (2000 – 2018) the general rule for household yards was “don’t plant before May 15.” That town was expecting 2 – 3 inches of wet slushy snow this morning (Wednesday). Although we lived in a housing subdivision, there was a farm across the street. While we lived there, the farm family (two brothers and their families) switched the greenhouse part of the farm from producing ornamental hanging flower baskets for the local home improvement stores to growing seedlings of cash crops for other farmers, so that when the fields were finally thawed out and dry enough for planting the other farmers could plant seedlings instead of seeds to give themselves a 6 – 8 week head start on spring crop growing season. 

    • #7
  8. American Abroad Thatcher
    American Abroad
    @AmericanAbroad

    It was hot today.

    I adore your stories, She.  It’s like you are writing some modern day Poor Richard’s Almanack–a bit of practical advice for the hobby farmers, but full of wit and wisdom for the rest of us who have yet to dirty our hands in the soil.  

    • #8
  9. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    American Abroad (View Comment):
    It was hot today.

    I adore your stories, She. It’s like you are writing some modern day Poor Richard’s Almanack–a bit of practical advice for the hobby farmers, but full of wit and wisdom for the rest of us who have yet to dirty our hands in the soil.

    One of the nicest comments ever! My day may not abound with what some might consider excitement, “But”–as Willie Nelson says–“it’s my life.”  And I’m always grateful when one of my posts is received in the spirit in which it’s meant.  Thank you.

    Hmm.  All I’ve ever seen of BKK is the airport terminal and the inside of a hotel room.  (It was July, and very hot.)  Although my hotel suite was far-and-away the nicest I’ve ever stayed in, the restaurant was lovely, and I enjoyed a spectacular meal. I mentioned the experience in passing in a post about my epically bad sense of direction a few years ago, thus:

    A week or so ago, I spent the night in a hotel whose front desk clerk kindly upgraded my room to a “superior suite.” Big mistake. I spent half the night trying to find my way to the bathroom and ending up in the walk-in closet every time. Not kidding.

    A memorable trip, in so many ways.

    • #9
  10. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    • #10
  11. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    I grew up in the northwest part of Pennsylvania. We had a large garden, where we grew most of the vegetables we would eat each year. My dad’s rule was that it was only truly safe to plant after Memorial Day, though he sometimes broke that rule in a warm May. Between late planting and a chance of a late August frost, our growing season was not always long enough for sweet corn.

    • #11
  12. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    Here in Chandler, AZ it’s as bright as a new penny, not a cloud anywhere in a very big sky.  It was in the high fifties this morning and it has warmed steadily, will peak at 84 around 4:00 PM.  The wind has decided to kick up, not a steady wind, but a nervous, twitchy wind, unsure of itself, just enough to fill my pool with debris.  It’s a bad day for golf.  In a couple of days it’s supposed to cool, highs in the seventies.  That’s pretty unusual for this time of year.  It’s been a dry winter and you’d think that would be expected; we live in the Sonoran Desert, but the Climate Change promoters are quick to claim responsibility.  They quickly forget that the two prior winters were wet, very wet, threatening reservoirs, requiring water releases and turning the desert into a green landscape.  Of course the subsequent fires (desert growth eventually dries up and is fodder for wildfires) was also claimed as evidence of climate change.  Funny, tree rings indicate that these cycyles have been repeated for centuries or longer.

    • #12
  13. Midwest Southerner Member
    Midwest Southerner
    @MidwestSoutherner

    She: Because the third little guy showed up this morning.

    Not gonna lie — I’m a tad jealous. All the snow we were supposed to get skipped right over us and landed in Kansas and beyond. My husband and mother-in-law are very happy it missed us, but this snow queen is not. ;)

    Such a delightful post, @She. Thank you for sharing the story and beautiful photo.

    • #13
  14. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I had planted all the frost-tolerant stuff in our garden: potatoes, peas, swiss chard, spinach (for pizza), cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, radishes, carrots. Most of it has been growing nicely. It wasn’t bothered by the frosts we had last week, but I didn’t expect all these things to be able to handle temperatures down to the 26F that had been forecast for last night and tonight. So yesterday I covered everything up (except the potatoes) with double plastic sheet and blankets, usually both or at least double plastic.  I took these covers off for a few hours of daylight today. (We’ve been having alternate sunshine and fluffy snow flurries.)  I didn’t cover up the rhubarb; it looked OK earlier but I should go check. 

    It’s OK to go through this routine, as we did last year, but it will be a nuisance to dry out all the plastic and blankets enough to fold them up and put them back in the barn. 

    • #14
  15. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    I’m just up the road from you @she so my weather is much like yours. Got into the car this morning and suddenly realized that I had left the windows cracked open after yesterday’s warm, sunny day. I’m glad for leather seats, seat heaters and a roll of paper towels in the trunk. The three snowmen and the three icemen make a fascinating story. Is this the “onion snow” I have heard of in these parts? 

    Also, what is the (worst case) bag of sugar for?

    • #15
  16. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    JoelB (View Comment):

    I’m just up the road from you @ she so my weather is much like yours. Got into the car this morning and suddenly realized that I had left the windows cracked open after yesterday’s warm, sunny day.

    Wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve done that….

    Also, what is the (worst case) bag of sugar for?

    Thanks for asking.  I think I remember writing about this (many) years ago: Hang on a second:

    Ah, here it is, in the section on Obstetrics:

    I’ve written at length on the birthing process of sheep, and if you would like more details, please go here and take a look. I’ll just reiterate that with a hay bale, a jug of Crisco oil, a bucket of hot soapy water, and a pair of rubber gloves, almost all things are possible, and, if you’re careful and persistent, the result is usually a live birth.

    I will mention now, as I neglected to in my previous post, the value and utility of a bag of sugar as a medical tool (white, brown, organic or not, cane or beet, makes no never mind to the mom).

    A bag of sugar comes into its own in the rare instances when the birthing apparatus of the mom everts itself and makes an unwelcome appearance on the outside. This is never desirable, and can be very off-putting, especially if you’re not expecting it (and why on earth would you be?).

    However, liberally sprinkling the parts with sugar (which reduces the swelling and promotes healing) makes the job of shoving them back inside much easier. (If you’re not sure how things go, or where, there are lots of helpful illustrations on the Internet to assist. Again, I’ll spare you the explicit details).

    Once you’ve got things back where they belong, simply remove the two loops of baling twine from the handy hay bale you’ve been using a ramp, a stool and a prop (the mom will thank you for taking them off, as this makes it much easier for her to eat the hay), and loop them, using her wool as  tying-off points, in a big “X,” across her behind. This will keep things in place until her muscles firm up and can take care of themselves. Voila! Another success!

    So.  There it is.

     

    • #16
  17. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    She (View Comment):

    So. There it is.

    Whoa, The things you can learn on Ricochet. Glad I asked. I’ll file this away in case I ever get stuck for a topic of conversation. 

     

    • #17
  18. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    She (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    I’m just up the road from you @ she so my weather is much like yours. Got into the car this morning and suddenly realized that I had left the windows cracked open after yesterday’s warm, sunny day.

    Wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve done that….

    Also, what is the (worst case) bag of sugar for?

    Thanks for asking. I think I remember writing about this (many) years ago: Hang on a second:

    Ah, here it is, in the section on Obstetrics:

    I’ve written at length on the birthing process of sheep, and if you would like more details, please go here and take a look. I’ll just reiterate that with a hay bale, a jug of Crisco oil, a bucket of hot soapy water, and a pair of rubber gloves, almost all things are possible, and, if you’re careful and persistent, the result is usually a live birth.

    I will mention now, as I neglected to in my previous post, the value and utility of a bag of sugar as a medical tool (white, brown, organic or not, cane or beet, makes no never mind to the mom).

    A bag of sugar comes into its own in the rare instances when the birthing apparatus of the mom everts itself and makes an unwelcome appearance on the outside. This is never desirable, and can be very off-putting, especially if you’re not expecting it (and why on earth would you be?).

    However, liberally sprinkling the parts with sugar (which reduces the swelling and promotes healing) makes the job of shoving them back inside much easier. (If you’re not sure how things go, or where, there are lots of helpful illustrations on the Internet to assist. Again, I’ll spare you the explicit details).

    Once you’ve got things back where they belong, simply remove the two loops of baling twine from the handy hay bale you’ve been using a ramp, a stool and a prop (the mom will thank you for taking them off, as this makes it much easier for her to eat the hay), and loop them, using her wool as tying-off points, in a big “X,” across her behind. This will keep things in place until her muscles firm up and can take care of themselves. Voila! Another success!

    So. There it is.

    I’m glad I never had to do that part. I wouldn’t have been prepared.

    • #18
  19. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    Here in my neck of the woods – southern AZ – it’s sunny, warm (83) windy and very dry. I carry my saline spray around with me so I can give my dry nose a squirt every now and then. And my allergy eye drops. And my chap stick.

    • #19
  20. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    JoelB (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    So. There it is.

    Whoa, The things you can learn on Ricochet. Glad I asked. I’ll file this away in case I ever get stuck for a topic of conversation.

    LOL.  The most fun I ever had with the topic was at a faculty dinner, among a bunch of university academics when Mr. She was still teaching. (I did wait until someone asked me a direct question, before holding forth…).

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):

    Here in my neck of the woods – southern AZ – it’s sunny, warm (83) windy and very dry. I carry my saline spray around with me so I can give my dry nose a squirt every now and then. And my allergy eye drops. And my chap stick.

    Sounds very nice, compared to the conditions outside here at the moment.

    • #20
  21. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    It’s been fluctuating here NYC too but I don’t recall an icing in the past month. Officially here I think May 15th is our last potential frost. So I just looked it up and that’s St. Dympha’s feast day, the patron saint of mental illness and anxiety…how appropriate…lol. If you get a frost that late I bet a gardener would be fit to be tied. ;)

    So you weren’t raised as a farmer?  You took it on later in life?

    • #21
  22. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Manny (View Comment):

    It’s been fluctuating here NYC too but I don’t recall an icing in the past month. Officially here I think May 15th is our last potential frost. So I just looked it up and that’s St. Dympha’s feast day, the patron saint of mental illness and anxiety…how appropriate…lol. If you get a frost that late I bet a gardener would be fit to be tied. ;)

    Wow.  Just looked up poor St. Dymphna.  What a life.  

    So you weren’t raised as a farmer? You took it on later in life?

    I spent the first ten years of my life in West Africa.  Some of those years were definitely “rural,” not to say primitive, but not farming, no.  Then elementary school for 18 months in the States, boarding school for two years in the UK, then back to the states for high school and I’ve been here ever since.  Until Mr. She and I moved out here in 1986, I’d lived in suburban Pittsburgh, and after we got married, we lived in Pittsburgh for several years.  I’ve always loved the countryside, though, and we spent a fair bit of time hiking and camping in the early days of our married life.  Mr. She was born and raised in Pittsburgh.  His only connection to a farm was a fond memory of one that his uncle owned up near Erie PA, which the family would visit in the summer.  He loved animals, as do I, and getting out of the city when we did seemed to be a good thing to do, and fit in with some other family circumstances we were dealing with at the time.  

     

    • #22
  23. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    She (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    It’s been fluctuating here NYC too but I don’t recall an icing in the past month. Officially here I think May 15th is our last potential frost. So I just looked it up and that’s St. Dympha’s feast day, the patron saint of mental illness and anxiety…how appropriate…lol. If you get a frost that late I bet a gardener would be fit to be tied. ;)

    Wow. Just looked up poor St. Dymphna. What a life.

    So you weren’t raised as a farmer? You took it on later in life?

    I spent the first ten years of my life in West Africa. Some of those years were definitely “rural,” not to say primitive, but not farming, no. Then elementary school for 18 months in the States, boarding school for two years in the UK, then back to the states for high school and I’ve been here ever since. Until Mr. She and I moved out here in 1986, I’d lived in suburban Pittsburgh, and after we got married, we lived in Pittsburgh for several years. I’ve always loved the countryside, though, and we spent a fair bit of time hiking and camping in the early days of our married life. Mr. She was born and raised in Pittsburgh. His only connection to a farm was a fond memory of one that his uncle owned up near Erie PA, which the family would visit in the summer. He loved animals, as do I, and getting out of the city when we did seemed to be a good thing to do, and fit in with some other family circumstances we were dealing with at the time.

     

    Sounds wonderful.  

    • #23