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Possumhaw: Wintertime and the living ain't easy


Shannon Bardwell



Snow dusted across the Prairie, temperatures plummeted. Sam built a wood fire. We have other heat sources, but firewood is cheap and available and propane has become high and unavailable. 


For years Sam got up during the night to keep the fire going. Then getting up, stoking and reloading the firebox became too draining for the next day's work schedule so we bought a propane heater. This winter has been hard and with the continued freezing temperatures, Sam was again stoking and refilling the firebox all night.  


Outside, birds fluttered and scurried in search of food. I put on my heaviest coat and Sherpa-lined aviator hat with the ear flaps and made the rounds, pouring seed on the deck railing, scattering a bit in the driveway and sprinkling some in a wooden box for ground feeders. Before I could turn toward the house hungry birds were gathering seed. The two deer feeders were full of corn, often feeding 20 or so deer at a time. 


Roasted peanuts were left from my brother's watching Broncos football playoffs. I poured the peanuts out on the ground; something ate them, shell and all. Nothing goes to waste. 


A farmer friend said he planted cool weather Swiss chard in his garden and it was the first to go in the freeze. He also said that all outside water was turned off and daily he hauled water in buckets from the creek. I hoped the creek was still flowing because our lakes were frozen again. This time it took more than a hammer to break the ice. I found an old ax in the garage and took four swings before breaking through. I made a dozen breaks so that the birds and the ducks could get water. The holes froze over again. 


Our Swiss chard grows in the greenhouse. Temperatures dipped into the 20s, even with a small heater. Chard stalks come up in rainbow colors; then the deep dark leaves fan out. I often photograph the stalks at ground level. They are so colorful they remind me of glow sticks that kids play with. 


Chard can be used like spinach; it can be cooked and added to omelets, pastas or soups or eaten fresh in salads. I'd love to eat like Barbara Kingsolver in her book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." She says, "This is the story ... of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air."  


That would mean no bananas. I'd have to have coffee. 


If the freeze rids my greenhouse of white flies, I might have a better chance this summer, along with Sam's crappie fishing, Shirley's bread making, and Charles and Nell bringing us their caught and canned salmon. We swapped for honey from a friend and were given homemade vanilla extract. If I didn't buy it, then it's local.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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