The Long Winter in Chagrin Falls

The Long Winter in Chagrin Falls

This winter has hit Chagrin Falls with a hard, long cold snap, just as it has the rest of the country.  While managing stable chores in sub zero temperatures by myself for the second week due to Derek’s travel schedule, I came to a startling conclusion: It is possible I may be living in the Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, The Long Winter.  When our daughter Elizabeth was born, the first thing her pediatrician said to us was read to her everyday, starting in infancy. As avid lifelong readers, Derek and I were all to happy to read to her, starting when she was a week old.  But I knew we would be bored with picture books and you can only get so far with Goodnight Moon, so we immediately decided we’d start reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, book by book.  We saved Billy and Blaze for when Lizzie was able to better follow along as she became more engaged in the reading process. After all, Licorice her pony arrived on the farm when she was 2, for heaven’s sake.  We read EVERY single Little House on the Prairie book in chronological order before Lizzie was three. 

Our stable at Hemlock Lane Farm this week! 

As somewhat of a self-professed history buff, I can’t help but voraciously read about the brave men and women who settled this country,  especially those who went out West in covered wagons.  Just reflect about that voyage. I think it’s part of the reason that Yellowstone and especially 1883, the prequel have been so fascinating to the American public.  The risk, the unknown and the unpredictability of such treks leaves us breathless. 

In her book, Laura Ingalls Wilder documents the Long Winter in the Dakota territory in 1880-81, when she was 14 years old, that the family and town must survive.  Harrowing tales of icicles dripping through the roof, the wind blowing the house for days and running out of coal and food make you wonder how any of them survived.  Half way through the winter, the mountains of snow breeched the railroad tracks and no more provisions could be brought to the community.  They lived in a one room log cabin while they learned to twist hay for fuel that they had to reapportion from the animals.  But even getting to the animals was to risk life and limb.  There was a clothes line strung to the barn and you dare not let go of it as the white out blizzard conditions would disorient you in a heartbeat and you’d wander off the path, never to be found until Spring. 


Lambs born on a very chilly day get dried off, put in dog sweaters and brought into a stall at Jenny's ranch.

Those of us who take care of animals in these winter conditions (the entire Rebecca Ray Team: Jenny - cattle, horses and sheep, Me - horses and rabbits and Sara - horses and rabbits) know how these weather conditions, that we have somewhat tamed through the benefit of technology, affect the animals and us.  We are absolutely spoiled rotten to have a wonderful stable facility that is heated with radiant floors and the stall side rarely freezes.  We waited 20 years of our marriage to build this facility. It’s the trade off for having animals in a cold climate.  So, if I can get to the barn in one piece, it’s not so bad. As a kid,  I can’t tell you how many toboggan loads of sloshing hot water my brother and I hauled out to the barn in blizzards to keep horses hydrated and buckets open.  We were lucky if we arrived at the barn with a third of the water we had started out with.  I know Derek did the same growing up.  There’s nothing easy about the responsibility of keeping animals safe, especially in sub-optimal weather. That’s why every kid and young adult who rides needs to start from the ground up, learning how to take care of their animals.  It’s not easy nor for the faint of heart.


Lilly enjoying a warm stall and her winter blanket.

But even with warmer barns, hot and cold running water and the best layout, we are still hostage to the temperatures and Mother Nature.  To blanket or not blanket? To turn out or not turn out? Keeping troughs from freezing with safe heaters.  Chipping ice out of feet, horses and ourselves slipping on ice - the list goes on and on. The good news is, I haven’t needed the clothes line yet as the snow is keeping to a minimum until Friday. Then all bets are off.   It’s just the temperatures.  But there isn’t a day during winter as I bundle up and walk out to that barn that I don’t think about Laura and her family and how hard it was to keep themselves and their animals alive during such weather.  It really was a remarkable feat.  

And as Laura recalls her mother telling her, something we should all remember once in a while,  I am so tired of brown bread with nothing on it," Laura said. "Don't complain, Laura!" Ma told her quickly. "Never complain of what you have. Always remember you are fortunate to have it."

And if you haven’t read the Little House on the Prairie series in a few years, do yourself a favor and revisit your youth and the heroism of the Pioneers.  There are several fabulous adult books about Laura Ingalls as well that make for great reading.  Enjoy!


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