The winter solstice is upon us. In a couple of days, we will pass the point where days are getting shorter, and change to where days are getting longer.
I remember when I moved here seven years ago. I brought sixteen chickens with me, 15 of them laying hens, most of whom weren't actively laying at the time of the move, but a few were. Two eggs were laid en route. One egg was laid the day after I got here. Then nothing. I moved here December 9.
I had to do my baking. I had to buy eggs from the -- gulp! -- store. I baked some of the cookies, and then the day of the solstice arrived -- and one of the hens started laying eggs again. I finished my baking with fresh-laid eggs and fed the rest of the store-boughts to the dogs.
The animals know.
I don't know how they know, but they know.
Two summers later, Dutch had a mild colic near the end of June. When I called the vet about it, I was told that several horses had colicked that morning. "It seems to happen on the solstice," the receptionist told me.
No idea why.
I look forward to the solstices, both summer and winter, because by the time they arrive, I am ready for the change in seasons they herald. In summer, the days have been getting longer, and hotter, and the evening rides have been delayed longer and longer, waiting for it to start cooling off. We're ready for the reduction in heat that the shortening days will bring. And the monsoon rains usually start a week or two after the solstice, bringing further relief from the increasing heat.
In winter, the enjoyment of cooler weather and the delight in the snows have been replaced with a chill in the bones that won't go away. Rain and snow have brought mud and chill. Horses are filthy. It's hard to clean corrals, and evening rides have been moved to mid-afternoon, if at all, because the sun is down by 5 and it's pitch black by about 5:30. By the time of the winter solstice, we can hardly wait for the days to start lengthening and warming into spring.
So now, we are about to achieve maximum gloom of night and start turning around. It will be three more months before true warming will occur at this elevation, but the increase in daylight will lift the winter gloom and bring promise of long rides under sunny skies, just around the corner.
Right now, I look out my window at solid gray skies from rain that has threatened all day, but not arrived. It's cold out. Yesterday's rain has left the corrals a muddy, mucky mess. Dawn, the creamy white double-dilute, is a dirty tan from rolling in the mud. Even Dash is muddy. The only one who looks clean (although she's as muddy as the others) is Dottie, the dirt-colored buckskin. Even if I wanted to ride, it would take too long to groom one to leave any time for riding.
So they will stand idle another day.
Our high today was a chilly 47; it will stay within 2 degrees of that for the rest of the week, finally warming to 51 for Christmas day, when I will be in the valley enjoying probably 70 degrees under sunny skies.
But each day, we will gain a few more minutes of sunlight, a degree or so of warmth, and before we know it, the spring equinox will be upon us and life will renew again. The trees will bud and bloom, the bees will arrive to work the orchard, blades of grass will appear on the denuded ground and we will be able to ride in the evenings without having to put on parkas and wool caps.
And then it will get hot, and we will look forward to the summer solstice, and the slow march toward winter.
It's interesting to live in a place that actually has four seasons. For much of my life I lived in Phoenix, where there were nine months of summer, two months of winter, and a couple weeks each for spring and fall. I remember standing at the mailboxes talking to a neighbor in Phoenix in the middle of January one year, in shorts and bare feet, discussing a blizzard back east that was claiming lives. It was 75 degrees where I was standing.
Do I miss it? No. Winters in Phoenix were like summer up here, but summers in Phoenix were like . . . hell.
For now, I will put on my jacket and rubber boots and go out into the cold and gloom and mud and feed my filthy horses, and look askance at the muddy, uncleaned corrals and hope it will warm enough tomorrow to enable the ground to dry enough for me to go clean the manure out of the hoofprints, and maybe the sun will come out long enough for me to justify taking a curry comb to Dash and getting on her back for a short ride. And know that the next ride will get to be a few minutes longer because the day will be a few minutes longer. And the solstice will be behind me and I will look forward to the lengthening rides that come with lengthening days.
And that's the latest from the Ranch.