It’s been colder, but it sure is cold now and bound to get even more so. As a rule, I like cold weather. While temperature is observable and recordable as a matter of fact, cold is relative. My Mississippi raising has conditioned me to use the word cold whenever the temperature drops below 60°F. One can see that my idea of cold and a North Dakotan’s idea might be subject to completely different scales. 2018 will ring in with an Arctic blast that embraces nearly the entire nation, with some areas expected to break records.
I have been out in the cold today, with two or three projects that needed attention in spite of the cold weather, and a couple because of it. My first and most important project was to fabricate a windshield for my Kawasaki Mule. It’s just fine running around in the summer time with an open front, but on a cold, rainy day, you can quickly get more of that than you want. I looked around and found manufactured windshields that were pretty pricey, so I decided to make my own. I was at Lowe’s shortly after they opened up at 8:00 AM this morning. The temperature was hovering right at freezing, and a drizzling rain/mist was falling. The bridges were already beginning to get a bit slick. I was standing in the biting wind and drizzling rain at Lowe’s front door, which was supposed to open for me. It didn’t. In spite of it being 8:15AM, they weren’t yet open, perhaps because I was the only one that seemed to be shopping this morning. I forced the outer door open, which you can do with an automatic door. I stepped inside, only to be thwarted by the second door which would not budge. I stood there looking through the door at the employees standing there looking back at me. None of us moved. I pointed at my watch. They looked at each other, unsure of what they were supposed to do.
“It’s after 8:00, and you’re supposed to be open,” I shouted through the door.
No one moved at first. Finally, like molasses on the almost January morning, one moved off to the customer service area and after a minute returned to open the door. I suppose they had to get permission to let customers enter. My way of thinking is that they should have already had permission to let customers enter at the official opening time. I wonder how long they would have waited had I not been there. About the time I got my buggy and started back to the hardware area, four or five others came in. It is unusual for corporate big/box stores retailers not to observe prompt opening times. Since their door faces North, maybe they were putting off the cold wind for as long as they could.
I had made a list, which I abandoned immediately as I thought of an alternate way to fabricate my windshield since they didn’t have enough of the size bolts I needed in any combination of materials―brass, steel, stainless steel― to do it the way I’d planned. I picked out alternate fasteners suitable for Alternate Plan A. I then went over to look at the Plexiglas. Hmmmmm! Just like the fasteners, they didn’t dimensionally have exactly what I wanted in thickness. I had wanted at least 5/16” thick, and preferably 3/8” thick to have good rigidity, meaning that I would be able to have a light frame for the windshield. The only size they had that was 24” x 48” was 1/8” thick. I would have to scratch my head on this a bit while I developed Alternate Plan C. While the 1/8″ thick would work, my frame would have to be much more robust. I put the Plexiglas in my cart and returned to the nuts and bolts. Nothing I had already selected would work now and as Alternate Plan C was just about materialized in my mind, I picked out some more nuts and bolts once I finally found a combination that would do what I wanted. The revised frame also required a trip to our shop to get some materials that Lowe’s might have had, but I didn’t want to buy them when I knew we had some on hand, which primarily was 1” x 5/8″ uni-strut. So I paid for my stuff, about $55.00 worth, then went to the shop. There I loaded up a 10 foot piece of the uni-strut, then back to the house to start putting it all together.
We have outside dogs. Two of them (Ruby and Relay) are heavy-fur dogs. Ruby is mostly chow, and cold does not bother her one bit. It is the summers that are hard on her. In the winter time, she will curl up in any place out of the wind and do just like you see Alaskan sled dogs; unless it is time to eat, or an alien intruder disturbs her territory, she will not move, nor come when you call, nor even look up. The only time she wants to come in is during a thunderstorm. She is terrified by the sound of thunder ten miles…nay twenty even…off, and frets, whines, and begs in a panic to come inside. She usually gets her way unless no one is home, then she retreats to my studio shed, which is dry and out of the weather. She will find a place there to hide until the storm is over.
I keep a heat lamp out on my carport in the winter-time for her and Relay, but Ruby seldom gets under it. The heat lamp is Relay’s cold-weather domicile. She is as contented under that heat lamp as any dog laying out in the sun seems to be, which is pretty high on the contentment scale. The radiant heat is like a narcotic to a dog. They get drunk on it.
Babalu and Elsa Belle are a different matter. They are short-haired dogs. On a cool/cold night, they curl up together in an old green Naugahyde recliner that is in my studio shed. It is the dog-chair. They seem content there. Babalu has learned that I will let him inside the studio itself when I am down there on a cold night. He has a spot he curls up in and will not move or make a sound all night long, fearful, perhaps, that I will remember he is there if he calls attention to himself, and make him go outside. I won’t leave him in the studio if I’m not there, since he can’t come and go without someone to open the door, but he has been fortunate over the last couple of weeks that I have slept early and been down at the studio all night long.
He likes it warm, and he likes my company as well. I have never seen a better mannered pit-bull. He is the most gentle dog, except for with cats, ‘possums, armadillos, and coyotes. The rest of the dogs are afraid of coyotes. Babalu hunts them. This is great fun for him and will stay so until he gets some age on him and finds himself inadvertently in the middle of a large pack. He will be able to hold his own for a while, but one day the pack will get him, and if not get him outright, then get the best of him. And Babalu has learned, all on his own, not to show too much interest in raccoons and skunks; the former is more fierce that he had imagined at first, and the latter has its own set of weapons in dealing with the likes of Babalu. He has had a shredded nose and a full face spray more than once, but far less frequently with increasing experience.
Babalu does not do cold weather well. Canaan, my son, is Babalu’s real master, but Canaan has left him with us. If my idea of cold is below 60°, Canaan’s idea of cold is anything below 70°. He and Babalu are alike in that. Wherever Canaan is this New Year’s Eve, I guarantee you it is not outside. He is somewhere where it is warm. So is Babalu.
I looked at Babalu curled up in the green dog chair. I looked at bit later and saw he and Elsa Belle curled up together in the green dog chair. It was noon, and already as warm as it was going to be today. The temperature would drop throughout the afternoon and get hard cold tonight, with a howling North wind driving every bit of what we laymen call heat into oblivion; the true scientist measures heat on the Kelvin scale where anything above absolute zero is heat, bringing back to memory about cold being relative.
I am in my studio writing this and I can hear the wind gusts as they roar through the shed, occasionally creaking some tiles in the lay-in ceiling. While Babalu will come in, wants to come in, longs to come in, seeing as how he gets up and stands by the door every time I go in or out, giving me that whole body shake, the kind where he wags his tail and his whole butt wags back and forth so that he repeatedly bumps his own head with his rear end…you know the wag, I’m talking about.
I looked at the dogs, the pitiful dogs. I looked at my Kawasaki Mule and its in-process windshield fabrication, and decided that the windshield would have to wait. It was going to be too cold for the next several days for Babalu and Elsa Belle. I must make them a shelter.
I hopped in my pickup truck and headed down to the barn. I loaded up twelve square hay bales and came back up to my pavilion
which is next to my studio. I have a hot tub down there that I never use anymore, and I do my bullet casting there, and use it as a work area. It is at the bottom of the hill below my house, between there and the studio. It has a concrete retaining wall on the south side because it is partially embedded in the hillside. My plan was to stack up some hay bales against the concrete retaining wall and make them a nice, cozy, comfy dog house. I got them all stacked together like an igloo, but without a dome roof, I put a sheet of plywood on top and stacked one of the hay bales on it to hold the plywood down as well as provide some roof insulation. I fabricated an entry door on the west side, with a pathway between the hot tub and the hay bales where the wind would not blow straight in. A door on the North side would not do at all. I had some nice air-filled shipping wrap that I stapled to each side of the makeshift door-frame so the dogs would have a door to go in and out that wouldn’t let too much cold air in. I stuck my head inside and looked at the stark concrete floor. That would never do.
I had a blue tarp that I had bought for just this reason and had never opened. I got it out, folded it so that it would just fit the interior floor of the dog house, sewed it into a bag, took the last hay bale, tore it apart, and then stuffed it into the bag. Now, they would have an insulated, soft floor, that would stay dry and free from fleas and ticks. I had made them a couple of cushions last year out of canvas and hay, but wet dogs got the canvas wet, then the hay on the inside got wet, which resulted in a moldy, composty, nasty mess. The canvas rotted out on the bottom side and the floor was wet underneath. I wanted to avoid that this time, thus the blue tarp. Now, wet dogs will still have dry bedding underneath them.
I went and fetched Babalu off of the green dog-chair and walked him over to the new dog house. I had to push him inside, but once inside, he sniffed every corner, then turned around three times and promptly laid himself down. He is a lot smarter than Elsa Belle. It took me several tries to get her in there, and once in, she would not stay, since she apparently thinks the green dog-chair is where she is supposed to be. I set some stuff on the green dog-chair to block her from climbing up in it, and now, she and Babalu are comfortably curled up in their hay-house.
Relay went down there and sneaked around (she is sneaky by nature), then went and fetched Ruby. They both looked and sniffed around. They went to the door, but would not go in. Relay then went back up to her car-port heat lamp, and Ruby to the nether world where she typically resides, ignoring all us weak, lesser mammals until a thunderstorm approaches. Short of that, she is the most independent dog I have ever seen. She may decide to let you scratch her ear, or she may not. She takes you on her terms and is just as likely to decide that she does not want you to touch her as she is to come when you call. The decision rests solely with her. She is 14 years old, and if she’s not yet completely deaf, she soon will be. She can sure hear thunder, though, and she may not hear you call her when it’s chow-time.
Feeling good about myself and the dog house, I was then able to return with a good conscience to my Mule/windshield project. I cut out some rubber washers to use as cushions for the Plexiglas so that the bolts would not be hard up against the thin plastic. I fabricated a leather apron for the bottom since the Mule has a front hood that you can open, and need to open to check the coolant. I had to leave a gap at the bottom so the hood could be opened. The leather apron stops the cold air from coming through the gap but still lets you open the hood. I’m testifying that that heavy-duty sewing machine I bought is worth its weight in gold. I’ll sew anything that will stand still long enough to get sewn.
Now, there’s an Arctic blast rattling my studio windows, my dogs are happily snug inside their new hay bale shelter, my wife is reading in her chair in the warm, inviting house at the top of the hill. I’ve also called both my children and wished them a safe and Happy New Year, on this, the last day of a good year and the eve of a new year that brings with it hope and promise. I’ll publish this and then drive my M
ule back up to the house with its brand-new windshield and not have the cold, biting, Arctic wind blasting me in the face when I do.
Earlier, I had finished a couple of other projects. I installed some low bay LED lights at the pavilion, making it brighter out there than the four existing incandescent bulbs ever thought about making it, and I installed some LED floodlights that light up my shooting range so that I can shoot at night if I am of a mind.
Tomorrow, in the cold, my family will gather, and we will eat the traditional meal of hog jowl, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, sweet potatoes, and corn bread. We wil
l eat those things in such quantities and with such thanksgiving that it will virtually assure the entire world of a peaceful, prosperous, and healthy 2018. Well, maybe not the entire world, but most of it. If I could send some of our New Year’s Day fare to Kim Jong Un, I would; it might help his temperament. If I could send some to the folks in Venezuela, I would; I’m sure they’d be glad to get it. I wish everyone could have it and enjoy this custom which is such a big part of my family and my new year.
May your 2018 be filled with hog jowl, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, sweet potatoes, and corn bread. And if you don’t eat any of those things for any one or several of a variety of reasons, for whatever reasons at all…may the peace, health, and prosperity in the new year that folklore tells us accompany them be yours just the same. It is my new year’s wish for you.
Happy cold New Year to you, from all of us here in frigid Mississippi, and from the warm, happy, and now grateful free-range dogs!
I am so glad to be here to witness the birth of a new year.
©2017 Mississippi Chris Sharp