A tough old Swede

The animals are hunkering down on Mr Ed’s Farm tonight. The northwest wind is downright brutal. The horses, normally unaffected by the weather, are hanging close to the south side of the machine shed. They rabbits are wearing their fur coats and the sheep their woollies. It didn’t take me long to do chores but I did take a couple of minutes to check on the horses water. We have an artisan well with the overflow piped out to the pasture. For many years it simply drained into a pond. When it was real cold I had to break a crust of ice over the flowing water so the horses could drink. Last fall we redid the system, running the pipe through a partially buried tank with an overflow drain pipe. I built an insulated box around the tank. I figured if there were going to be problems it would be tonight. I was relieved to see the tank was ice free, the water flowing fast enough to keep the ice at bay. The horses love it.

For some reason the biting wind and bitter cold reminded me of Oscar. I met him my first day at the Forest History Center. He was a natural story teller. One of my favorite Oscar stories was about August Swenson, a tough old Swedish lumberjack. According to Oscar, Gus loved to ice skate. One Sunday afternoon he set out down the Mississippi to see how far he could skate.

The other jacks got a little worried when he didn’t return at dark. A few wanted to go look for him but the other Swedes said not to worry, Gus was tough, a frozen river couldn’t kill him. The night got colder, the wind howled, trees froze and snapped off with loud cracks. Still no Gus. A hour past midnight, they heard him coming. They rushed to the door, pulled him inside and propped him up next to the red hot barrel stove. After a few cups of hot coffee, he told them the story.

“I skated downriver fifteen miles before I hit the open water. I was going fast enough so that didn’t bother me. If it hadn’t for that beaver, I would have kept going. Before I knew it I was in over my head. When I came up for air I found myself clinging to the ice.”. He paused. “What did you do?” they asked. “Well at first I tried to climb out but I kept slipping back. After an hour or so I figured I’d better try something else. By this time the wind had come up and it was getting colder. I figured I’d take advantage of this bit of good fortune”.

“Your up to your neck in a frozen river, it’s getting colder, how is that a bit of good fortune?”

“Well I was wearing my heavy mackinaw. I unbuttoned it, pulled it off and slapped it up on the ice. I waited about an hour until it froze down good and I was able to pull myself out”. I would have been back earlier but I had to build a fire to get my coat loose, then I had to skate fifteen miles up hill”.

It might be brutally cold out there tonight and the animals are hunkered down but I wasn’t worried as I am half Swede. I need a little more weather than this to roll down the ear flaps

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20130119-205116.jpg My friend Oscar, a pretty tough Swede himself.

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The horses hunkering down behind the shed.

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