Well, the non-freeziness didn’t last long. Just to teach me to stop moaning about soggy weetabix days, the Universe decided to plonk a bit more of the very-pretty-but-bloody-cold stuff on our part of the world. In the deep early winter, frosty winds make me moan. The earth stands hard as iron, water like a stone, and the piggy poo is harder than both of them put together. Clearing the frozen poo from their frozen pen now requires the determination of a master sculptor with a big chisel. It’s tempting to just leave it be – but the thought of how vile it will be when the next big melt arrives is keeping me on my icey OCD toes. And speaking of toes, a word of advice for any of you out there tempted to kick down those oh-so-annoying tufty-looking molehills – DON’T. They may look tufty and crumbly and ripe for the kicking, but they ain’t. In this weather they are harder than iron and stone and pig poo put together, and you will be very very sorry.
But, on to more cheery things….
Ever since Mad Lenny arrived to grace our sorry shores with his spitty ever-presence, we have been lacking in the animal-shelter department. Last winter, we divided our big field so that Duc and Valentine could be moved from the willow field across the stream into an area where they could get access to an area of the barn buildings. All was fine and dandy, with all our llamas having nice cosy sleeping quarters out of the wind and rain and snow, and everybody was happy, happy, happy. But the shuffling of studs necessitated by Lenny’s arrival, left Pedro, with Ana for company, in Duc and Valentine’s old field. Which is lovely in the summer, because the big oak trees provide excellent shady shelter from the blazing sun.
But in the deep mid winter, there is nowhere warm and dry for a poor llama to lay his head, and we knew we needed to brush off our considerable llama-shelter building skills and conjure up yet another little llama house on the prairie. So, before Simon went to England last week, we duly purchased all the makings from the trusty nirvana that is Brico Dépôt, and kept our fingers crossed that the not-too-windy-and-snowy weather would hold until he returned. Which it pretty much did. But with heavy snow forecast for the end of the week, we planned to begin the Great Construction the day after his return.
The day arrived, relatively mild and dry. Just perfect for a bit of shelter-building. Except that the battery on the tractor (which we needed to pull the trailer-load of materials across the stream and up the hill into the field) was flat, and the battery on the electric drill-cum-screwdriver needed charging too. And somehow, one of those time-warp things occurred, where Time rushes from the morning-when-everything-is-possible to the evening-when-suddenly-it’s-too-late without even stopping for breath. And, lo and behold, it all had to wait till the next day.
The next day arrived, in a sub-zero cloud of castigation, rebuking us for our dalliance with a scowl of impending precipitation. Suitably chastised, we skipped to it. Well, Simon skipped to it, while I did the relentless round of hay-delivery, water-bucket ice smashing, pig-poo chiselling and such like. And then, when my fingers, inside their three-layer coating of gloves and mittens, had succumbed to their accustomed winter whiteness of Raynaud’s, I joined him, just in time to assist in the erection of the Back Wall – which he had cunningly constructed in a matter of minutes out of a few toilet roll tubes and some papier-mâché.
One of the things I love about our field-shelter construction projects is the way they sort of evolve during the construction process. Simon does a very thorough job of planning the broad outline, and ensuring that he has sufficient of the right materials for the job, but much of the fine detail gets to wait until the building starts, so that it can be tailored to the needs of the situation as it unfolds. One of the things I hate about our field-shelter construction projects is the way that Simon has to stand around for elastically long minutes, with a puzzled expression on his face, thinking out loud about how he is going to proceed with the next part of the job, while I am standing holding up a wall of heavy wood on an exposed minus-four hillside, where it is about to snow.
But, apart from the extremity-punishing cold, the whole thing was a pretty enjoyable experience, watched over by the hopeful brown eyes of two curious llamas who were willing us on to the finishing line, so that they would have somewhere lovely to sleep that night. We didn’t quite get it finished on the first day but we did at least manage to get part of the roof on just as darkness and the first flurry of snow fell. And, as we left to do the last round of animal chores, and feed the poor neglected piggies, (who had uncharacteristically given up waiting for their dinner and gone to bed already), the llamas sidled into the hay-strewn shelter with a hum of gratitude and a sigh of relief.
And yesterday, after some tricky sawing, a ‘Bon Courage’ from the Post Lady, and an impressively well-coordinated bit of blind banging-in of roof nails in response to shouted directions from underneath, the Eighth Wonder of the World was completed. As I walked away after taking the final picture, I reflected on the fact that Ana is the only one of our llamas to have witnessed the construction of all three of the shelters that we have made over the last couple of years, (see here and here.) I hope she appreciates the improvements in our efforts.