Temperance

Ever notice how the words temperate and temperamental come from the same Latin root? That root is temperare, which relates to moderation.

In Minnesota, we claim to love our temperate climate—and its clear differentiation between the seasons, but in our waxing poetic about the changes once they’ve happened (the intense greens and blues of summer foliage, sky, and water; the rich, ripe colors and scents of autumn; the balmy caress of spring’s warm breezes; the moon on the breast of new-fallen snow, etc.) we sometimes forget until we’re suffering from the effects of the temperamental side of our supposedly ideal seasonality that temperate climates can also suffer from the full-blown temper tantrums of one season not wanting to share the landscape with the next.

Maybe we should temper our disgust with winter’s apparent unwillingness to play nicely with spring: that same root word that gives us temperate climates also gives us both foul and even tempers, as well as Volstead’s act of temperance (a.k.a. Prohibition), a way to harden steel, and tasty little veggies dipped in batter and deep-fried (OK, I’m kidding about that last one).

Out on the farm, the weather isn’t the only thing that’s been temperamental in the past week. Our health, for one thing, has been compromised by a particularly vigorous strain of viral bronchitis that is making the rounds of Western Minnesota and Eastern South Dakota (we suspect it was brought to us from a certain public school in the eastern Dakotas via a very sweet little boy who hasn’t perfected the “cover your cough” rule). He, of course, got over it in a matter of two or three days thanks to mom’s vigorous ministrations, but not before passing it along to both sets of parents.

About six days later, John and I started developing the symptoms. We hosted a couple of friends for dinner Friday, as we were not yet aware we were carriers of this plague, and one of our guests that night notified me in a quite graphic detail this morning that she’s now down with it in all its glory. We’ve self-quarantined since Monday, but I fear for our house guest of two weeks, a former exchange student of John’s who on Monday (just before the most recent winter tantrum) set off on a round-the-Americas trip.

Dear readers, please forgive us, for it appears we may have unwittingly started a pandemic. Kevin seemed healthy as a horse when he left (as evidenced by his vigorous workouts and enormous appetite for eggs, which put off my scheme of making vast quantities of pasta with the excess), but the six-or-seven day incubation period for this illness means our last, best hope is for the less-temperamental climes of Mexico or Cuba to quell any potential outbreak.

In the hen house, the on-again off-again spring has put my girls in a “fowl” mood. Now that they’ve tasted green grass, it peeves them greatly to be confined–if only by their reluctance to set foot in the snow, being that their ramp has remained open during the daylight hours. The Silkies have gone off laying for a week now in protest of my obvious attempt to murder them all in the process of dusting them for mites, though the heavier breeds thankfully tend to ignore the dire warnings of those silly, poofy-headed things that don’t know any better than to “roost” on the floor. The big girls can see very well that the sky isn’t falling, except for when it is—with that damnable white stuff that blankets their favorite scratching ground.

Out on the sun porch, feathers are mostly unruffled among the younger birds except for when my murderous intentions are revealed through the process of—gasp! Cluck!—providing fresh bedding, water, and food every couple of days. Of course, nine of the fifteen birds in the brooder don’t have any feathers yet to ruffle, but their adolescent sisters are teaching the young ones how to adequately express their displeasure once they do.

I’d worried about potential bullying of the chicks by those in their “awkward phase” of feathering out, but if anything it’s the little ones throwing their weight around (figuratively speaking, of course). Not only are the bigger birds outnumbered, but their legs are the perfect length for little ones to squeeze under, and their emerging tail feathers provide a perfect “apron string” to tug on—leading to hysteria in the big sister and hilarity for spectators as the bigger bird runs squawking down the length of the brooder with puffball in tow.

A moment of peace in the brooder.

A moment of peace in the brooder.

I’d feel badly for the older pullets if they weren’t perfectly capable of escaping, as they often do, by fluttering up to the top of the fountain and perching there, peering in the office window as if to say, “Mom! She’s doing it again!” and then getting knocked off by a peer in a poultry version of “King of the Mountain” (or, to pull in the gossipy hen metaphor, “Queen of the Water Cooler”).

By far the biggest inconvenience of this temperamental weather has been the temperamental nature of our internet service the last couple of days. Thanks to Monday night’s snow-sleet-ice storm (with simultaneous blizzard and tornado warnings an hour south of us), we’ve had about two total hours of service since early Tuesday morning. We’ve taken to wearing our cell phones on our persons, so that the sudden buzzing of the updating devices signals us to quick!—run and check e-mail and hopefully fire off a response with the unknowable amount of time we’ve got to do so. Could be five minutes; could be forty-five. Who knows?

As you might imagine, being both self-quarantined due to illness and cut off from communication (and work when we feel well enough to do so) has caused tempers to flare, and random grumblings about being way out on the “howling edge of civilization, isolated from the world.” OK, maybe the quote wasn’t that elegant, but I try to keep this blog rated PG.

The sad fact is that our internet service sucks out in western Big Stone County. Not “sucks” as in how pretty much everybody who has internet service complains about it at some point or other, but “sucks” in both all the normal ways (slow, unreliable) and some uniquely bizarre ways (bills never arriving, no way to know what’s going on when there’s an outage or when we might expect it to be repaired, if—yes, really–ever).

There are only two reasonably-priced options for internet out here in the western part of the county, and they are both managed by individual (male) proprietors who never answer their phones and whose moms (yes, in both cases) are the main point of contact for setting up service or for any problem that arises. If there’s a big problem, mom usually doesn’t answer her phone either. The way you determine if the problem is widespread is if, on the second day, mom’s voicemail box is full and no longer receiving messages.

I can’t help but feel like a jerk in pointing out how crappy the service is because God bless ‘em (as they say in rural Minnesota), these guys are providing a service that no one else is out here. It might take a month and a half to get set up (three weeks wondering if they received your call, and three weeks feeling as though you shouldn’t leave the house in case today is the day they magically appear), but at least you can get some kind of connection that doesn’t cost more per month than filling the propane tank in deep winter. And they’re really nice people when you do finally meet them.

But the fact is, no professional person in their right mind would move to western Big Stone County—even along our lovely lake–with the poor quality of internet service here (detractors fully granted permission to chortle over my admission of insanity). Sure, you can get passable service in the towns—I had decent connections in both Ortonville and Clinton when I lived there—and on the eastern edge there’s the enviable service provide by FedTel Co-op. But in the rest of the county it’s as if we’re still waiting for the latter half of the twentieth century to arrive.

My tales of service strangeness might seem amusingly bucolic to some, but the lack of fast, reliable internet is a major economic catastrophe-in-the-making in our rural areas. There are a lot of goods and services that urban- and suburbanites are willing to give up regular access to in order to get a big ol’ slice of the good life out on the prairie (don’t believe me? Consult your Ben Winchester), but the ability to stay connected to the world (and to the goods and services not available here) is by-and-large NOT one of them. We bemoan the fact that our young people leave and don’t come back—that our towns are dying and our lovely countryside is almost empty of people–the pretty old farmsteads burned, buried, and converted to industrial ag wastelands, but we’ve yet to move forward on a major initiative that could help stem that tide.

While correlation is not causation, the lack of technological infrastructure—specifically high-speed internet–is certainly a factor in our dire economic circumstances and our inability to attract people and entrepreneurs to an otherwise incredibly attractive place. Furthermore, these dire economic circumstances create a climate in which further degradation and destruction of the natural resources that make this place so attractive (including the idiotic decision to annex township land and quarry our county’s namesake rocks in the City of Ortonville) seem like our only options. To quote, once again, one of Ortonville’s illustrious planning and zoning officials, “People who aren’t from here might not understand this, but all we have is our rock.”

Come to think of it, it might be better that we’re cut off from the outside world. We wouldn’t want sales pitches like that to be broadcast too widely.

The clouds are starting to roll back in, and the last weather reports received looked like we might be in for yet another of winter’s temper tantrums. Visibility is dropping, and the feeling of isolation increases, though it’s not entirely unpleasant when the house is warm and the kettle hot. Hundreds of geese roil above the sloughs, and the songbirds are rapidly depleting the feeders we filled yesterday. Despite some discontented clucking in the coop, I decided to close them in for the day, rather than waiting to flounder out there with my stuffy head and drippy nose in the midst of a full-on snowstorm.

It’s almost two in the afternoon on Wednesday, and we haven’t had internet access pop up (according to the last update of my inbox) since 6:45am. Still, we hold out the dim hope of reconnection while we settle in for some reading and the 147th round of tea—a jar of mentholated rub and a box of tissues between us.

Before I get too comfortable out on this lovely, maddening, howling edge of civilization, I’d better slip on something with pockets, so I can feel the buzz of my phone telling me it’s time to talk to the world again.

[Our internet service was finally restored on Saturday.]

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