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At Patterdale Hall, the work never ends for village residents Chris Wyatt and his wife Karen Russell. (Submitted photo)

The Patterdale Hall Diaries | Poetry in motion

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By Chris Wyatt

Jan. 10, 2024

The cold is about to hit full-force. A couple of days next week will be 2–3 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 17 degrees Celsius, and in those conditions we either keep a fire going or allow the house to freeze. I will do my best to keep it burning, but it will be impossible, as I have to teach, walk dogs, feed everybody and look after Karen. I will stoke the fire in the evening and relight it in the morning, but I can’t manage more than two trips per day, and I can’t really stay out there longer than a couple of hours. This means there will be periods of no fire, and so we will rely on the two small De’Longhi radiators that work well but probably won’t be enough when it is that cold. Even with the low frequency of fires burning in the house, I have used all the tinder I collected from the forest floor, so in between rainstorms I went out with loppers and filled another milk crate with twigs. I also bought 10 pounds of “fatwood” pieces from the local hardware store so we will have no problems lighting future fires. Fatwood is resin-rich pine heartwood; it is packed with volatile terpenes and is the perfect fire-starter. I will, however, use it frugally, as burning pine produces creosote that increases the risk of chimney fires. The hardware store is packed with useful things; I go there whenever I can.

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In the meantime, I’m working on cooking high fiber, low carbohydrate meals. Lots of beans, greens and proteins make for a happy digestive system; I really do not want another diverticulitis flare in the middle of the semester. Last spring, I ended up in hospital, and it kind of threw the courses off target. I’d rather that didn’t happen again, and so I’m following advice and eating large quantities of fiber. My bowel movements are the stuff of legend; in days of yore, skalds would have written long-form poems about them and entertained the village in the dead of winter.

Jan. 18, 2024

Well, the Hall froze solid. I had a full day of teaching, and it was 7°F. The radiator couldn’t keep up with the cold, and all the pipes froze. Then, as it thawed, the whole-house sediment filter exploded from the pressure of the expanding ice. With incredible luck I got there just as it happened and shut the water off and turned the well pump off so there was minimal flooding. The pipes were a little leaky but not too bad. We will have to wait until everything thaws to assess the pipes. The toilet also froze, but fortunately I could break the ice so that nothing cracked. Next year I’ll drain the entire house of water if it looks like we will have a long sequence of very cold days. Currently there are two radiators in the kitchen, but the damage is done, and I could probably just let the place freeze. I won’t though. Wood is cut, and I will spend Friday night out there with a fire, the laptop and a few good books.

Jan. 20, 2024

I didn’t spend Friday night out at the Hall. I kept a fire burning all day and loaded it up at 6 p.m. Then I came home and made shish kebabs with salad for myself, Karen and Bob. The kebabs were delicious. However, the temperature did fall to 4°F again, so after this cup of tea I’ll be back out to see what the temperature inside the house got to overnight. It was a toasty 70°F when I left, and I suspect it is now in the 30s.

Jan. 31, 2024

Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Burst pipes and a new sediment filter set me back $600. I hope I can maintain the house above freezing through February and early March, but we will have to see. Weather Underground tells me that the next 10 days will be above or around freezing with a low of 29°F. The radiators can cope with that temperature fine.

What other tasks need doing? Well, I could begin to prepare soil for spring, but it’s wet and the ground is hard, so all I’d be doing is spreading manure, ash and sand. This is an easy task, though, and so I think I’ll start this weekend. Wood needs to be dried. It has rained a lot, and so I’ll bring a couple of milk crates of oak home to dry over our forced air heating, which has the added benefit of raising the humidity in the house a little. Otherwise, I have a walking stick that I should be working on. It’s a piece of maple that needs to be stripped to the underbark, sanded and then left for a few more months before oiling and waxing, slow and steady, no need to rush. I also need to read more books; it’s the season for snuggling down with a small dog and perhaps John Waters or Ursula Le Guin. Paradise, really.

Feb. 3, 2024

Karen made it out to Patterdale Hall for the first time in nearly three months. Slowly and steadily, she will heal. We need to get her into physical therapy at Friends Care. She has had physical therapy at Friends before, and Jeremy Hays is a wonderful man; I hope we can get her in there again.

In other exciting news, I drove out to the Hall to switch another radiator on as it was getting cold overnight. As I got out of the car, a bald eagle launched off a tall tree and flew over the house and me. It was massive and beautiful. I really hope it chooses to nest here; that would be magnificent.

*Originally from Manchester, England, Chris Wyatt is an associate professor of neuroscience, cell biology and physiology at Wright State University. He has lived in Yellow Springs for 17 years, is married and has two children and two insane Patterdale terriers.

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