The Big Freeze

It began on Saturday, February 13, 2021. The weather forecasts for Middle Tennessee were predicting below freezing temperatures with mixes of freezing rain, sleet, snow and ice. We hadn’t used our woodstoves, upstairs or down, but maybe two chilly nights in January. In fact, we still had a signifcant wood pile from last year because of the mild winter we had had in 2019-20. We bought three ricks of wood. The term rick was new to both Sue and I when we moved to Liberty. We both knew what a cord was but had never heard of a rick. It is supposed to be around one third of a cord. So last year we decided to buy three ricks. It was mixed but mostly oak. Thank goodness we had an ample supply. On the following Tuesday, we lost power because of icing on the trees and downed power lines. The power was off for thirty-six hours with temperatures down into low double digits, near 10 degrees.

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday I was splitting wood. We have learned it is good to have different sizes of wood on hand to start and keep the fires burning. When you are working two stoves you have to be checking them nearly on the hour, stoking them and adding wood. If you have a good base, you can throw a big log on, sometimes even one that has not been split. But if the base is looking a bit thin, then it is time for a smaller log and sometimes even more kindling. It’s best to have plenty of dry kindling on hand. If you run out, and you have go down into the hollow for more, and it has been raining, sleeting and snowing for days, it’s gonna be difficult to find dry kindling. Best to have plenty of paper or cardboard on hand as well.

the chops

Another thing we have learned is that to start a good fire, your flue has to be warm in order for it to draw, depending on the temperature outside. When it is below freezing outside, and your stovepipe is cold, it can be hard to get a good draw going. So we preheat the flue with a space heater to start. Once the pipe is warm, then you can start your fire with confidence. You may have to keep the door to the stove opened just a bit to give it some air, but when the flue is preheated, the draw begins immediately, followed by warmth and smiles.

Since we do a fair amount of camping during tours (remember them?), we have a propane stove, which I got out of the garage in case the power went out. How were we to make coffee and tea without electricity? I set up the propane stove on the back porch Sunday just in case. Thankfully on Tuesday when the power outage happened, we were ready for boiling water for hot drinks. Our back porch had stacks of wood in various sizes, a wheelbarrow full of kindling, which I had cut and gathered in the fall, and the propane stove ready for burning. We had also made sure we had plenty of flashlights on hand. I think I’m going to order some candles from Lehman’s for the next time our power is off. Lehman’s is a great supply store for off grid. Their slogan is, For a simpler life. They sell non-drip, smokeless candles, good for light during dark times.

On Tuesday when the power outage happened, we were sort of ready. And we also had a battery ready to charge our phones. I use a UPS, uninterrupted power supply, for my music studio. It ensures that when I’m in a session that my computer doesn’t shut down. That can be a drag if your tracking or editing, and you lose some work that you really liked. So as the thirty-six hour outage went on, we were able to charge our phones as they ran down. We still had internet through Verizon on our phones.

Tuesday in the early afternoon we decided a big pot of vegetable soup would be a good thing. I put together a pot of veggies with homemade frozen vegetable broth in our Lodge iron pot and set it up outside on the propane stove to bring it to a boil. Once it was boiling, I brought it inside and set it on the wood stove which was hot enough to keep a simmer going. The potatoes and carrots were tender in about an hour. That gave us dinner and lunch for a couple of days.

That night, with the power out, we sat in the basement near the woodstove to stay warm. I decided to crack some of the black walnuts I had gathered last October that were used to make ink. I had about one hundred nuts to crack. They are a bit harder to crack than English walnuts. In fact, they make nut crackers specifically for black walnuts. Since we don’t have one of those I used a hammer, and it worked just fine. It was a crackin’ evening, the fire and the walnuts.

soup and walnuts

On Monday, as I was splitting wood, I could hear bunches of branches snapping off of the poplar, oak, cedar, maple, birch, walnut and pine trees down in the hollow behind our cabin. The weight of the ice was just too much for many of the trees to bear. It sounded like firecrackers going off, one after another. The echo would reverberate down into the hollow until it disappeared. It was such a great sound. I decided to record the sounds with my phone.

the branches

On Thursday the temperature started rising, and it got up into the forties. The ice on the trees started to thaw, which was making some more great sounds. The thaw was steady and edgy. On our walks we made sure not to walk under the trees as they were raining icicles. It was an unusual sound like the branches snapping off, so I recorded some of the thaw as well.

the thaw

Sue, who lived in Florida for twenty some odd years, is hoping the big freeze kind of weather won’t be the new norm for Middle Tennessee. I think Sue wouldn’t mind so much, as long as she has coffee and a good book. If or when a big freeze happens again, I’ll make sure Sue has plenty of coffee and a book on hand, so I can split wood, keep the fires going, make soup and crack walnuts.



p.s. Don’t forget I have some black walnut ink for sale, 2 ounces for $8. And there’s the music as well. Thanks for your support… 🙂

p.s.s. Hope for spring. Images taken on March 9, 2021…

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