The outside temperature gauge read 22 degrees, but inside our small cabin it was warm, almost hot.

I looked out over the loft railing to the living area below and could see that the sterling fan on top of our little wood stove was still turning, powered by the warmth of the last night’s fire.

As soon as I climbed down from the loft, I headed right over to the stove, opened the chimney flue, lifted the lid and set four more logs on top of the embers. As I stepped back, I could see through the stove’s glass doors that the logs were already beginning to catch fire.

My morning had begun.

This was the day that I was going to clean the chicken coop, a job that I simply could not put off any longer. Greg had already installed the removable side panels, so the flock could
stay somewhat warmer at night. I am always amazed by the amount of warmth that the birds generate. I had already cleaned out their nest boxes and actually do so on an almost
weekly basis.

This, though, is an easy chore, for I simply open each nest box from the back side of the coop, scoop out the old pine chips and add a few handfuls of new.

Cleaning the inside of the coop is not so easy. It involves the use of pitchfork, flat-bladed shovel, a cotton scarf tied securely over my nose and mouth and the backhoe.

The backhoe started up perfectly, and as I backed her out of the barn I imagined myself to be a farm- booted and jean-clad queen riding on top of a fairy tale dragon.

We trundled our way up the hill, the loose fittings on the old metal beast’s bucket arm clattering reassuringly. I parked my dragon beside the coop, set her emergency brake and began to work.

It seemed that the entire flock of chickens had gathered around, curious as to why I was shoveling their glorious detritus into the iron beast’s front end loader bucket.

One bird even hopped up into the bucket to scratch around. I shooed her away, not wanting to cover her with my next forkful.

The morning sun soon melted the hard frost that had settled on the grass in the upper field.

In time, only the coop’s shadow remained frosted, and as the sun rose higher in the sky and the temperature warmed even more, even that frost melted away.

Two trips down the hill to the compost pile with two front-end loader buckets filled with dropping-laden straw, and the coop was clean.

The girls all flocked inside to scratch through the fresh straw as I drove the backhoe away and down the hill. I imagined them clucking happily as they worked to feather their newly cleaned nest.

I returned the backhoe to her place in the barn, lowering her front-end loader bucket so it rested securely on the ground.

I turned off the ignition, climbed down and pulled my cotton scarf down from my face. I walked out into the sunshine of the cold day and headed up the hill,

I stopped mid footstep. There was something new in the air.

I looked up at the new house, where Greg had been working all morning. The stainless steel pipe rose from just behind the roof’s ridge. I could see a wisp of smoke and the shimmer of heat rising from the pipe’s cap. I ran up the hill.

There in the basement was my dear husband, sitting in front of the first fire in our new house.

I knew that he would now be able to work on the inside in comfort. He looked up and smiled.

Wonderful heat rose off of the stove. A beautiful red glow shone through the glass. I stood beside him, my hand on his shoulder, and felt for the first time that our new house, though far from finished, really was our home.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.