This winter has been many things, but above all it has been snowy. We have weathered blizzards that have buried barn doors behind seven foot tall drifts to the point that we’ve had to seek alternate exits to the barn and house and then dig our way back in. There are ten-foot tall snow plow piles in front of the livestock paddocks and only one parking space left where there used to be four. We dig trenches and walls around the high tunnel and a path out to the sheep feeder every few days. For awhile there, it felt like we were either waiting for a storm to end or cleaning up after a storm: there was no capacity or time for anything else. And, my goodness, is it beautiful, but I sure do hold my breath before clicking on NOAA’s ten-day forecast. One thing that this winter has not been is easy twitching. Twitching – the verb for pulling logs out of the woods behind our draft horse Sal – is one of the many steps in a process that includes marking, felling, twitching, bucking, splitting, delivering, and stacking: all of the things that happen in firewood production before the burning does. Most winters, Sal takes a couple of weeks to settle nicely into a twitching pattern: in early January, she might be itching to step forward impatiently as we’re trying to attach her singletree to a log. She might be unwilling to stand still as we hook a chain around a log or antsy in areas with uneven footing. We consistently and patiently communicate our expectations (“No, you can’t take that step forward,” we say more with the lines to her bit than with our words or “Be still beast” we tell her with calm and quiet determination.). By mid-February, there’s very little overt communication that needs to happen between us: she knows what we expect and what the routine is, and we have it down as well. I heard one teamster call this the gossamer thread that exists between your head and your horse – when you say more with your thoughts than you do your hands or mouth. And my goodness, is that a fine time of the wood season. It’s more like a dance really than work: someone’s leading – but gently so – and both of us know the steps. This winter has been turned on its head weather-wise, and what is our norm with Sal has been as well. In early January – all of us coming off a brief break (as much of a break as you can have on a farm where milking is necessary twice daily and animals need feeding in every direction) – the farm crew and Sal headed out to the woodlot on the northeastern side of the Neck to begin cutting firewood for the woodstoves on campus. I steeled myself for sassy Sal’s typical January behavior, but someone had replaced our early January Sal with mid-February Sal: she was quiet, responsive, and still or hard-pulling at all the right moments. What a dream. And then the storms hit. We stopped being so consistently in the woods during the few weeks of snow, snow clean-up, snow, snow clean-up. What little twitching we did on the not-windy, not-blizzarding, not-cleaning-up days was hard. If you’ve ever high stepped through thigh deep snow next to an 1800 draft horse who is wading through belly deep snow but also moving at quite a clip so as to maintain the momentum necessary to pull a 300-pound log behind her . . . well, I’d like to pause here to tell you: good job. I re-entered the woods after each twitch with one less layer on until I was down to just one . . . and I was still sweating. Last Tuesday a few visitors joined us in the woodlot, including a reporter from a local paper and a local artist who has been painting scenes from our farm in this past year. Sal was in a state that was somewhere between early January and hazardous, and I had – in retrospect – so many reasons to justify her impatient and ill-tempered behavior: we had not been consistently in the woodlot and were therefore, lacking a routine. The snow was terrible footing, all sugary and deep. I was acting confident but feeling cautious (and Sal is particularly in tune and reactive when a disparity exists between how someone is acting and feeling). It was a humbling wreck of an afternoon. I wanted so badly to show people (students and visitors) her potential as a twitching horse and to show evidence of our relationship together, but her tipped forward ears, high head, and prancy feet were all but screaming “I don’t want to do this right now!” Suffice it to say, I felt humbled. I take a lot of pride in this work, in this animal, in my own capacity. That night at dinner the semester students at my table – after hearing my tale of woe for the day – each shared a moment that left them feeling truly humbled. It helped to be in good company. Since then, we’ve had two more days of twitching in the woods. I lack words, really, to speak to the experience of those two days, one just 24 hours after our very public debacle. Sal was the most subtle that I’ve seen her in such tough conditions, pausing mid-turn to check back with me, stepping backwards with ease despite unsure footing, and standing with intense stillness in moments that she had been ignoring me, taking advantage, and pressing forward the day before. It was mid-February Sal. There was no audience. The gossamer thread was firmly in place. The dance was on. We’ve been doing good work this winter. We’re pretty much expert shovelers, and you should see me plow snow with the tractor these days. And we have been making firewood perhaps despite it all. There is other work too, the invisible kind, that’s happening here: it’s relational. It speaks to faith and perseverance and the act of leaning into what is hard. Firewood and humility: the two primary products of the Chewonki woodlot.