Russ Ringsak


January 24, 2012

The big arrow on the big round dial on the big metal-roof shed pointed at ten below zero Wednesday night, here in the northern part of southern Minnesota. And there was wind for emphasis, and the next morning it felt like genuine old style icebound prairie winter on the Broken D ranch. Solid gripping kill-you-in-a-naked-minute-cold. Don't go out without mittens. Put on them baggy old long johns. Wear that black headband with the muffs, or the ears will freeze hard and crack right off your bony old head. Wear boots. Thick socks. Sounds like a country song in there someplace:

      Thick socks, warm boots, and loud loud music
      It's the only kind of life you'll ever understand.
      Thick socks, warm boots, and loud loud music
      You'll never make a wife to a suit wearin' man.

The Broken D is a ranch without cattle or a horse. It's a ranch only because it has saggy old fencing and horses used to live here.

Trees making fun of the fence.
Trees making fun of the fence.

The last horse was big old Gabe, a sturdy shaggy amiable guy in a pale yellow coat who is now buried up on the top of the back hill. They had to haul a backhoe up there to dig the hole.

I never met Gabe but I wish I would have because he's one of those very few guys about whom nobody has ever said a bad word. He was a gentle giant, half draft and half quarter-horse, and would be the perfect gentleman if you put a four-year-old on his back. Not so fond of hauling yipping hyperactive teenagers, he'd quietly walk to a corner of the corral and stand there and wait, however long it might take, for them to finally get the idea and climb down.

The closest thing to a horse around here now is the Harley named Thanks A Lot leaning on its skinny little foot, like they do, in the big shed; but he doesn't need a fence to keep him home. I've never heard a bad word about him either, nor have I ever spoken one.

Pony waiting for spring.
Pony waiting for spring.

A ten below zero reading (that's a minus 23 on the Centigrade thermometer and a plus 250 degrees on the Absolute, where there is no minus and a warm summer day runs around 300) is to be expected in January and it was expected here and we've had an easy winter of it, a minor six-inch snowfall a while back but a lot of days in the twenties and thirties. Hardly worth mention, especially when the weather here is not much worse than anywhere else.

Warming a bit out there; looks like 9 below.
Warming a bit out there; looks like 9 below.

And then -- drum roll -- it happened. More specifically, it didn't happen. Next morning, the cold now down to minus 12, the ranchowner turned on the shower and some warm water came out and then it quit. I couldn't help myself and I said "All right!" when she came out of the shower and said we were without running water. "Finally! I've got something to write about!"

She could care less about that but was concerned about going unshowered into the city to work. She went upstairs and dug a little electric heater out of a deep closet where it has lain for about eight years because it's only purpose here is to heat that back yard wellhole when the pipe freezes. And it's the only heater around here that'll fit down the hole with someone carrying it.

So I went out and took the 100-foot yellow extension cord that hangs on the back fence to power the engine heater in the mighty truck and brought it to the well. Took the heavy rusty cover off the round hole in the concrete well cap, went to the shed and brought out the aluminum extension ladder.

The ladder barely fits in that hole and I barely fit through the hatch in a parka. But I get down there into the deep dark of the cement cylinder and set the heater so it's looking right at the pump and tank and pipes and I turn it on and it's instantly giving off warm friendly vibes, pouring out a hot little breeze. Humming happily, apparently glad to be back at work.

I climb out and leave the ladder in there. Go back to the shed and dig out the torn-up old Coleman sleeping bag we keep around for emergency winter insulation. Lean the heavy hatch cover on the top of the ladder sticking out and fold the sleeping bag over it. Go back to the house, change out of the big puffy clothes, sit down and think about a day without running water and think about coffee and that maybe there just might be enough left in the piping above sink level to mix and nuke one cup.

Finally get up and go move the faucet lever and wow holy mackerel here comes running water. Just that quick. Less than 15 minutes. Still time for the Ranch Princess to shower. So now what am I gonna write about?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Well (no pun intended there), there are the pleasures of living half on and half off the grid. This worn old ranch sits about right, just outside the city limits but connected to the community power lines and the city mail delivery; at the same time it's free of the water and sewer hookups. A private trash and recycle outfit shags up the weekly bin at the end of the driveway.

This setup eliminates the hassle of a generator and concerns about trash and taxes piling high from a garbage or sewer strike, or any of that other stuff people in town sometimes have foisted upon them.

But there is access to live music and good restaurants and a great river. No problems with the neighbors other than a too-bright yard light or maybe their wandering cat grabbing up an occasional friendly rabbit. And, not meaning to brag too much here, the best benefit of all: we can park a semi tractor in the back yard.

So ten below Fahrenheit now and then is not that tough to take.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Try as one might these days, it's hard not to touch on politics. But the subject brought on a new guitar. It's the direct result of a little-noticed incident wherein armed federal agents went into the workshops of the Gibson guitar company -- for a second time in two years -- and shut them down for days on the false pretense of looking for illegal exotic woods. It was a thinly disguised act of political harassment, pure and simple. The company, as one might expect, is very careful about where it buys its wood. If you go to the internet and Google something like "Gibson president" you'll easily find the CEO of the business stating their case.

I've been playing Fender guitars for quite a while but this raid made me so mad I sold a Telecaster Elite and immediately bought a new Gibson Les Paul Standard Gold Top. It's a marvelous instrument, the rock and roll standard bearer of the last generation, and I can hardly set the thing down these days. It has a perfect neck and a chambered body, which means it's not as heavy as they used to be -- I've owned one before -- and it sounds crisper. And the pickups are a touch more powerful. And it's utterly beautiful.

I thought I'd name it Sweet Revenge but that would make it a reminder of the ugly event, so I just call it the Colonel, after my dad.

Protester making the best of it.
Protester making the best of it.

I'm trying to put together yet another band for yet another August trip out to Montana, and at the same time working to better my chops. The foolish invasion of the feds on an American icon turned out to be an inspiration, but we still won't be doing any tunes touching on the political. We just won't go there. We do it for fun. We're with B.B. King.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I have a new email address:
r dot ringsak at gmail dot com

© R.Ringsak 2012

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