When I made my usual cold-morning trek at dawn last Monday to take a look at the thermometer on the side of the well house, I fully expected to see something I had never seen before in my life.

Weather forecasters had been predicting lows well below zero in Springfield and other areas and I figured things would be even chillier at the remote Texas County outpost where my wife and I reside, as is always the case.

Sure enough, the mercury was way down in the glass tube – at minus 14 no less. I had brought my camera with me, and before it froze solid I snapped a picture, as evidence of the crazy sight.

No that it matters, but minus 14 is about five degrees lower than the previous low my body had experienced. I once went on a school-district sanctioned spring break ski trip with a bunch of other high school kids to Grand Targhee Resort (in northwest Wyoming, close to the Idaho border) and on the way there we stayed overnight at West Yellowstone, Mont. The temperature dropped to about 9 below that night, and we couldn’t believe it.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

During the course of my work Monday (while the temperature warmed all the way up to positive numbers), I was talking with someone I know and told him about the negative 14 reading. He smiled and produced a photo of a digital thermometer at his place that clearly read “–14.”

I was pleased to have further confirmation of how really stinking cold that morning was. It’s interesting to note that he said he had taken the photo at 7 a.m. straight up – the exact moment I had taken mine.

Certainly this kind of cold causes many changes in our daily routines, and causes the furry and feathered life forms around us to alter theirs as well. It was easy to notice plenty of that around our place.

Rather than leave their cozy “room,” the normally free-ranging chicken community stayed put from the moment the snow began falling. In fact, they haven’t left yet – but they have welcomed numerous wild birds of multiple species into their little club. When we’ve opened the big door to the chicken room lately, we’ve had to be careful and aware because there’s sometimes about 10 or 12 bird flying and bouncing around in there. They apparently have no trouble finding a way in – it’s the getting out part that confounds them, so we help by “shooing” them out.

While I have no doubt that a truly hungry horse would do what it had to do to dig through seven inches of snow to find grass to eat, I also understand how the domestic versions would just as soon have a human hand them a bucket of feed. They make that obvious by the sounds they make while standing along the corral fence. Maybe it’s just my cynical side, but I sometimes envision Mr. Ed trying to make Wilbur feel guilty.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, but something about sub-zero temperatures makes remaining liquid very difficult for water. In turn, one of the many extra tasks outbuilding animal owners face during deep-freeze episodes is dealing with water bowls that are full of rock-hard ice.

My wife and I keep it simple and take a pitcher of warm water to the bowls, pour some on the bottom until the ice block falls out and the rest in the bowl so the thirsty cats or chickens can drink.

The dogs? Well, being the spoiled pets they are, they get to come indoors and they know exactly where to find a bowl of liquid water under the decorative table in the kitchen.

Whew, minus 14. At least it wasn’t minus 29. That’s what the Weather Channel’s website (weather.com) lists as the coldest temperature ever recorded in Springfield (in 1899 – no mention of which month). The minus 10 recorded there on early Monday wasn’t quite low enough to beat the negative 12 that hit on the same date in 1912.

And while we got a bunch more snow, at least we didn’t get 20 inches, which the Weather Channel indicates is the most to fall on Springfield in a 24-hour period (in 1912 again, on Feb. 21-22). But I guess there’s still time to get more than 54.5 inches of snow for the season, which happened in Springfield in the winter of – of course – 1911-1912.

Anyway, hopefully this winter won’t be remembered for a new seasonal snow record for this area by the time warm weather returns for good. I’m also sincerely hoping I don’t get the chance this year to experience another coldest temperature of my life. In fact, I’ll be just fine, thank you, if I never have that opportunity.

Just think: In June the temperature is liable to reach triple figures. Bring it on.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

The thermometer on the well house showing 14-below at 7 a.m. Jan. 6.

The thermometer on the well house showing 14-below at 7 a.m. Jan. 6.

Steady winds caused neat rippled patterns in the snow.

Steady winds caused neat rippled patterns in the snow.

A digital thermometer at a location about three miles north of Houston shows a frigid minus 14 degrees at 7 a.m. Monday morning.

A digital thermometer at a location about three miles north of Houston shows a frigid minus 14 degrees at 7 a.m. Monday morning.

The eastern sky was bright with color as the sun rose Wednesday morning over a ridge in southeastern Texas County.

The eastern sky was bright with color as the sun rose Wednesday morning over a ridge in southeastern Texas County.

 

 

 

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Considering his level of education and the diversity of human contact he has experienced, he has lived what must certainly have been a colorful life.

And having reached the 23-year mark, that life is now pretty long as well.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

But regardless of his resume and longevity, Great Lad Sur Hatar’s story seems to have entered into a very different chapter, especially for a horse that has been around the block as many times as he has. The events documented in that chapter at least border on unique if they aren’t completely so.

Maybe it’s a bit of confusion caused by age or maybe it’s long-suppressed traits now being allowed to manifest by an animal feeling unshackled by having less responsibility, but this tall Arabian has in many ways taken to acting more like (and thinking much like) a dog.

Spending most of his years in Colorado before being shipped to the Davison property in Texas County in 2007 (we acquired him by recommendation of the people we bought our place from), Sur was trained in Western, Western Pleasure and English riding and even dressage. He has been used as a show horse, a trainer for novices and a trail horse.

He knows whether there’s a greenhorn or an expert on his back and he’ll respond in kind to the presence of a big man or a little girl. He’s probably had more different saddles tossed on him than are sold twice a month at the horse auctions in St. James or Mountain Grove and has no doubt tasted the rust of many types of bits.

While his current owners’ knowledge of horsemanship is pretty limited, it’s safe to say that Big Sur (pronounced “sir,” – it’s much easier the long show-type name he came with) knows most of what a horse can know. He’s been there and done that, horse style.

That makes it all the more interesting (and humorous) to watch him go dog.

Not long ago, my wife decided Sur was going to be allowed run of the yard. That way he could search for some green grass during a crazy hot summer, chomp apples that the heat had caused to drop to the ground early and to otherwise maximize his “social” nature. Since then it’s been a dog’s life for this half-ton maverick.

Just like our two actual dogs, Sur respects the boundaries of our property. While wandering in the three-acre section around the house (which he apparently prefers to an eight-acre pasture complete with spring head), he has never exercised the option to simply walk down our 150-yard driveway and head out to explore the miles of east Texas County dirt roads that would then be in front of him.

If he’s in the yard at nightfall, he typically saunters back through the open gate and retires to his “room” on one side of the old hay barn.

But it gets better.

Possibly after deciding he’s really only about 18-inches tall and weighs 30 pounds, Sur has stepped through the door of opportunity on a couple of occasions to see what it’s like to be inside the garage and the shop building. While I was recently unloading the Cherokee and had doors open on both sides, a big white head came in the side opposite me and I could have sworn I heard a Mr. Ed-sounding voice ask “Watcha doin’? Are we going’ to town?”

But here’s where it gets doggone wacky.

We had a yard sale a little while back. We’ve done it before and our dogs always seize the moment to do some public relations and get in a little extra hand time.

This time, people getting out of their cars were welcomed by a greeting committee that included a large, hooved member.

(Cue Mr. Ed voice) “Howdy. Nice day. Make sure ya rub my nose while yer here.”

As they shopped in the shop building, Sur-dog would stick his head through the open double-doors as if to make recommendations. I guess he was satisfied with most peoples’ choices because he never spoke up.

Perhaps the cause for Sur’s behavior lies in the fact that my wife and I haven’t been riding him and that he is now more or less just a large pet.

But I still think his pet-like tendencies are of his own design. While our dogs go around being dogs, our horse pretty much does the same.

He eats sweet feed from a dog dish.

My wife will be at the sink doing dishes and there’s Sur a few inches away at the window.

We’ll be readying for an ATV ride on the dirt roads and he’ll walk up and be like, “can I go?”

“Sorry big man,” I say. “Too much weight.”

It’s just not right.

This blog is derived from Doug Davison’s column in the Houston Herald. The content is strictly random and any resemblance to anything important is purely coincidental. E-mail: ddavison@houstonherald.com