Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Symbol of Winter

I have no recollection of exactly when in December the snow started falling, I just know that once it came, it never went away. During the usual Peoria winter even the heaviest snow is around for a week, two tops, before it melts completely. It's pretty rare to even have back-to-back snow storms that add accumulation. This winter we had three full months where the snow never went away. Working outside a good part of my day, I became accustomed to the extreme cold. I can't count the days the temperature never rose above the single digits, and it got to the point that if it was above 15F, I was too warm in my coat. The never ending snow and cold brought everyone all kinds of frustrations, but I think the thing that will always symbolize this winter for me is takin poop.

Takin are giant sheep-goats. Scientists keep going back and forth over their classification and whether they are sheep or goats. I don't care much either way, but based on behavior and intelligence only, I would have to guess goats. Anyway, takin eat lots of hay and grain and poop lots of little balls about the size of shooter marbles. They are very cold and snow tolerant and went outside into their large yard at least a portion of every day this winter.

A good zoo keeper prides herself on keeping clean exhibits. Animal enclosures and yards are cleaned 365 days a year. Poop is not left in yards. Ever. Non-keepers would probably be shocked at the lengths I go to remove every little ball of takin poop every day. Well, this entire winter was exceptional. I'm not sure how and why this happened, but the bottom third of the takin yard turned into a thick, THICK layer of ice. As the snow fell and melted, the ice layer became thicker. The takin are agile mountain sheep-goats and this didn't bother them one bit. However, the bottom third of the yard is their favorite place to poop. I don't know what a takin's natural body temperature is, but from the way their poop melted into the ice, I'd have to guess about 150F. That's a joke, but seriously, the poop melted into the ice so that by the time I went to clean it the next day, it was at least partially encased. This wasn't loose, wet ice that I could break up with a shovel, it was solid as a rock. Day after day, month after month, layer after layer. Sometimes the ice was crystal clear and I could only look longingly at what I wished I could remove.

Since the thaw (finally) started in the past couple of weeks, it's been interesting. Each day a little more ice melts and another layer of poop emerges. The first days it was really warm, I filled the entire John Deere Gator bed with takin poop. If that means nothing to you, it is a LOT of poop. Yesterday afternoon was absolutely beautiful and a lot more takin ice melted throughout the day. I knew it was supposed to freeze overnight and possibly even snow. I saw all of that thawed poop and couldn't wait to remove it. I decided to spend the last 15 minutes of my day shoveling as much poop as I could get. The mud covered my shoes, but it was worth it to get the poop before it froze again. I was racing against time and knew I couldn't make another dump run, so I chose to put the poop into a barrel in the back of the Gator.  I joyfully raked poop off the remaining ice and was thrilled with my accomplishment. I pulled the Gator out of the yard, got everything locked up and then decided to leave the barrel at the takin area since I park the Gator in a heated building. I dropped the tailgate and pulled the heavy barrel toward me. As I was lowering it to the ground I somehow lost grip, dropped the barrel the final foot and wet poop splashed all over my face, neck, hair and sweatshirt. Yummy.

I had planned to stop and vote in the primary election on my way home from work, but I kind of needed to get to the shower. If I ever run for public office and they try to smear my name because I didn't vote in the primary election of 2014, this is my excuse- takin poop.

The takin yard is down to maybe 10-15% ice cover, and the ice is getting thin. I imagine within the next week or so I will have the winter poop cleaned up and can look forward to Spring and rain and mud to my shins. But at least I won't have to look at the ice-encased takin poop!