Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Water Blessings

Two days before Christmas and we have water in the house and barn again! Our pioneer days are over for the moment. As proof it is never so cold here, when the temperatures plummeted into the single digits for a week, the pump house froze and no amount of warmth from the portable heater could thaw the lines to the outside. It's a funny thing having electricity and no water, but a preferable arrangement than the other way around. I could see the water that wasn't coming out of the faucets!

In the middle of the freeze, our planned vacation south arrived, as did our farm sitters from their cozy winter digs in California. We discussed the horrors of possible broken pipes when things thawed, and they decided it was more thoughtful to leave sleeping dogs lie, pipes in this case, until we returned. It was easier and less stressful to haul water from the creek for the toilets and run up to the cabin for showers and dish washing because, thankfully, that pump house had only frozen for a day before we figured out how to warm it up.

It's great having house sitters who are friends and neighbors, especially when things aren't working as they do normally. On reflection there is always something out of the ordinary on a farm, and luckily Karen and Allen are a flexible pair. Karen has bigger fears of our animals dying than the inconvenience of no water. No tragedy there.

So, when we returned home we were pleasantly surprised to discover Allen had improved our water hauling system...and, thankfully for Karen, no animals had died! Ever the creative sort, Allen realized the torrential rains that hit after our departure, combined with our leaky gutters, produced enough water to fill strategically placed 5-gallon buckets with enough water for all the animals in pastures and the toilets at the house. No more red wagon trips to the creek!

We didn't turn the water on right away. We had to steel ourselves to the possibility of multiple broken pipes spraying inside and out. The first challenge was to get the pump running. The second was to have enough people around with walkie-talkies that we could shut the thing down immediately if there was a geyser in the house.

The pump was primed. We waited for the pipes to fill and the pressure to return. It went smoothly, but the pressure was low. Nothing in the house was leaking. I circled the outside of the house and could hear water running furiously. It was coming from under the deck. How the heck do you get under there?! Not easily, but we were lucky. Farmer Greg could reach the pipe enough to cap it off. Who needed a faucet there anyway, until next summer at least?! We felt like we had survived a natural disaster since we were two days from Christmas and plumbers were scarce.

The next task was to cut down a tree off the back forty and install it in the living room. As Annie was holding our Charlie Brown example of holiday greenery in its stand and farmer-professor Greg was tightening the screws, she thought she could hear spraying water. Uh-oh. She left the professor to manage the tree on his own as she sprinted towards the watery sound coming from the glassed-in porch at the end of the room. A hard spray was shooting out of the wall.

Again we were lucky. This 'sun room' had been set up for plants, with a counter sink and floor drain. The only thing truly soaked were the area rugs left piled in a corner. Most of the water had escaped outside. We had avoided Murphy a second time! Of course, this pipe also proved to be impossible to reach and was thus unceremoniously capped.

Summer is a better time to deal with plumbing repairs. Today we found our holiday spirit, put up the house lights, decorated the tree, and wished for snow in the middle of a rain shower. We were back to too much water outside falling from the skies, but this was as it should be. "Twas the night before Christmas and all through the farm, the water was flowing, even out at the barn..."

Photo: The fireplace gets lit once a year and this was its time ...otherwise, we use the wood stove to heat the place!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Do-Over Day

It would have been better if I had never gotten out of bed. The animals might not have thought so. But, if I had stayed in bed, I wouldn't have spent the entire day trying to restore water to our house or worrying about the lamb that was trying to die in our frigid barn.

They say western Oregon hasn't been this cold for so many days in a row since 1972. I say, "Why now?" Fifteen degrees is more typical for Wisconsin and, knowing that, they build with insulation around the water pipes and hose bibs. Here, I buy the Styrofoam covers and electric pipe wraps, but can only protect the stuff I can see. We use a heat lamp in our pump houses because there is no insulation.

The water ran fine yesterday morning in the house, although the hoses at the barn froze solid so it didn't make any difference for filling the trough. Then, in the afternoon, the faucets only issued air and a vast hollowness, usually accompanied by a "damn" as I realize I have left on the water somewhere and de-primed the pump. This time, there wasn't any place I had "left on" the water. This time we didn't have a clue what was wrong except I had recently emptied out the gallon containers of water, saved for just such an emergency, with the thought I would fill them fresh later. Of course, "later" hadn't happened yet.

Greg identified a spot in our orchard where the pipe was only 4" at best underground. Before leaving for work he hauled large timbers along the line and lit a small bonfire to try and send some heat into the frozen soil. Maybe this was the source of the problem. It was a valiant attempt, but ultimately did nothing for the air hissing through the line.

I spoke with friends and someone suggested I check the pipes in the pump house. The heat lamp had been overwhelmed by the unusual cold. It didn't help that at this time of year the sun never hits the pump house. Everything was frozen solid. I brought down a portable heater, turned it on, and left to go deal with the lamb in the barn.

When one thing goes south on the farm, there is something else that usually follows right on its heels. Earlier in the week, I had noticed one of our ram lambs looking sickly. I had scooped him up for a warm-up in the barn with a heat lamp and some extra food. Problem was, he just kept getting worse. Annie made him a special diet with molasses and grain. I kept pushing him back under the lamp. We brought in the other lambs as the temperatures plunged to keep him company and provide some group warmth. The lamb was becoming dehydrated and we added a saline drip to our medical routine.

With a week-long trip out of town planned for the next day, I scanned the to-do list for our neighbors who would be taking over the farm. No water in the house, but at least the cabin's well and pump house hadn't frozen over. No water to the animals - hauling from the creek was now the routine for those animals with no access. A lamb that needed a saline IV every 3-4 hours - beyond the expertise of most. It didn't seem quite fair to dump all this on friends returning from sunny California just to help!

Something needed to give. There was no change predicted in the forecast. As heartless as it sounds now, the lamb, which was steadily progressing down hill, needed to die on our watch. I made her a new bed of straw. I gave her a little water with the drench gun. I turned out the lights at the barn and headed back to the house for dinner.

At 11 p.m. I decided to go out to check on the animals. As I entered the barn, all the lambs in the pen were standing at one end away from the heat lamp and the stricken lamb. I knew, without looking, that our friends would not need to be taught how to IV a sheep. I removed the body from the stall and wondered why all our ministrations had come to naught. It does seem as thought sheep either get better on their own or decide to give up. Sometimes medicine has nothing to do with it.

At least the day was over. It was quiet in the barn. I could hear the ewes in their loafing shed chewing their cuds. The horses blinked again when I turned the lights off. As I walked back to the house, the cold crisp air was fresh and the stars twinkled in the atmosphere.

Photo: frost as thick as snow

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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