Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Singin´In the Rain

Much as I love visiting the little hidden spring across the highway, I gotta say that hauling water buckets is not my cup of tea. There´s a good reason I was born in Modern Times, and that is because living the rugged kind of life our ancestors lived would have killed me.

We´ve been hauling water because an extended cold snap made the pipes in our house (and our backup well) freeze up this weekend, cutting off our supply of running water. We called in all the local experts, fired up what portable heaters we have, swathed everything in tarpaulins, and sat down to wait for the ice to melt.

It´s been three long days.

On Sunday we holed up in the house and pouted. I lurked by the fire in the living room and plotted out the Christmas dinner. I decided not to shop for the vegetables, in case we had to call off the whole affair. (We expect five guests.) The temperature stayed low. I organized my recipe files and backed-up my hard drive and read tomes of Joyce and Delibes. I baked quiches and tatins, and watched the weather forecasts. I contemplated the frozen darkness of Midwinter, the early black solstice nightfall.

On Monday I canceled my Spanish conversation with Marta. The temperature rose, a fog fell. The little pipe in the spring lost its icy beard. We told one another all we needed to do was wait, that Spring was bound to come sometime, that all the shrinking snowbanks and rushing streams meant even household pipes must soon flow free. I went to Sahagún and bought leeks and carrots, wild rice and butternut squash. I took a shower at Elyn´s house. Children shied snowballs across the plaza. Hope glimmered in the afternoon, but by sundown it guttered. When I came through the gate with the groceries, ice had glazed the patio again. The taps still stood dry.

Just to check, I switched on the pump in the well. A rumble rose up, and a silver ribbon of water leapt into the trough! So one water source was restored!

And so our toiling over the highway ended. We flushed the toilets with abandon, knowing we wouldn´t need to shlep the next water bucket so far. Our spirits rose, even as a heavy rain fell. No ice jam could survive this thaw, we thought.

Late this morning I heard Paddy shout from the lower kitchen. "Reb! Something is happening!" I jumped up and ran for the door, struggling into my outdoor shoes. "Water? Is it water?" I yelled back.

"Something´s happening. It isn´t good," he called out, drawing on his awesome powers of description. "Come down here."

Rain coursed from the steel gray sky and made a little river of the patio. And from inside the summer kitchen flowed a similar stream, springing from the wall behind the sink faucet. Down the wall, over the counter, through the cupboards, over the floor, and out the door.

In good weather, the summer kitchen is Paddy´s makeshift art studio. The cupboards are full of old pots and pans, books and papers and knicknacks, left over from the early days when we lived in there. The floor is covered in easels, canvases, primed boards and paint cans, boxes, bits and bobs -- all of it atop a generous layer of filth and dog hair. I never go in there.

Paddy stood in the middle of it all, twisting the taps, making water arch out of the wall with even more force. "What´ll we do?" he shouted. "Do we gotta turn it off at the mains?"

The man is a genius! Yes! So he ran out the gate and around the outer wall, up the alley and pulled the grate up from the ground and reached in beneath the straw and spider webs and water meter and turned  the key and... Voila! Inside the kitchen I watched water-arch fold in on itself and finally flatten against the tiled wall. Paddy dragged his wet self back inside. We looked at one another. We cracked a smile. We had water! Too much water, out of control water, but water!  I decided this was a good thing, the major obstacle cleared. The rest was details. I picked up a broom. Let me think, I said.

Paddy suddenly remembered the pot he´d left on the stove. He vanished into the house.

Problem-solving at The Peaceable is all about remembering things. I cleared a space in the room, swept out some of the water, laid down some newspapers, and tried to recall just how the pipes come together in that kitchen.  And it came to me that last summer Tomas installed an isolating on/off key to the kitchen water supply, just in case something like this should happen. I stepped out into the rain and turned the obscure little spigot to the "off" position. Then I stomped around the outside wall, hunkered down, and eased the main supply back on. It worked! The whole house had water, but the summer kitchen stayed dry!

Next I remembered where the pipe wrench (aka "Stillson wrench" or "spanner" for my International readers) was, and remembered to turn the nuts "righty tighty, lefty loosey," and got it off the wall. I undid all the screws and cleared out all the accumulated crud, and realized the rubber washers that held it on were practically invisible.

I remembered we have a new bathroom fixture in the potting shed, left over from the house-building project. It wouldn´t fit on the kitchen pipes, but it came with two brand-new washers inside the package! And so I put them in the old faucet, and I stuck it back up on the wall, and righty-tighty-ed it hard as I could. I went outside and eased the water-key back on. A great gurgle came up the wall. And stopped.

The taps held! Yippee! I splashed across the floor and yelled up to Paddy to come and see!

So then I cleaned up the floor, (which included one of Una´s charming mouse-carcass collections), cleared out the soaked cupboards, and just generally put the place back together, with a bit less fur and filth for now. And a lot less free-flowing water.

So many things to consider, now that the water is back:
Normal is so good.
Water is so important.
Our ancestors were so rugged.
Know where your tools are.
Know where your house´s pipes are, and insulate them fer chrissakes.
Open a tap overnight if the temperature is going below freezing.
Do not read James Joyce in the dark days of winter. Bake something.
Nature is an ironic old thing. Just when you´re most missing water in the pipes, tons of the stuff is dripping through the barn roof.
Don´t give up on Christmas -- if the guests are real friends, they won´t mind flushing the toilet with a bucket of well water.

...And if you wait long enough, Spring will come. It may just spring right out of the wall at you. Keep a pipe wrench handy.


peter said...

I was expecting to read that the pipes had burst prior to thawing out. Now *that* would have been inconvenient!

PL said...

"Do not read James Joyce in the dark days of winter." Thanks for the coffee through the nose snort.