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Monday, January 28, 2008

Blessed clean water

The pump
[posted by risa]

We awoke, on Sunday morning, to snow, which we had less than half expected, and it continued falling until 4:30 in the afternoon. Electricity faltered at 11:30 a.m., and seemed likely, as turned out to be the case, to remain off for some time, as "all circuits were busy" in the direction of our utility's tireless but understaffed emergency crews. We got down lanterns and trimmed wicks, and took stock of the situation.

Our biggest concerns were water and poultry. A pipe or joint has suffered separation somewhere, and we have had, for several days, no access to the well.

We both dressed for the weather, I for the first time in a decade slipping on my rubber boots, of the better sort known in England as "wellies," and headed out. Last summer I made a yoke from a curved, stout tree branch, with four-gallon buckets suspended from plastic baling twine, and plied the creek with these to supply the birds and for flushing and the like. I then investigated under the house, crawling, with a flashlight, into all the tight corners near the various pipes, and finding no sign of a leak. So it had to be outside somewhere.

The pumphouse stands about ten feet beyond the West Window, and encloses the second well on the place, a six-inch diameter pipe ninety feet deep, with an injection pump and an air-tank for pressure. It's strictly a (previous) owner-built affair with sawdust packed between the inner and outer walls, which has sifted down onto the cement over the years and lends the whole thing the atmosphere of an ancient ice-house. It has its own inhabitants; once the pump stopped abruptly and we found that a tree frog had insinuated him- or herself between the electrodes in the switch and proved unable to sustain the charge.

A quick look around with the flashlight indicated no leak here, either, so it must be in-ground. A metal pipe dives through the cement into the ground, parallel to the house, where it is connected outside to a black PVC mainline which travels more than fifty feet around the south corner and tees into the mainline from the first well, a 25-footer in the greenhouse, currently in disuse (and likely to remain so while the poultry live here) for household purposes.

I dug about by the side of the pumphouse and located the black flexpipe line there, fourteen inches deep, following it for about three feet.

No leak.

This was going to take awhile, and supplies in the house would run low. I could call for help, but the plumber who had done no more than hook up the new hot water heater had charged $425 for that, so it looked to be a solo operation.

We're both girls, but we do have some division of labor. I paint, plumb, electrify, roof, fence, mechanic, mow, till, and bake; she splits wood, makes kindling, tends fires, raises chickens, does laundry, prepares the lioness' share of meals, and runs the appointment calendar. We alternate the vegetable garden, she one year; I the next. Too much at stake there...

Under the house, I had noticed two hose-bibb drain spigots, of very clean brass, that I did not remember having seen before, at the elbows of the supply pipes to the second bathroom sink. The one on the left would be the cold-water line. Back to the pumphouse. Hmm....

Rooting about in the garage, I found a short hose of the type used to connect a washing machine to the house supply; female at both ends. It would need gaskets, which I stole from garden nozzles.

A good, non-leaking garden hose would be next on the list; most of these had gone into the chicken business, but I tramped out to the garden, where the deer fence was on the point of collapsing from snow accumulation. I shook the fence all round (Beloved was doing the same to the poultry netting up at the barn), waded through snowdrifts composed half of snow and half of frozen and blasted celery and chard to the irrigation post, untwisted the baling wire arrangement holding the rain-bird in place, and rescued last summer's garden hose from oblivion beneath the snow. This I dragged round the house, connected it to the washing-machine hose, the washing-machine hose to the spigot on the pump, the other end of the garden house to the cold-water-supply spigot in the house's crawl space, closed the valve to the house-supply pipe, opened the valve to the pump spigot, whooshed a bit of air into the tank with a convenient bicycle foot pump, and made for the house, just as an apple-cheeked and very wet Beloved got there.

"Throw the pump switch and we'll see how it does."

"Oh, wow! Okay."

We listened to the air rushing out of the faucet for about twenty seconds, and then blessed clean water poured from the kitchen tap, in quantity. We ran around collecting jars, jugs, and pitchers, and had collected about fifteen gallons for the house, when -- poof -- the power to the neighborhood went away and stayed away.

Talk about perfect timing. I believe she said something about being my love slave for life for this (increasingly rare, these days) display of competence, but one says anything in a moment of enthusiasm.

All this work we did without injury to ourselves, and so I planned to follow the outside line from the other end, along the south wall, back to the pumphouse, today, it being dangerous to drive in to work this morning. But I made the mistake, in the early light of dawn, of leaning too far over while pouring a bucket of creek water to flush, and heard a tiny pop in my lower back. So, when the power came back on, at about eleven, I did what anyone in like circumstances would do.

I sat down, in my robe, with a heating pad behind me, and went blogging.



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