The one good thing about this horrible, stormy winter has been the lack of snow. I congratulated myself on it almost daily. Surely, the sheer power of my dislike of snow was keeping it at bay? And with spring just around the corner it looked like we'd squeeze by without having to deal with all the hassles that snow brings when you're a floathouse dweller.
And then it started snowing. And snowing. And, then, guess what? More snowing.
My dad, who had just turned seventy, had to saw and chop wood in a blizzard. High winds tossed the thick snow over him and coated him even as he swung his sledgehammer to break up particularly stubborn spruce rounds. My mom bundled up and did almost all the stacking and hauling into their house, despite dealing with debilitating osteoarthritis in her knees and hands. (I'd had a bad fall and she valiantly took up the slack.)
Our mail came in days late, the floatplanes unable to fly in the blizzard conditions. When it finally got here, my dad, after shoveling a foot of snow out of the skiff, couldn't get the outboard engine to start--the fuel was frozen in the line and the carburetor.
My brother Jamie stepped in and brought our groceries and mail out in his skiff in snow so thick that he had to hug the shoreline with almost zero visibility in pretty good size seas. Thankfully he knows the area extremely well and didn't wreck, or hit his propellor on anything.
The real problem with snow and floathouses is the weight, which can sink a float. My column this week at www.capitalcityweekly.com, appearing on Wednesday, March 15th, is about how we deal with this issue.
In order to get the column off I had to cross through the woods to get to the beach where there's a stronger signal than I can get at my house. I bundled up and like every other danger-defying columnist out there, braved deep snow in high winds with a brutal wind chill that froze my fingers as soon as I took them out of my gloves to hit send.
Here's hoping spring is just around the corner.
This has easily been the worst winter for violent storms that we've ever seen in all the years we've lived here. The weather forecasters have obviously not figured out whatever has changed because they consistently under forecast. When it's forecasted to blow thirty mph we will invariably get seventy mph or higher. I'm going on three nights without sleep because of the back-to-back gale-to-hurricane force winds we've been getting battered by.
My dad and I just went woodlogging in a big swell when there was a slight break in the weather and as we rounded the rocks that protect our home we counted no less than four wind-broken trees just since the last time we'd rounded the point. Last night I kept thinking about that as I heard debris constantly hitting my roof and my house being shook by one powerful gust after another. I just hoped and prayed none of the trees that surround us would come down on us.
I'm having a hard time keeping up with my emails with all the physical work involved here and the lack of sleep, so I wanted to put this up to explain and apologize to everyone I owe emails to. These storms can't last forever...I hope. And when they finally moderate into something more reasonable, I hope to get back to a better routine of keeping in touch with people. In the meantime, thank you all for being so patient.
I have a new column coming out at www.capitalcityweekly.com, Wednesday, March 15th, about tricks we've learned for coping with coldsnaps in the bush, when there's no running water. Thank you, Laura, for the idea!
Our lives revolve around the waterline during the winter months. When it freezes, we run the water out of the tank by opening our faucets, and as soon as it thaws I put the plugs back in the line and we re-fill the tank. It's a great system for living out here in the wilderness--in the nearby village once their line freezes chances are it will stay frozen until the warm winter months.
After a recent freeze I went over to the dam where the pump sits and went about the business of running it to fill our holding tank so we could wash dishes, flush toilets without having to haul buckets of saltwater, and do laundry again. I noticed when I got there that we'd had a close call. A hemlock tree had been uprooted in one of our many violent storms and crashed down within yards of the dam and pump.
I filled the pump's tank with gas, checked the oil, squirted a little ether into it as a bribe for good behavior, switched on the engine and choke, and pulled on the recoil. I typically have to crank on the stubborn thing for several pulls, pretend to give up so the smug piece of metal thinks it's better than me, then go at it again when it will usually condescend to run. This time it decided to really let me know who was boss. On the third pull the recoil came off in my hand.
I didn't have any tools with me to fix it--besides, this was a job for my dad, who has a strange and loving communion with engines of all kinds. I, on the other hand, have found that engines have a strange and hate-filled dislike of me. I've long since given up trying to reason with them, woo them, or trying to wheedle my way into their good graces.
My dad took the skiff and tools over when the tide came in and went to commune with the pump. For once, an engine decided to play coy with him. He had to bring part of the pump back to the house and work on it for the rest of the day. In the morning he and I trekked through the woods to the dam (I acted as guide, pointing out highlights--like the unreal number of trees that had come down in this winter's storm season).
He put the pump back together, added some stabilizer to the fuel to help it run more smoothly, and even re-built the box lid that protects it from the elements. Hmm, I thought. Maybe it was all this loving kindness he lavished on inanimate hunks of obstinate machinery that made them suck up to him the way they do. Yep. The pump started up immediately and purred along in the most sickeningly demure way, as if it was always that well-behaved. As. If.
All seemed well, until way short of the usual amount of time a tank of water lasts us, our faucets went dry. There had to be a leak in the line somewhere. After searching for a while, I finally found it. Naturally, it was at the worst possible place. I had to climb through a wilderness of slimy, dead branches littering the beach to where the line followed the rocks to our floathouses.
The leak was an old one that I'd repaired last year. It wears against the rocks, so it's no surprising that it needed some more first aid a year later. My dad outfitted me with some patches of adhesive cloth, black electrical tape, and paper towels. I contributed the pocket knife.
Since the waterline is not a machine, it cooperated with a willing spirit that endeared it to me, and in no time at all I had a new patch on the leak and we were back in business. Running water and flush toilets...you really know you're living the good life when you have both of those.
P.S. Check out my column at Capital City Weekly, www.capitalcityweekly.com, tomorrow, Wednesday the 1st, to catch a wilderness kid's view of neighbors. Be advised. It may be frightening to some.