The sun is rising over a very calm Lake Huron. Today begins, not only a new year, but a new adventure and challenge for me. For the next nine days I’m home solo. This is the longest I’ll have been by myself and this is the first time to be myself during winter.
I know it may not seem like much to be by oneself. Many of my friends live by themselves. For others having the house to yourself might be something that you’d look forward to, but living off the grid on an island makes it very different.
This morning it is 9 degrees out. There’s ice on the lake. Snow covers the ground and trees. In the parlor stove a fire slowly burns heating the house.
Wood is stacked in the breezeway; hopefully it will last a week. I’ll need to bring more in before Hugh gets home. Wood split for the cookstove fills five milk crates. The two-track that I drive from the garage to the main road is packed and cleared of overhanging branches.
The day-to-day business of life will not be any different than when my best friend is home with me. Except that I probably won’t make such tasty dinners, I might snack my way through lunch and nibble on holiday baked goods rather than making myself a decent breakfast. Or I might burn my oatmeal as I am distracted by my book. And I’ll probably drink lots of hot chocolate!
Laundry and grocery shopping will get done as necessary. I’ll go to work as scheduled. But I’ll be the one to get up first to stoke the fire in the morning. I’ll be the one to stir up the coals and put wood in the stove to warm up the house in the evening.
It is my job, now, to monitor our batteries. If the sun is hidden too many days and not able to recharge the batteries I’ll run the generator. It’s a pretty simple process – make sure it has plenty of gas, pull out the choke, turn on the switch, and close the choke. Then watch the inside meter and turn it off when the batteries are fully charged. I’ve got plenty of gas and we’re also full on propane for the refrigerator.
Nothing sounds too tricky. Right? Right!
If it snows, and I hope it does because I love snow, I get to do the road maintenance. If it is only an inch or so at a time, normal driving on the two-track will keep everything tidy. But if it snows like our last good snow of 14 inches, or even four inches, the road will need work. Chains all around will be put on the Jeep to begin packing it down again. Then I’ll need to hook up the drag bar to pull, rather than plow the road. The drag bar levels off the snow that piles up between the tire tracks so it is not too high. If the snow gets too high in the middle the Jeep can get stuck. The process is simple enough as long as the drag bar, made of I-beam doesn’t get hooked on a rock. Also it can’t be backed up as it connects to the back of the Jeep with just a chain at both sides. There are no fancy hydraulics to lift it like a snow plow. It just takes a little planning and patience.
Also to be considered it that we’re on winter water conservation. When the boats got pulled out and the temperatures regularly dropped below freezing we unhooked our waterline. The soil is too shallow to bury water lines and prevent them from freezing. Year round we pump water out of the lake, but in winter we pump water, through a fire hose that connects to the indoor waterline, every three days. That is how long we can stretch out the water pumped into two forty-gallon pressure tanks. Bear in mind though, that it is not the equivalent of eighty gallons. It is closer to twenty-five gallons per tank as the air bladder, which creates the pressure, takes up some of the tank capacity.
Each morning and evening I should clear the ice where the waterline is in the lake at end of the dock. With single digit temperatures, like last night’s, and the lake still the bay is quick to freeze. Last year Hugh and I were both away from home for a few days on different business trips. He got home before me. When he arrived the ice was almost a foot thick where our waterline was. A lot of chainsaw time and a day later he finally got the ice cleared so he could pump water.
Sunday we filled the water tanks. It will be time for me to pump again when the pressure gets low, about 25-30 psi. The water will run slowly out of the tap and the tub will take a while to fill even just an inch deep. With two of us in the house the water usually lasts about three days. By myself it might last four, but I might use Hugh’s unused ration to take a little deeper bath and pump sooner.
Think for a moment about how much water you use to brush your teeth, wash your hands, clean the dishes, make coffee or tea. How much water do you use to take a bath (or shower) or flush the toilet? It’s amazing how little you actually need to do these things, if you are conscientious. I’ve previously written about taking a bath in a puddle. If you missed it you can read it here http://wp.me/p1e7fq-2P A couple of weeks ago I took a bath and washed my hair with about 40 ounces of water. As for the toilet flushing, we winterized the composting toilet when we unhooked the waterline. Instead we use the outhouse or a good old fashioned chamber pot at night.
When it comes time to pump, I’ll pull out of the lake the end of the waterline that stays below the water level. This is kept in the water, 32 degree water, so the water won’t create a huge ice cube in the lake end of the waterline. (Water doesn’t freeze until the entire mass gets to 31.9 degrees.) To that pipe I’ll connect two ten-foot sections of heavy duty green industrial strength hose, about 3 inches in diameter. Next I’ll take the large hose reel that Hugh built, on which the fire hose is rolled up, and wheel it down the boardwalk to the lake’s edge. I’ll then connect the fire hose to the green hose and unroll a couple hundred feet of hose along the boardwalk all the way up to the house. In the mechanical room, the fire hose gets connected to the flexible pipe that attaches to the plumbing for the tanks. Once all are connected I turn on the water pump switch.
With the tank filling, I’ll run back inside and upstairs and begin filling a hot bath. I can get a deep bath by filling the tub while the tanks are filling. Back down in the mechanical room I’ll watch the pressure gauge work its way up to 70 psi. That is when I dash up to turn off the tub. It will be hot hot hot. While I’m rolling everything back up the tub will cool down a little to a comfortable temperature. Back down in the mechanical room I’ll turn the pump off. I’ll need to drain the water out of the fire hose as quickly as possible, otherwise it can easily begin to freeze.
I’ll promptly go unhook the green hose and recap the waterline. “Plop” will go the waterline back into the lake. Full of water, the industrial sized green hose is as heavy and awkward as a python. As I drain it it can have the tendency to flop into the water, but I’ll wrestle with it so it stays out and stays dry.
With the green hose unhooked, I then make sure there are no kinks in the fire hose and it is draining. Back up to the house and I’ll put the fire hose on the reel to roll it up again. With the hose empty and on its reel and the green hose tamed and coiled, they will be put back in the mechanical room. A double check to make sure the pump is off it will now be time for a hot bath.
The biggest challenge, in being by myself for nine days, will be making sure water doesn’t freeze in the fire hose. But as I’ve done it many times before, it should not be a problem. And if it were to freeze, I’d just take it in the workshop, turn on the kerosene heater and let it thaw out into a big tub. The other biggest challenge will be if it snows to clear the road without getting stuck. With chains and a shovel and taking my time, I should be fine.
All that being said, I’m really looking forward to this next week. Today I’m going to make turkey soup from the Christmas turkey. This weekend I may make more, yes more, fruitcake. Also I enjoy my work of helping my clients and mentoring therapists. I’m also looking forward to the cold temperatures beginning to create some ice and snow art for me to photograph. And maybe there will be undistracted time to write. I’m still trying to get the last bits of three manuscripts completed.
The sun is completely up and I’m still in bed, writing this. My stomach is grumbling and the outhouse is calling. My camera is patiently waiting by the door, ready for a walk. I guest it’s time to start my nine day solo winter wonderland adventure.
Fortunately I love adventure, I love challenges and I love winter!
p.s. – Yesterday I brought in the wings and tail of an old squaw that I found. I wonder what I’ll find today.