Or At Least We Didn’t Have To Eat The Dog
As prepared as we were, it wasn’t enough.
Okay obviously it was because I am here to tell the tale, but it wasn’t enough to keep what should’ve been a healthy adventure from becoming a nightmare.
At the start we found the first layer of winter and freezing pretty, refreshingly a tad more than the occasional kiss of snowfall, and thought the power outage was a mere blip, as had happened for a few hours or even once overnight in the past. That morning The Electric Co-op even said I was the only person to report an outage.
Though aware of a big storm coming, we did not hustle our bustle beyond setting aside several gallons of extra water and making sure we had foodstuff for all of us creatures in the event we were holed up for a bit. We’d finish our chores on the day. In our years here we have been through torrential rains, massive hails and the fringe of a tornado.
By evening we realized this was not about tea and candles and long pajamas.
Though better off than most folks out of power, our normal simple way of living (with a wood stove for heat, a gas cooker, well water and water tanks, rain barrels and an old back-up just-in-case never-tried-out generator), did not prepare us for literally inches of ice quickly coating, encasing, everything. And unrelenting cold that made one’s home feel like an unheated garage. In Canada.
On top of the uncontrollable circumstances were the controllable circumstances – as the consequences of so many choices, of incomplete projects, of every can we kicked down the road – coming back up right in our ruddy, sleet pelted faces.
While submerged in teens to single digit to no digit degree temperatures, in a place not built for extended bouts of such weather, we found ourselves spending precious hours and more precious than gold daylight into the harsh night doing tasks that should have been locked up long before. One ‘incomplete’ caused a chain of floundering events.
We’d be chuckling about how nippy a couple of those nights were IF even only ONE of the following had been done BEFORE the storm and not during.
IF the firewood was cut to fit the stove, thus already dry inside, not coated with unbreakable ice and needing to defrost in tubs and bins all over the house, the chimney top may not have frozen over leaving us with cold inefficient fires those early desperate nights.
IF the horse stall was built all the way we wouldn’t have had to coax jumpy to stampeding horses into a rigged up shed garage spot a after a tree fell on their flimsy temporary roof.
IF my car was parked in the shed garage instead of blocking it. To move it we had to brace up and cut the tree that fell on and buried my car in a mess of thick icy limbs piece by piece.
IF the generator was accessible, not blocked in by immovable equipment and flat-tired sunken in the mud, needing big farm machinery to extract it to the house. It was great until the not fully winterized diesel fuel froze, shutting us down.
He worked to move blocking fallen trees from the road in case we needed to try to 4 wheel it out of here, as well as clear our neighbors’ driveways. Some of them are elderly, some unskilled, and some selfish. All of them left.
Through this we texted and shared photos with friends and family to paint a brighter picture, thank goodness the cell phones worked! But we were, or it felt we were, literally fighting for our lives and animals and everything we have worked so hard for. A primitive lizard brain survival instinct kicked in, and it was ugly. My husband and I had a different set of priorities, each totally correct, which put us at odds against one another.
I focused on helping my husband, but mainly our home and animals, firewood and water. For a couple days we could not bust through the inches of ice to any potential water in the troughs, which meant several daily hauls of warmed water to the coop and horses.
It wasn’t about getting through a night or two. We soon realized we could be out of power for weeks (please not more!) and decisions made in those moments would effect us in that future.
He spent time each day bringing our (in the beginning) limited water to a neighbor’s accidentally abandoned donkey up the hill (she also broke his nose while trying to escape). Some of those days the 4 wheeler would freeze and he’d have a long hike up the hill and back. He also checked on a friend miles down the road, bringing appreciated supplies, and again the 4 wheeler almost shut down, frozen. Each time he left, I had to consider he might not return.
Heavy ice laden log-like branches and trees fell in every direction, near and far, crashing down for days and nights, sounding like gun shots or cannon fire or avalanches.
When that frigid darkness came crushing in on us those first few nights, no amount of candles or flashlights could dispel the stomach churning fear of more deeply understanding vulnerability, mortality, and just writing it now, and even now-now typing what I had written on paper, has it victoriously jogging a couple tight laps around my tummy.
Then it snowed several inches, actually making everything easier to maneuver, without having to struggle 10X more on the ice. The sun’s glare over-lit everything to glowing, with flakes shimmering like diamonds.
At bedtime – those nights brought no relief to our tense and aching and injured bodies, only cold dread, for we knew in a few hours we’d be doing it again, on alert, on our feet, out in the elements til or even into dark. My husband and I could not comfort one another for we, or our inner lower reptile brains, detested each other. One of those mornings in my sleep I ended up next to him for warmth, and upon waking he snarled that I had crossed enemy lines.
There’s more weirdly learned to dos and not to dos, and I hope to write about the positive gleanings at another time. But first is the need to release at least some of this, well, trauma. It’s embarrassing to in any way compare homesteading to such as our Service People go through in battle, yet there’s a shadowy hint of what in the most minor connection of ways, minor like a second cousin, through marriage even, feels like a roaring whisper of PTSD.
This was written on day 11 of no power. I type this on day 15. Who knows when I can wriggle this up online through my phone. However, we’ve figured out a system for the house basics, and are now challenged with keeping the fridge and freezer cold, for over the course of one afternoon, everything has melted into spring.
All of the animals made it (the chickens are champs), and my marriage is stronger for surviving one another, seeing the necessity in each of our efforts, and especially those of my husband who is truly a hero.
We begin the months long work of clearing downed trees and branches, to make structures safe, and he’s patching up the well rutted road with the tractor. My hands are torn up and my feet ache – despite the warm weather they still feel laced with ice. We eat very well, and as part of God’s design, with the aid of sun, the hardships begin to get a touch fuzzy. I try to release more of it here as the true reason for getting words out. If anyone is still reading this rough unedited rant I thank you for your time.
*posted on day 20 without house electricity
**23 days without grid power!