Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Power's out and there's a flood in the barn. What do you mean, there's no coffee?

When I think back on the holiday season, I'm faced with blurred visions of of hosting, visiting, cooking, baking, eating, driving, playing, couching, relaxing and celebrating. Apparently, we still have to work on our idea of simple celebrations.

That's not to say we didn't enjoy our first Christmas at Rowangarth farm. We did. My dad and step-mother even came to spend the 25th and 26th with us and we toasted the first of many years of traditions here on the farm.

On the 27th, we woke up first thing in the morning, fed, mucked and bedded all the animals and then drove four hours west to spend the day with Lucas' family -- his mum and dad, brother and his wife and their two daughters, who are close in age to our kids.

A great friend of ours, a self-affirmed city mouse, agreed to stay at the farm so that he could keep an eye on things while we were gone for the day. It's not easy to get away when there's a wood furnace and animals to feed but we knew the farm was in good hands while we were off visiting.

Unfortunately, the weather turned pretty ugly during our return trip home. We left around 8:00 pm and by about 11:00 that night, we were driving in and out of a thick, thick fog. While Lucas found it somewhat mesmerizing, like driving through clouds, I found it eerie and at times, downright scary.

By the time we were about 30 minutes from home, I was a stressed-out bundle of over-anxious nerves. The rational side of me said that we should pull over and wait out the fog but the emotional (and louder) side of me screamed that I just wanted to get home to the farm. Now.

Lucas was driving, thank goodness, though more than once I tried peddling the brake from my side of the truck. He took it safely, slowly and by about 12:30 am, we were safely ensconced in our driveway.

Everyone behaved while we were gone, our friend assured us. Relieved, we transferred the sleeping kids from the truck to their beds and by around 1:30 am, I too tumbled into bed, exhausted but happy.

Given the fact that I rarely stay up later than 10:00 pm anymore, I felt it necessary (and in everyone else's best interests) to have a bit of a lie-in the next morning. Lucas had given the animals a hay top-up when we got home so I didn't feel too badly about staggering out to the barn at 9:30 in the morning. I reasoned that although I was late, I did make an appearance before I had a chance to savour my first morning coffee.

By the time I made my way through the soggy, sloppy, poopy mess that had become our barnyard (apparently, with the thick fog came rain and lots of it) and rounded the corner of the first run-in, I noticed that stall light that was just on had suddenly gone out.

That's weird, I thought -- we'd just put in new CFLs. I figured that we'd gotten a bum bulb (it's happened before) so I didn't think much of it.

Then when I slid the main barn door open, I noticed there was no music coming from the radio that I usually leave on for the animals. Again strange, but perhaps our friend had turned it off.

I flicked on the light over the goat pens. Nothing. Then the hall light. Nothing again. I even tried the light in the chicken pen (remember, I hadn't had my coffee yet) before I finally realized that perhaps something wasn't quite right.

But even in the grey light of morning, I noticed what looked like a dark, irregular-shaped shadow cast on the shavings on the far side of the chicken pen. The girls were squawking louder than usual, crowding up to the pen door like a bunch of crazed paparazzi. I stepped inside, knelt down and felt the shavings: they were wet. Soaked, actually. We'd had a leak in the barn.

I simply did not feel up to dealing with this without at least a cup of my fair trade, organic coffee and a piece of homemade toast. I decided to quickly feed and water everybody and then head back to the house for some sustenance.

By then, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. The grey but balmy (relatively speaking) morning had been replaced by menacing clouds and the wind had picked up something fierce.

I trudged back through the soggy, sloppy, poopy mess in the barnyard, cursing and grumbling, all the while trying to stay upright against the wind. But as I walked past the outdoor wood furnace, I noticed that it too wasn't working. Oh oh. This wasn't good.

"Power's out," Lucas said as I walked in the door.

"We have a flood in the barn," I grumbled back. "Have you made coffee yet?"

"Nope. And I'll take a look at the barn later," he said, then turned to his friend. "Time to go see if this generator works."

While we'd purchased a generator a few weeks earlier, we had to special order the right power cable and it had only arrived a few days before Christmas. With all the craziness and busyness of the season, we hadn't had a chance to test it out.

(What we didn't yet realize was that we weren't alone in our dilemma. According to the local paper, severe winds storms had left an estimated 230,000 people in Ontario without power, with over 20,000 people affected in our region alone.)

By now, the kids had stumbled out of bed and make their way sleepily downstairs. I carefully explained that the power was out and until we knew the generator was working, we couldn't run any water, open the fridge or consume any coffee, though I was alone in my misery over this last point.

Meanwhile, Lucas and his friend were outside trying to dig out a spot with the collapsible emergency shovel from the truck and then manoeuvre the generator closer to the external house outlet that connects to the generator panel in the kitchen. While the generator is technically portable, that doesn't make it any easier to move it through several feet of uneven snow, crusted over with ice in some places and slushy in others with gale force winds howling all around.

That was my observation at least, from the comforts of the kitchen (we're all about delegating responsibility here.)

Not long afterwards, I heard a loud whirring sound. At least the thing runs, I thought. Then Lucas told me to fire up the generator panel. Thankfully, there was step-by-step instructions posted on the inside of the cupboard for non-electrically inclined people such as myself.
I turned off the main utility breaker before turning on the generator breaker and sub breakers. The loud whirring sound changed in tone, like the power draw on it had been kicked up a notch. Then I heard the fridge start up. I turned on the lights and tried the tap.

"We have power," I shouted, "and water!"

Pleased with the success of our flirtation with off-grid living, I set upon making that much needed coffee. I plugged the grinder in the wall - nothing. I tried another outlet, one that shared a circuit with a light switch that worked - nothing. I then remembered that the generator panel has circuits only for the kitchen lights, fridge, well pump and garage.

No coffee grinder. No percolator.

I had one possible option left. I crammed myself between the fridge and the wall and reached way back to the outlet that powers the fridge. ZZZzZZZzZZZzZZZ went the grinder.

"We have coffee!" I shouted.

Finally, fortified with my morning dose of black gold and equipped with my LED headlight, I headed back out to the barn to survey the damage in the chicken pen. It's not exactly clear what happened -- I'm assuming it's some kind of crack in the barn's foundation that we'll have to repair in the spring.

In the meantime, we made a crude levee by shovelling some shavings and straw into a pile in the corner, in an attempt to mop up the trickle of water that must have started during the previous day's rainstorm and/or thaw.

The chickens, however, had other plans. A few hours later, the shavings and straw were dispersed throughout the pen. It appears our girls had some kind of scratching party. What they were looking for remains a mystery but at least the bottom three inches of shavings, now frozen, have since been covered with several more inches of clean shavings.

It wasn't the homecoming that we'd expected but nonetheless, it was satisfying to discover that we successfully got through our first mini power outage unscathed (the power came back on a few hours later.) Our girls are still laying eggs, despite the watery assault upon their living quarters and the barnyard is looking, well... slightly less sloppy thanks to a lot of shovelling and several wheelbarrow trips to the manure pile.

As for me, I've decided I'll have only two items on my wish list for next Christmas: one manual coffee mill and one woodstove-top percolator. Now if I can just figure out a way to power my new coffee roaster...


Mama Pea said...

Great narration! Save for looking back on years down the road. (Pull it out to read next Christmas even!) It's amazing what we forget if we don't have journaling and/or pictures to remember these events by.

Leo said...

I think your chickens must've wanted a skating rink. :P

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