Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Crash Course

Well, that was unexpected. 

We got hit with the biggest snow storm this area has seen in years, decades even, this past Friday, just after my last post. Expecting the 3-10" forecast, we weren't too worried. Hindsight being 20/20, we should have been. We were slammed with 17" of snow and lost power for 4 1/2 days. With that came a very swift, rather challenging at moments, crash course in off-grid living. 

Our well is equipped with a mechanical pump. When the power fails out here, we lose water access, as well. I'd worried that might happen, so I filled the tub about a quarter of the way full on Friday afternoon. We also had nine 1-gallon jugs of water in the basement. The rest of our water usage came from melting snow. We'd gather up large mixing bowls and add it to a stock pot resting on our wood stove. That melted snow was used to wash dishes, flush toilets, provide water for the chickens, and in washing faces and brushing teeth. 

Fortunately, we have a wood stove. I feel for all of the folks who had to stare down nights that dipped into the teens without fireplaces or wood stoves to gather around. We also have propane fuel, used in our furnace, hot water heater, and stove. While the first two rely on an electric current for ignition, the stove only needed a match. We were able to cook food, boil water-hell, I even made butterscotch pudding! On day two, we emptied the refrigerator and freezer, placing everything in coolers left outdoors. I pounded the cooler containing frozen items into the snow, padding it an extra layer of frozen protection. 

On day three, we teamed up with our neighbors to chainsaw down a large amount of fallen trees that blocked the driveway. As we live about 1 mile from the road, this was no small feat. Finally, though, we cleared the road, only to find that we couldn't get our car safely down from the steep knob we live up on down to the level portion of the driveway. We're hoping the sun will melt the snow enough today to either make it passable, or we'll recruit a wrecker service. 

Lessons learned along the way include: 
-I really need some snow boots.
-How could we have gone this long living in a rural setting without a transistor radio?
-We'll take to buying firewood in late spring/early summer from now on, as the longer we wait to buy it, the more likely we are to end up with unseasoned wood that is extremely difficult to burn.
-Our pantry should be stocked with two weeks worth of water, animal food, and non-perishable items all winter long. We did good, as it was, but we can do better. 
-If any snow AT ALL is called for, we'll move our cars down from the knob and out to the road in advance. 

Being snowed in doesn't really bother us. We're home for days at a stretch as it is. Being snowed in, without power, with firewood of seriously questionable quality, and without a radio, or proper footwear on my part, was a hard lesson in preparation. Living in the country requires certain things of a person, certain expectations. If you intend to enjoy the beauty and solitude offered by a rural life, then you'd better intend to be ready for the less than idyllic moments, as well. 

On the upside, I learned not just ways to be more prepared, but ways to be more conservative in my energy use. I learned just how much water is required to make a toliet flush and how much goes into washing dishes by hand. I became acutely aware of all of the other electronic conveniences I've come to rely on. 

I also learned, though, that there are worse things to do on a cold winter's night then sit beside a toasty wood stove, playing Rummikub with my husband, while sipping on egg nog and listening to the Vince Guaraldi trio play the entirety of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on public radio. There are certainly far worse things. 


nicole said...

I'm so glad you weathered the storm as well as you did. There's certainly nothing quite like having our everyday conveniences stripped away so suddenly to make us realize how dependent we may have become. The smart folks, like yourselves, learn from the experience and prepare for future unexpected events. I've found that a little bump like this is crucial in reminding us all how grateful we should be for warmth, sustenance, and comfort.

Hope you get your car out soon!

Cyn said...

Nature does have her way of kicking our perspective to a different place. We don't live in the country, but I know if we lost power for that amount of time, we would not have coped as well as you did, Ashley.

I'm glad everyone is well and that you were able to stay warm! Now, get yourself some boots, girl!

Maria said...

I've been in your shoes before and we weren't prepared very well either. It is a lesson learned and a good lesson to learn. Actually, it shows just how much we rely on our modern conveniences.

I'm glad you are over the hard part and soon you will look back on those 4-1/2 days and smile at just how well you did!!! :) I say congrats on weathering the storm!

Jill said...

I'm completely envious of your huge storm! But I'm nestled in the heart of Summit County, Colorado where skiing is king and 17" is a powder day. Quality snow tires, a sturdy snow shovel, warm boots and ski pants are essential!

Anonymous said...

What Charlie Brown Christmas,My FAVORITE!!! NOT!!!. I'm so glad all is well now!! Rainbows in the sky for you!!! Luvins MOM

steph said...

sounds like an average winter in New England...I wouldn't live anywhere else...bring on the elements!

Conny said...

Okay, so I do get kind of sentimental over Charlie Brown Christmas music. Glad your off-grid experience wasn't so bad.

Merry Christmas.

sk said...

How exciting! I'm glad you made it through safe and sound. What an excellent adventure!

tigress said...

that does sound exciting and i'm glad that you guys were prepared enough that there were no real mishaps.

you've got me thinking about the times we go to our farmhouse in the country during the winter. i could really be more diligent about stocks on hand, etc.

happy holidays!

Trina said...

I don't think I've ever commented before, but I've been reading for a few months. I love the sound of snow! or, lack thereof. I went to college in Mass. and now I'm in California, so definitely don't get to "hear" that anymore. It's so cozy.
We had our power out for a few days following a big rainstorm. We relied mainly on our backpacking equipment and did fine. But we had neighbors that gave up and checked into hotels. Hotels!

Amber Pixie Shehan said...

We lost power for only 26 hours here, and we are in Candler, too! I counted my blessings and thanked my double-paned windows - our home only got into the 50's after the power went out.

We are also on city water, so managed well with that, and we are campers so we had propane stoves and coffee bean hand-grinders. Nothing like looking over the gorgeous hills of snow with a cup of french press coffee! :)

Glad you made it through with minimal pain. 4 days is a long time to be without power when you are used to having it!

ashley english said...

amber-we should totally get together. i'm off of lower glady fork, the road just after yours on the left, heading towards pisgah. we're way too close to be strangers. hit me up at: ashleyadamsenglish(at)gmail(dot)com.

Lori said...

in the midwest it's usual to buy your wood a year ahead -- so it seasons at your house while it's waiting for the following winter. it's difficult to buy seasoned wood.

the thing we really need to improve on (and we get snowed in at our country property at least once a year, often more) is having more drinking water on hand.

if you have children i would recommend a small crank flashlight for each of them -- they're really invaluable! we use them when we camp, too.

like you, we have propane and a gas stove/oven, so we can still cook when we have no power. but instead of a wood stove we have two gas stoves that keep the house well heated without having to tote in wood. i still wish we had a wood stove somewhere in the house, but i have to say the gas versions are easier as long as you have plenty of propane. and that's another thing i would recommend -- get a contract with a propane company so you'll never run out at an inopportune time!