If at first you don’t succeed, blame gremlins

Incy wincy Sally went up our water route
Down came the rain and washed our Sally out
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain
Now incy wincy Sally goes up the route again

OK….that rhyme was a bit of a stretch….the sun hasn’t come out.  But Sal is going back up today anyway.

You see…….the pipeline is a kilometer long (give or take a few feet).  It lies along the side of the steep ravine that contains the creek.  At the top of the ravine, there is a little pool and, in that little pool, there sits a pick-up strainer device that captures the water and sends it down the long 1″ pipe that terminates at our cisterns.  To get there the pipe goes downhill from an elevation of 120 feet to the beach and then runs along a natural rock wall for the greater distance to our place.  But it also has to ‘climb’ back up to get to our elevation at about 70 feet.  Basically, we have  50 feet of ‘head’ over almost 1000 yards/meters.  And water runs downhill.  ‘Should work!’

Or so one might think…………………….sometimes water defies gravity and it’s own fluid nature and just sits there.  And it acts in this recalcitrant way more often than you would think.  We have theories about this miracle of physics but not much else. ‘It’s clogged with sediment.’  ‘It’s air in the lines’.  ‘ It just takes time. Give it a day’. ‘The pickup is sucking air’. ‘Animals ate through the pipe!’ ‘A tree musta fallen on the line.’ 

Interestingly, all of the above wild guesses have manifested as true over the years…some more than others (only once did an animal chew through the line).  But…you never know which one it is until you ‘walk the line’.  Ergo, Sal goes bushwhacking.

The one that boggles my mind is the ‘give it a day’ suggestion.  Water is halfway down the hill.  A valve is opened at the bottom – about two hundred feet away – and we wait a day!!????  How does that make any sense?  Go ahead – I dare ya – get a pipe 200 feet long and pour a bucket of water down it…does it take a day or so to flow out the bottom?  Of course not!  And yet….that has been the best solution most of the time…..

The process requires going to the top to clear the pick-up and then, to ensure none of the mystery pipe gremlins are at work, one heads down-pipe to the first ball-valve and diverter and it is opened.  If water comes out there, then the top section is deemed clear.  And down goes Incy Wincy to the next diverter and repeats the exercise.

Yesterday, Sally went to the top and then to the next two diverters.  All good.  The third one was then opened and it did NOT run water.  Sal waited for a bit and declared a gremlin and came down.

“Maybe there is air in the line?  Or sediment?  Or maybe a tree fell on it. Most likely it’s still frozen somewhere.”  We have a habit of running through the list of possible causes every time as if that might help in some way.  It never does.  The only answer is to ‘walk the line’.

“I’m going to try again.” 

“Good idea.  Careful of your knees.  And while you are out there, look for more logs.  Ya did good yesterday.  And, oh yeah….what are you making for dinner tonight?”

And NOW for her next amazing trick!!!

The stream froze up.  But that’s to be expected.  It’s why we have cisterns – so any interruptions from the stream do not interfere immediately with our lives.

But the pump at the house also froze up (despite miles of heat tape and completely wrapped in insulation!).  But, well, it’s only money.  Just get a pump.  Put it in.  Back to normal.  Pump is being purchased tomorrow, delivered Thursday.

But, when the bloody pump froze up, it allowed all the water in the cisterns to flow out undetected.  One day I was siphoning water from the tank into carry totes, the next I was sucking air.  I climbed up and looked in, “Hey, Sal!  No water!  We are empty!  Both tanks!”

“What do we do?” 

“Well, I have no idea where in the system there is a leak so I guess we start looking for it and go from there.”

So, yesterday we took the system apart.  Even tho I knew the pump had broken, I did not see the hole in it (at the bottom side) and so, of course, we started at the other end.  Disconnected fillers, filters, ball valves, hoses, insulation and heat tape.  Took all day.  Found nothing wrong.  No holes.  Pulled out my little air compressor and pressurized the line.  It was intact.  All the precautions worked except for the efforts spent on the pump.

I went back, removed the pump and THEN saw the hole.  “That must have been it.  Look at that!  That’s a Grundfoss and the one recommended by Andrew Sheret.  But it has a real cheap, pot-metal adapter plate and that sucker folded up like a pancake.  Plastic in-line ball valves fared better.  Bloody waste of money, this!  And fuss and bother.  Never buy a Grundfoss!”

Our first pump failure was a Gould pump – the ‘BEST’ pump made.  It failed after ten years but, to be fair, it was not til I took it apart that I discovered why:  sediment build up.  The pump was fine but clogged up.  And now it was all apart and I had a new Grundfoss on the way.  I left the Gould in a bucket, installed the G’foss and away we went to the showers.  It was all good.

Until last week.  Down went the G’foss.  So, now I have two pumps-in-parts buckets and another new intact one coming.  We may get this fixed yet!

But – and here is the point of this blog – even if I get the system running, we have no water in the cisterns.  Even a new pump can’t pump water not there.

“I’m going up!”

“Sal!  It’s freezing.  It’s raining.  The stream is likely frozen at least in some places.  What can you do?”

“I can try.  I can see if the pick-up is blocked.  I can wiggle pipes to see if they are solid with ice.  I can try.  No?”

“I think the odds of success are slim but there is no point having a pump delivered if we can’t get water so…..yeah….I think it is a good idea….don’t try fixing things…just suss it out.”

She left in the rain.  She has her walkie-talkie.  A few minutes later she called, “I am gonna be a few extra minutes.  I saw a great log.  Don’t wanna miss it.  Gonna get it and tie it up for later.”

She’s got the right attitude, that’s for sure.  And she’s gonna need it.  There was a last minute cancellation and the hospital called and asked Sal if she wanted in earlier.  She said yes.  She goes in for a knee replacement Feb 7th.  We then reside in CR for 6 weeks while she goes through knee-physio.

What we have here is a woman whose knees are so bad they moved her up the awaiting-surgery list.  In the meantime, she is bushwhacking her way up the frozen creek to see if she can get us some water.

I dunno….isn’t there a medal or statue or trophy or something for partners like that? 

Oh yeah….one more fun thing for the almost-70’s to do when bored or NOT quilting….when we were checking the system, we had to check the tanks.  To really check the tanks, someone should go inside.  The whole at the top is NOT generous.  I can’t get in.  But Sal can.  So, she lowered herself into one 800 gallon black tank and sloshed about in 8 inches of water and ice.  She checked it out with a flashlight.  It was good.  And she was ready to go into the big tank next to it but it is taller than she is so once in, she would have trouble getting out.

“I think we should tip it over.  Then you can crawl in.”

“Good idea.  I do not like the thought of having the opening too high for me to reach.”

“By the way, Sal, after this….what are you making for dinner?”

I need a collar and saucer of milk

I confess that it is still hard for me to think of myself as a senior.  But I am now 72 – that is senior. You’d think I’d ‘get it’ by now but I kinda think I am in a bit of denial.  I still attempt to do what I did and then have to rediscover (midway through the task) that I STILL can’t do that anymore!

I.e., last year I would carry two five gallon fuel totes full to the brim up the 50 odd stairs without stopping.  Of course, I collapsed at the top but I got there without stopping.  Today?  I stop twice…..and still collapse at the top.

Is there really so much difference from 71 to 72?  I actually think the difference showed up at 70 but I kinda pretended otherwise for a couple of years.  I can’t pretend anymore.  Old is old.  I think (for me, anyway) old age set in at 70.  Of course, I have jogging, golfing, vegan-ish friends who gave up alcohol and ‘everything bad’ and seem like they are going strong.  They smile alla time and are always going hiking or cross-country skiing and all that kinda stuff and they pretend they are happy.

They really bug me.

I am not a happy-hiker type of guy….carrying a water bottle?  Wearing a Fit-bit.  Walking is just too slow.  Dull.  I am still more of a moto-crosser kinda guy.  Ya know?  Or even a golf-cart….in a pinch….

Anyway, the point is that living OTG gets a bit more difficult as one ages.  Everyone likely knows that…but, it is NOT that the chores can’t be done.  They can.  And, to be honest, they can still be done rather easily (so what if I stopped twice?  It only took an extra minute for me to stop and rest).  The point is really just that: age slows you down but everything can still be done.  And we are still doing it.  I just gotta accept that I am even slower in 2021 than I was in 2020.

More to the point: Sal has to accept the fact that I am even slower than before.

So, what does that look like?  Well, today was book-club day.  But everyone around is snowed in with downed systems and fires that need tending……..and well, in the old days they would still boat through the sleet and slog through the snow to eat quinoa and talk about sad books.  Not today.  The somewhat senior-oriented book club reasonably postponed book club.  THAT is age acknowledgment.  THAT is sane.

I had a fun thing to do a few days ago.  It was below freezing, the wind was way up and I had to get back in the dark (and it turned out to be snowing, too) in a small boat.  I thought about it and cancelled.  Sanity prevailed.  But….well, that is not the ‘old me’.   A couple years ago, I would have gone….mostly out of a sense of macho….none of which is in evidence these days.  The loss of macho?  Or is it sanity?  I dunno….

I had to carry some stuff down a frozen ramp the other day.  If I fell, going in to the drink was likely.  So, like an old man, I slid down the ramp on my butt.  No macho required but I did need to change my jeans.

And so it goes.  Creeping decrepitude.  An erosion of ego, a curtailing of courage, a blocked bravado.  Old man, thy name is pussy.

Even colder!

But, really?  Who wants to read about the weather?  Not many.  It is what it is.  And it is colder today than what it was by a significant margin.  We sit/quilt with our coats on now, the fire jus’ a hummin’, pounding through the woodshed and carrying buckets of water….sorta like the OTG’ers did in the old days.  The biggest difference for us today is the snow.  Now I trudge through snow to get to the wood and water.  Oh, well…..

Nothing lasts forever.  This, too, shall pass.  And we can then go about our normal everyday business like normal everyday people.   Mostly.  Kinda.  (Sal can be a bit weird now and then).  And what, exactly, will that be?

Good question.  When we live ‘our way of life’ out here, a great deal of energy and interest shows up in doing the chores.  There are the dull chores, of course, and no one likes the dull chores (laundry, dishes, cleaning up, etc).  Then there are the ‘everyday’ chores like wood-getting, fixing, repairing, improving (docks and ramps, doors and windows, decks and such).  Those are the feel alive chores.   And then there are the interesting projects….like boat improvements, engine repairs, and new buildings.  I like the projects.  But Sal has put the kibosh on any more non-quilting projects.

In this climate, however, the discussion is moot.  So, I vacuum, do the dishes, pour the wine and generally try to avoid anything quilting.  So, I have downtime.  Lots of it.

And therein lies the point of this blog: downtime.  D-o-w-n-t-i-m-e.  We NEVER have downtime!  There is ALWAYS something to do.  Guests.  Shopping.  Community.  And, I suppose, there still is something somewhere…but no one is gonna do it….. ’cause it is too cold to even stay outside for more than 20 minutes.

At times like these I normally turn my attention to politics but I won’t.  I am following everything, of course, but, really?  They gonna get ‘im?  I doubt it.  He gonna GET got sometime?  I think so.  No second term, I think.  The Trumps gonna try to field a future dynasty with Ivanka and/or Donald Jr?  I think so.  They are kinda sick that way (well, in every way, actually) and feel entitled.  I think we see more of Don Jr.

But I am ahead of myself.  I have a comment on Harry and Meg.  I understand them wanting out of the palace.  I get that.  And I understand them choosing Vancouver Island.  Good choice.  I would have no problem them even skipping the line to claim Canadian citizenship – ’cause no one is gonna deny them so save us all the sham show.

What I do NOT get is why Canada will pick up their security costs?  Makes no sense to me.  Not even politically.  The Royals can afford it all by themselves.  Missing Indigenous women were invisible to the RCMP for decades, they still get kicked out of hotels and get arrested trying to open bank accounts and Meg gets a security detail to go shopping?  Optics ain’t good, there, Justin.  We are not all equal.  Not in any way.  Just rammin’ it down our throats……and it’s shameful.

Anyway, it is a cold day in paradise and it is just getting colder…….


Frozen solid!

My water system has been a bit vulnerable in the past.  A few freezes in the early years smartened me up and I took measures after that.  Things were good for a long while (except for sediment but that’s another challenge).  All equipment was insulated with heat tapes inside the insulative foam and tape wraps.  Yesterday it all STILL froze up.  I do not know if there is a broken part resulting yet but most likely there is.  Whenever I get a new lesson on dealing with Nature, it comes with a few broken parts for emphasis.  The learning curve, eh?

It is so cold out here right now that even running the stove full-tilt, 24 hours and keeping everything ‘snug’, I still cannot get the house temp past F60/15C….not quite true as last night we got it up around 64 but I can’t seem to get to that today.  I am sitting here with a down vest on with a hot water bottle jammed in there to keep me warm.

But that is NOT the half of it.  Sal went to work today at the post office!  Twelve foot boat going slowly, rolling and pitching in small waves but with a few whitecaps.  Temperature well below freezing.  Survival time in these conditions?  Nasty, brutish and short.  Even the mail plane called to say, “We are not flying today!”

Sal had already left.  Stamps got sold. The public was served.

This weather is rare.  So rare, in fact, we have only once had anything like it.  One winter a vicious Bute (a mainland inlet outflow) hit us so fast that a water overflow we had running at the time froze in mid air!  With, of course, the resulting damage that little surprise caused to the whole system.

As I sat to write this, Sal called, “I am leaving the post office now.  Should be home in half an hour.”  The wind is down a bit.  But the temperature is just as cold.  Maybe colder.  I can see her coming…another picture?  Doesn’t show much but there you have it.

Are we deterred?  Not in the least.  OK, a little bit….kinda…maybe…..it is NOT the cold in itself.  It is NOT the incredible consumption of wood or even the inevitable repairs to be done when we can get to them.  No, the deterrence stems from showers – or lack of showers.  That’s the only thing.  The rest we can handle with hot water bottles and snuggling.  In some ways, it is not all bad……but snuggling without showers can only be indulged for a short time, ya know…

Communication is Everything

The daily workload has ground to a halt, really.  For me, anyway.  Sal always has something to do, quilts to quilt, paperwork to shuffle and emails to write and return.  Plus, of course, there is always dinner to consider…..

“What should we have for dinner tonight?”

“Oooh, oooh!  How ’bout that yellow chicken goop-thing you do?”

“Nah.  What else?”

“Ummmhh…there’s that great prawn Linguine you are famous for?”

“Nah.  What?”

“Unh, Sal?  Do you just want me to list meals we can maybe do and then you pick from a list that might take me an hour to go through?  Or maybe we could just cut to the chase…?  What do you want to make?”

“Unh…I dunno…something white, tasteless…you know, potatoes, British stodge?” 

The truth?  Sal never says that last sentence.  She should.  Because that is the truth of it but she thinks that I should KNOW what she wants (spice-free, unseasoned, white foods like chicken or fish, cauliflower and potatoes) and then I should pick that.  I have gained some fluency in ‘fem-speak’ and I now respond with something like, “You know, make something easy, not exotic…maybe a baked potato, maybe something like chicken..?”

“Great!  That’s what we’ll make.”

“Glad I had a say in it.”

“Waddya mean?  It was YOUR choice!”

Fem-speak, eh?  Brilliant.  Pure genius.

As for our life off the grid….it is very cold.  But it is beautiful.  I am toasty warm (but ugly).  The balance in the universe has been restored.  Yin and yang.

Our community work has slowed somewhat….Xmas lethargy hangover and freezing temperatures coupled with short days tends to keep the hoi polloi home.  I am one of them.  But, I DO have some things I have to do.  And so I’ll get on it…..just not too quickly….

I am keeping politics to a minimum here but I do have to point out that Putin/Trump have managed to put a wedge in NATO.  The Great Subterfuge is alive and well.   The UK just announced a separation of ‘sharing information’ with the US.  And all the NATO countries have said ‘they do not trust Trump’.  And, of course, we just lost 50+ citizens in the plane crash caused by a nervous Iranian with a button to push….because the US impulsively put Iran on a war-footing.  Our political pundits say, “We should be mad!  Trudeau should be angry!”

Don’t hold your breath.  Canada will do nothing.  That’s the way we roll.

Still, I want to leave you with a little OTG beauty…so here…INSTEAD of 1000 words….a picture instead!

Elephant Mountain



On the Home Front

I often write about the beauty of our region, the magic of wildlife, the experience of living and working outdoors.  I sprinkle in the intrepid adventures of Sally Sunshine, the mistakes and foibles of Doofusy-Dave and, of course, I include the comedic community of the other eccentrics living off the grid.  All of that plus a whale sighting, ravens, squirrels and a tub of prawns now and then pretty much makes up the mental collage of what it is like to live out here.  And it is all true.  True grit, true beauty, true magic.

True as far as it goes, anyway….but maybe now is the time for some ‘hard cheese’.

Winter sucks.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking; “You two are spoiled rotten.  Most winters you go to warmer climes.  It is only right that you get a dose of real winter!”  And that sentiment is true, also.  You can’t really claim to be OTG if you don’t reside year ‘round now and again.  Suffering winter to gain OTG cred, as it were.  And, so, we picked the winter of 2019/20 to add to the resume.

So far, it sucks.

Firstly, we seem to have had nothing but constant rain for the last 6 weeks.  That is not quite true but that is the feeling.  Lots of rain.  Lots of rain and fog!  And, over the last few days, we have more than flirted with snow!  We are pounding through the woodpile.  We are running the genset on average four hours a day!  I am frequently turning on and off the heat tapes.  And the damn internet (on satellite) keeps dropping any signal – too overcast.

“I think we may as well go to bed and rekindle our marriage.”

“I think you should shut up and go cut more kindling!”

It is getting a bit tense in here.

In theory, I should go out to the workshop and tinker or fix crap.  Maybe indulge in some manly hobby?  But it is freezing out there and, if I heat up the shop, then I have to work!  That doesn’t seem like a logical response to the situation to me.

What I need is a winter project, one in which being cold and wet isn’t required.  Something warm and pleasant……”Say, let’s discuss that rekindling idea again…?”

“Let’s discuss that kindling first!”

Part of the growing chasm between us is the water system.  It’s a bit of a burden in winter.  I keep the pumps and pipes going, Sal keeps the intake pipe open.  Her chore is the hard one made even tougher by the cold, wet and a raging stream into which she has to dive to clear the intake.  Plus she has to climb up an overgrown ravine to get such an exhilarating experience.  One of our neighbours suggested that Sal might want to carry a firearm when she goes—for the bears and cougars.  Bear spray at least.

“Nah!  She’s good.  And, anyway, another few weeks of this and she’ll be so nasty no animal will get near her.  Not even the rekindling kind.”

As I write this, visibility is about one mile.  Wet.  Temp near freezing.  Forecast for -19C a few days from now.  I am NOT used to that kind of cold.

Not a creature is stirring….except ants!  That’s right, ants!  I guess our house is warm and theirs is not and so they want to share.  We do not want to share.  So, I am currently engaged on the Western Front (of the house) where we believe the little bastards are entering.  Yesterday, we had maybe a dozen.  I fired the first salvo of poison and today?  Only one so far.  We’ll see.

So, there you have it…..death, dismal, dark and depressing amidst the cold, wet and freezing….while living with a claustrophobic wolverine (cute, though) and trying to figure out where we will be going next winter.