Friday, July 8, 2016

Little House on the Prairie Chronicles: Hauling Water

Growing up in the Twin Cities, I never gave much thought to water. You turn on the tap or spigot; it comes out. Simple. A city employee collects your water usage information remotely via a signal emitted from your house's meter. Mystical. Once every three months, you receive a bill to pay for the amount of water you've used. Grrrrrr. How many of us actually read the amount of water we use? I didn't, unless the bill was higher than usual. Even when I did read it, I didn't give it much thought.

That changed when I moved to a country house in North Dakota and had to work for my water.

Here, we also have no direct water supply to the house; the water used for cleaning, showers, and toilet flushing we haul from the city's water tower.

It's an inconvenient chore, but is it cheaper than metered water! In the Cities, I would pay an average of $40 per month for the water used by the duplex I owned. Here, the cost of water averages less than $5 per month.

We also have no sewer system--it's a below-ground septic tank in our back yard, the precise location of which is unknown (finding it will be fodder for another blog and a possible reality TV episode...or two). If I were to take those long, scalding hot showers that I love, our tank would overfloweth...and who knows where that's going. I think it's safe to say that I'm not going to be dowsing for a well on the property. Even if we were to find a well, it wouldn't last that long; many people out here who have dug them have to relocate their well once every two or three years. I have no concept what digging a well involves, other than lots of time and money.

So we hi-ho, hi-ho, it's to the water tower we go. 

In the corner of our basement, a walled-off room  houses a 2,500 gallon cistern. Every so often, one of us will go downstairs, take a long piece of wood, and dip it into the cistern to measure how much water we have left. If the end of the stick is darkened by less than 3" of water, we need more. Weather permitting, we'll put the 250-gallon water tank on a trailer, hook the trailer up to a truck, gather quarters, and take a jaunt to downtown Flaxton.

Once we've arrived, Roger (because he's slightly taller with longer arms) will clamber up on the trailer and reach for the nozzle onto which he attaches the hose to put water into the tank. I position myself next to the coin slot and wait for further instruction: eye contact, a nod of the head, or that sort of nonverbal signal.

Then Roger unscrews the tank lid and inserts the other end of the hose into the tank. When he's braced himself sufficiently (that water comes shooting out at God-knows-how-many-gallons-per-second), he gives me a nonverbal signal to commence offering quarters to the Flaxton water gods. Reverently, we both wait for the metallic sound of rushing water that indicates the flood gates have been opened.


Mind you, it isn't a precise system, but the cost is most often $1.25 for 250 gallons of water. Sometimes, fortune smiles upon us and we can fill the tank for 75 cents. Sometimes, it costs $2.25. More often than not, though, I plug 5  American quarters, one at a time, into the slot on the side of the building. Canadian quarters jam the machine, resulting in an inability to shut off the water...at all. Roger found this out when someone had used a Canadian quarter and he tried to shut off the supply by holding down the water shut-off button. The supply didn't shut off and water shot everywhere until he could call someone in town to come shut it off (I was not along for this adventure). The most recent time we went, we arrived to find water pouring out of the overflow and creating a small slough at the base of one of the tower's feet. On this occasion, we met the public works supervisor (an engineer from Texas) and his wife (an architect from Switzerland). From our local water engineer, we learned that Flaxton has the best water in the state, brought up from a well 600-feet below the ground.

Once the tank is full, we bring the water back to the house, hook up a different hose to the tank's spigot, remove the repurposed tuna can that prevents critters from entering and drowning in the cistern and tainting our supply of the state's best water, shove the other end of the hose into a hole and feed it through some piping in the house's foundation, turn on the spigot, and let the tank drain into the cistern in the basement. This takes about 20 minutes.


After 3 or 4 trips, we have a full-enough cistern and enough water to last us for a month or so, provided that I don't take long showers and we abide by the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" maxim. 

You may be asking yourself, if you only clean with that water, with what do you cook? I don't cook anything that requires water...just kidding. 

The water with which we cook and give to the dogs is imported from Turtle Mountain taps when we go back for a visit. I'm most often the one who hauls the empty jugs--one- and 5-gallon--to one of our family's houses and fills them. Then I'll haul the filled jugs to the truck and we'll have enough potable water for a month or two.

When I moved up here, I didn't fully realize the importance--and precious nature--of water. However, now that I have to work for my water, I'm a lot more cognizant of how much I use and for what purpose I use it. I try to repurpose as much as possible. For example, when I give the dogs fresh water, for example, I will use yesterday's water to give the houseplants a drink. This isn't being stingy; it's being mindful that each drop of water wasted adds up to a sooner-than-necessary chore. I'd rather do things like write blogs and craft other pretty things than the chore of hauling water. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Exorcising the Past

When Roger bought the house in Flaxton, the former owner had left behind things he couldn't--or wouldn't--haul with him to his new home.

Charles reminded me of the actor Ray Walston, circa OF MICE AND MEN era. His dilapidated clothing actually could have served as his character Candy's wardrobe for the film. Charles' personality, however, was not as sweet as the old swamper's; it could best be described as curmudgeonly. The man's stated views on politics and people, as well as his implied ideas of housekeeping, made me cringe. The elderly widower had lived here alone with his dog, an old german shorthair who left behind enough of his wiry fur to reassemble a new beast. His dog also left behind many blankets and pieces of furniture on which his tired, unwashed body had lain. Furthermore, his old dog incontinence had caused him to leak urine throughout the house. Charles, too, had left behind sundry remnants of his tenancy. He'd collected scrap metal, and rumor had it that he used to root through the local dump grounds to add to his hoard. Roger discovered Charles' personal dumping grounds for household rubbish on the northwest corner of the property in back of the outhouse, where he deposited personal material of an organic nature. Most of this detritus has been eliminated, repurposed or rehomed or is in the process of being dealt with properly.

Inside the house, complete matching bedroom sets filled the attic rooms--these most likely were left by the Bensons, who owned the place for many years before Charles. Among the items left on the house's main floor was a gas stove whose flames baptized the bottom of each pan with a thick layer of soot. Through trial and error, we found that if the flames were not on high or even medium, the amount of emitted soot could be mitigated. To clean these pots and pans, however, had always been an unholy mess. Soot on the counter, soot on the sponge, soot on your hands and under your nails, soot in the dishwater...yuck.

Yesterday was Sunday, the day on which I washed my last blackened pan. Hallelujah.

The day before, I'd helped Roger haul in an electric stove that had been in storage for ten years. I'd promised Roger to christen the oven by making baking powder  biscuits for him. As I scrubbed and shined the inside and outside of our new-to-the-home appliance, I rejoiced in our future of soot-free countertops and pots and pans and hands and water. Oh my, nothing could have prepared me for this baptism.

When we'd brought in the appliance, Roger had suggested that I run the empty oven first for a bit to burn off any cleaning chemicals. I cranked the oven up to 550 and let 'er buck while I assembled the dough. After the chemical smell abated, I decreased the oven temperature, popped the biscuits into the oven, set the timer, and cleaned up the kitchen. While I cleaned, I noticed a new smell...and it wasn't the smell of biscuits baking. Naturally, this was the moment Roger came inside and asked what was burning. He said he could smell it from outside while he was working.

"It's the cleaning chemicals, I think," I replied as I turned around to look at the oven...and noticed smoke wafting from the back of the appliance's right side.

The biscuits were done, so I hurriedly took them out and turned off the oven as Roger set to work diagnosing the cause of the smoke, which was steadily thickening. Phoebe, the golden retriever with the nose of a bloodhound, proceeded to run to the back door and anxiously paw at the welcome mat. Then she raced to the livingroom to cower beneath the coffee table. From the front porch, I grabbed the fan I'd bought for us a couple of summers ago and set it up in the kitchen window to blow the smoke outside. I returned to the front of the house and opened the door.  Then I walked to the back door and raised the storm window to invite more fresh air into the house. Armed with a bottle of Febreeze, I strode through the house, leaving a lavender-scented mist in my wake. I likened my purification rite to that of a Catholic priest waving a thurible and praying for the help of the saints. This demonic smoky stench had to go.

As I raced around the house, Roger coolly peered down the vents beneath the stovetop. While Roger sleuthed out the appliance's problem, I stopped to sample one of the freshly baked biscuits. The consistency of the biscuit was okay--not as flaky as those made with shortening,  but at least the inside was soft and the exterior wasn't as hard as a hockey puck. The flavor, however, was off. "This biscuit tastes like crap," I said and took another nibble to ascertain the source of the flavor foible. Indeed, the biscuits had a bitter taste, not the sweet, buttery flavor of biscuits I'd baked in the past.

"Come here--look at this," Roger said and waved me over to the stove.

First, he shined the light down the left-hand vent, which looked fairly clean for a used stove. Then he shined the light down the right-hand one, illuminating the cause of the smolder: mouse droppings and the makings of a nest.

"Yeah, I thought we should have waited to use the oven taken until after we'd cleaned out the sides, too," Roger belatedly stated.

Prior to this little fiasco, if he would have verbalized the possibility of hidden vermin dwellings inside the stove, I wouldn't have made these craptacular baked goods. I vowed to donate the biscuits to the area's wildlife with the hope that they would eat them and my labor would not be entirely in vain. But Roger had not suggested this potential problem to me, and I did not think of it, since when I'd cleaned it, I found no evidence of the appliance serving as a mouse condominium.

As the smoke cleared, Roger sat down in the livingroom.

"Try one of these, Roger," I said as I handed him a biscuit. "Does the flavor seem off to you?"

He bit into one. As he chewed, his face wrinkled in distaste. "They're kind-of bitter," he replied.

Touché.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Birdwalking in the Bush

In the mornings, birds fill the air, their lithe bodies swirling in the sky and songs ferried by the wind.

I stand, morning coffee cup in hand, and drink in the scene. Swallows with their split tails zoom overhead, occasionally lighting on a roof peak or the flag pole top. This morning, one alights on the flag pole top and lets loose a feather it had carried in its beak; this gift lands at my feet. A flock of birds similar to seagulls--minus the characteristic cry--circle high overhead, their flight suggesting concentric rings of water radiating from a disturbed surface. Mourning doves coo from their perches on telephone lines. Huge robins spar over something unbeknownst to me. A hungry owl squawks from somewhere in the trees. All the while, the wind's susurration whispers today's plan in my ear: it begins with a morning dogwalk down the gravel road in front of the house.

From the sloughs along the road, various duck breeds, red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, killdeers, and starlings will abandon their posts as we pass. Some will cry alarms. The quacking of mallards and splash of water as they fly will attract the attention of Phoebe, the olden golden retriever, whose body freezes and ears open to catch the sound. She seems to instinctively recall her breeding and the job associated with it, and I will have to wrestle her away from the stagnant water of the ditch. Rugrat will scent invisible quarry from tall grasses and dive into the undergrowth, limited by the leash. She will emerge from the grasses unfazed and trot beside us as we continue our perambulation.

The life awaiting me outside the house beckons, and it's time to get out of my head to answer the call.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Little Home On the Prairie

I'm not wearing a bonnet (yet) and neither of my dogs' names are Bandit (yet), but I'm making the move to life in North Dakota in a little house between a prairie and a farm field.

People think of NoDak as one vast, unending prairie. While that stretch on 29 between Fargo and Grand Forks seems that way, the northern part of the state is very pretty. There are rolling hills, lakes stocked with healthy fish, trees that are more than windbreaks, wide open skies, and good roads. People are friendly and kind, too.

And multitudinous new experiences await me. For example, just this morning I put some mail out for the mailman to pick up, and I raised the little red arm on the mailbox to alert him. I've never done that before. Drink coffee in the morning in my pajamas on the back porch and watch the swallows swerve around the yard. Listen to the wind blowing through the trees, the silence occasionally interrupted by a train whistle and the intermittent squawk of a hungry female owl letting her big hunter know that she's hungry (they do that when they're nesting or have a owlet to look after). Walk the dogs down dusty country roads and struggle to keep the golden retriever out of sloughs where ducks are swimming. It's peaceful and calming.

And I write. So far, a lot of it's in my head and heart and wherever else inspiration awaits incarnation. I imagine what form my life here will take, and if that form is a something with which I can live. I pray for the happiness and safety of my family, friends, and former students back in the Cities and around the world.

For all the idyllic details, there are inconveniences. No trash service, so you have to burn it, bring it to the dump, or haul it to work and surreptitiously slip it in the company dumpster. No well nor a connection to a water main, so we fill the large basement cistern from the water tower. Cheapest groceries are at least 1.5 hours away (Walmart in Minot). In other words, there is a certain mindfulness required to live here...and this is actually kinda cool. You have to ask yourself how much you really need certain things.

I'm happy here, though I miss some people in the Cities. I will see them soon, and I'm only a phone call, text, post, tweet, Skype session, road trip, train or plane ride away. Laura Ingalls didn't have that convenience or connectivity. We live in an age in which physical distance does not end relationships unless we choose to let it. I choose to stay in touch with those who are a part of my life, and I hope others choose to reciprocate.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Changes

You didn't honestly think you'd get out of a blog entry without being subjected to some music, did you? This morning's earworm for me has been the song "Changes", a Phil Ochs cover performed by Neil Young. I suggest you start the song before you read today's blog rumination. That's only a suggestion--you can do what you want. It's a free country, more or less. By the way, happy Fourth of July!

Neil Young performs Phil Ochs' "Changes" at the Chicago Theater

Today I've been thinking a lot about changes. My friends and I have been going through some major life shifts. Change is something to which we can all relate--births, deaths, jobs, relationships, etc--though some people welcome and deal with these permutations more effectively than others.

That idea being set forth, let me begin with a story: a block from my house is an aerie--an eagle's nest. It's been there for about 7 years now, and each year, two or three eaglets are born and raised in it. This year, there's a different female who has helped hatch and raise the brood--the female in previous years had a pure white tail, and this one still has some brown in her tail feathers. Papa Eagle has a new, younger mate! It's a romantic myth that eagles mate for life--they tend to, because they're territorial and return to the same nesting area year after year. Since I live by the river, there are several aeries in the area, which means several potential mates.

Yesterday evening, the female eagle was teaching the two eaglets how to call--she would call, then the eaglets would mimic her in fledgling voices. It sounded to me like an attention call, a "hey, come here" that I've heard from the male or female when one of them is sitting in the nest and calling the other back. Since these eaglets seem to be a week or two from flight, it seems appropriate that an attention call is one of the first calls they're taught.

Eagle's Attention Call
This is not my footage, but it's a similar call to
 what I heard the mother eagle teaching her eaglets

Over the past seven years, I've taken lots of pictures of the eagles, and the image below is one of my favorites.
The two neighborhood eagles in the Talking Tree near my house. 
When you spot the eagles in the tree, you might see that their silhouettes form a heart shape. According to the Seven Teachings, Eagle is associated with love, which many people associate with this heart shape. Cool coincidence, huh?

Different American Indian tribes and bands have different teachings, but there are some commonalities. One that I've noticed is that since Eagle flies the highest of all the birds, it is closest to the Creator. I'm not sure if that's the influence of Christian religion on traditional American Indian religion; it could also be that the sky is associated with the Creator since the sun and the moon and stars are a part of it. Maybe it's a combination of both ways of thinking. In any case, from his/her high vantage point, Eagle can see the past, present, and future and the flow of change. Eagle alerts us to these changes so we can respond in a good way.

Since Eagle in associated with the connection between the Great Mystery and Earth and can see the flow of human events, s/he is associated with courage and wisdom. Eagle's wisdom gives us courage to understand when a change will occur or needs to be made. In turn, this knowledge helps us muster up the courage to face or execute the change. This is a beautiful idea to me, as many of my friends and family are going through changes. I think about them a lot and wonder how I can best support and help them; maybe they think of me, too, and wonder the same thing. As I go through these shifts, helping my friends and family also helps me; I learn by assisting others. As I gain understanding, I can pass these teachings on to others to help them. I suppose my love of learning and appreciation of reciprocity would be a large part of why I'm a teacher.

Heavy stuff, that.

For me--and perhaps you--it boils down to this: the reciprocal nature of teaching and learning is a testament to our interconnectedness. You need me, and I need you. We need to be kind to and look out for each other. Please do so.

Thank you, and have a good day.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pet Peeve

This entry started as a rant on Facebook, but it became kinda long, so I thought I'd contain my ideas to a blog entry that the curious can view. Or not. This, you may understand, is a thinly veiled ploy to get myself writing more regularly. However, I doubt a poem will be born of this entry. You can thank me later.

That preface being stated....

Those of you who know me know that I love dogs. I have two of them who have been faithful companions--sometimes, their company is preferable to that of most people most of the time--I am an introvert, after all.  It's not that I don't like people--I do, but in small doses. There's something about hanging out with and taking care of my pups that causes me to slow down and reflect, which is what I need to do A LOT as an introvert. Please note I did not say "project"--that's part of my rant (see below). Taking care of my dogs also brings out the closest thing I can liken to a "mothering instinct", though I realize that dogs and young children are not the same.


Rugrat and Phoebe

Because I love dogs, my pet peeve may come as a surprise: people who have blogs and FB pages for their dogs AND write in their dogs' voices. You may be asking yourself how I know these exist; it's not as though I go online seeking out something against which to rail. My awareness of these pages is the result of some of my Facebook friends commenting on them, seemingly during the wee hours of the morning. I don't know if this is a new form of sleeptexting or if they're just out of it for whatever reason. In any case, when those friends of mine comment on these postings, it goes into the newsfeed that I see when I'm on Facebook.

Here's an excerpt of what I saw this morning on Cora the Wobbly Pittie Girl:
I iz not going to push it and say that her home will embrace habing a doggie     furbaby... at least fur now.... but what a huge obstacle our new furiend habs obercome!! I iz hoping that her will now "make the rounds" and go and make furiends wif more ob mah furfuriendz, so her can see that many kindz ob "big" doggies are happy, and furiendly, and werthy ob LUB. So, you send me a message fanking me fur helping you open your eyez.... to that I respond "oh no!! Fank YOU fur totally making mah day, mah week, and pawsibly mah year!!! " And, yes, if her lets me know when her birfieday iz.... I will ob course sing to her too!! Today iz like the most PAWsome day eber already!!

I can barely read this, and I like to believe that the reason is not because I don't read dog. Where did this start? Why did people begin blogging in the presumed voices of their canine charges? Is it the result of the dog memes on I Has A Hotdog?




However it began, the example from Cora the Wobbly Pittie Girl is probably the penultimate worst dog blogging example to which I've been subjected. I'll concede that there may be an intelligent, affable pooch out there somewhere who knows the difference between an "s" and a "z" and doesn't interject the words "fur" or "paws" into every other word at any opportunity, but Cora's page does not give me cause for hope. These ghost dog bloggers make their dogs sound like idiots, which I don't think is their purpose. But who knows? Maybe these people are so low and down on their own luck, that they're trying to raise themselves on the species chain...over dogs. Or perhaps their own writing skills are so poor, but they have such a need to express themselves, that that do so through a dog blog. That's like projecting yourself onto a dog, the psychological ramifications of which I'm not totally comfortable.

Jung would say my discomfort stems from my shadow, a part of my own personality/psyche with which I'm uncomfortable.

This, too, brings me to a place in which I'm not totally comfortable.

What this long-winded rant boils down to is this: some people are writing these blogs in dogs' voices, and that's really sad...almost as sad as this blog about this phenomenon.

I'm going to walk my dogs.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Butterfly's Path

Lately, I've been thinking a lot--maybe too much--about changes. I've been thinking about the nature of loss and the change/moving on that can follow. 

Yesterday on my morning walk, a butterfly flew by me and lit on a leaf. I stopped to watch it, because it was really unique--its wings were mainly an iridescent blue spotted with the white dots of a monarch. The edges of its wings were rimmed with window panes of rust. It was beautiful. After I admired it for a couple of minutes, it flew over and landed on my arm, and we hung out for a few minutes before it flew away.

The butterfly sort of looked like this...but not quite...but you get the idea.

I wondered if that monarchesque insect would eventually become a full-fledged monarch with orange wings and if monarchs, once they break free from their chrysalis, continue to change their form.

I thought about this image all day. I listened to songs about loss and change, particularly Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' The Boatman's Call.

Not sure if this link is working...but look it up 
on YouTube if you're so inclined. :)

And this morning, I wrote a poem. 


That Blue Bloom

Stumbling over rugs in the house of dawn, I
Listen for your song on the wind. Many days
find me waiting: a face drawn in an upstairs
window, watchful eyes seeking your shade

cruising down my street on a motorcycle, in
a truck, on a bicycle, on rollerblades or foot.
Outside, the sun rises and sets, splaying rays
on grass carpets rippled by Zephrys’ breath.

Feathers in hand, whorls of sage smoke rise,
prayers slip through my lips, and longing
beats its tired wings, flying towards a world
from which you watch, face drawn in a cloud.


© Kate McClure 2014