The power outages. The water shortages.
Of course I fully realize that power outages and water shortages can happen when you live in a town or city. But let’s just say that my recent experiences – or in the case of the water, close encounters – have reminded me that, as with so many other things, it’s different when you’re in the country. That said, the experiences have also been a healthy reminder of how fortunate we are to have ready access to those luxuries – electricity and water, I mean – almost all the time.
The power outage happened a week ago this evening, and is the reason why regular readers did not get their usual Monday instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse last week. “Severe thunderstorms predicted for tonight,” said the text Raymond sent me while I was driving to work that morning. “Oh great,” I thought, knowing how I absolutely had to spend several hours on my laptop that evening finishing up a big presentation to be delivered at a municipal conference the following morning.
But then again: the weather forecasts are so often wrong. And we often get thunderstorms without there being a power loss. What were the chances it would happen this particular evening?
The chances were excellent.
When the power went out a little before 6:30 p.m., I still had a long way to go to finish getting the text of my talk into digital form and putting together the slideshow that must accompany a presentation if you want to keep the audience awake. (Plus a slideshow is always a great chance to show off how pretty Queensborough is, which was one of the themes of my talk.) Stupidly, I’d been working out on the Manse’s front porch until that point – that is, working on battery power rather than with my laptop plugged in. Which meant the battery was already low when the lights (and Raymond’s Red Sox game on TV) suddenly went out.
I can laugh about it now, but at the time it wasn’t very amusing: trying to get as much done as I could while battery power remained on my laptop and Raymond’s, awkwardly transferring files back and forth between them on a USB stick and knowing that even in a best-case scenario (like, say, the power coming back at a reasonable hour), it was going to be a late night and a stressful next day. (I had to be at the scene of the talk, a drive of almost an hour and a half, early in the morning.) We lit all the candles in the house and our two kerosene lamps, and it was all very quaint and cheerful-looking, as you can maybe tell from my photos. But looks can be deceiving. It was hot (and made hotter by all those flames); I was stressed; and we were hungry and tired.
Did I mention hungry? The last time the power went out at our former home in Montreal at dinnertime, we walked up the street to a very nice restaurant that was fully lit and operational, and used the outage as an excuse to treat ourselves to sushi. Obviously that wasn’t an option in Queensborough, so Raymond tried for the next best thing: pizza. But after several attempts at calling a place we like in Madoc (which is “town” for us, most of the time), we realized that it was without power too, along with everyone and everything else in Madoc. Ah, but there was the pizza place in Tweed! (Which is also “town.”) We called. It was a little before 8 p.m. They were closed.
Ah, life in the country.
Anyway, to end that story, the power did come on again, though not till 12:30 a.m. I’d given up trying to work and, after a cold supper of prosciutto and melon (we don’t live that badly), gone to bed and failed utterly to sleep in the all-pervasive heat. Got up at 5 a.m., did my best to whip the presentation into shape, and survived. With another tale to tell.
But the power outage leads me to something else: being without water. As most of you doubtless know, probably the single biggest inconvenience about power outages is that your water pump won’t run (unless it’s powered by something other than electricity). So: Taking a shower? Flushing the toilet? Forget it. And that’s no fun. Fortunately we have a rain barrel and were able to get toilet-flushing (and hand-washing) water from it. But let’s just say thank goodness the outage didn’t last any longer than it did.
But that’s not the only low-water story I’ve got. As everyone in my part of the world knows, we’re suffering through an extreme lack of rain, and water is becoming a big issue. Here – I’ll show you what I mean. This is how the Black River usually looks as it flows over the dam in the heart of “downtown” Queensborough:
And this is how it looked late this afternoon:
You will notice there is precisely zero water going over the dam, and the river is very, very low. Here are some photos that I took today of the millpond above the dam, normally a popular swimming spot:
It’s been a good many years since anyone in Queensborough has seen so much rock and dry land where normally there’s lots of water. Everyone is worried for the farmers; while most of the local ones have managed to get off their first cut of hay (thanks to the heat making the season early), unless we get some rain soon that hoped-for second cut may not materialize at all. As for those who grow vegetables – yikes! Our fingers are crossed for them.
To show you one small impact of the lack of rain, here are a couple of photos of the Manse’s dried-up brown lawn right now:
Mercifully, the rains did finally come that summer. But what I’m realizing this time around is that there’s a big difference between spending the odd weekend in a house in the country when the water levels are low (as Raymond and I were then, still living and working full-time as we were in Montreal), and having that water-challenged house in the country be your one and only full-time residence.
Suddenly you start thinking seriously about how often and how long your showers are, and whether you really have to flush the toilet, and whether you’re willing to risk combining whites and lights in the laundry to make a single load where normally there would be two. Because what you desperately want not to happen is your precious well running dry. I understand there is a remedy if it does – you pay for a big tanker truck to come and fill it up – but that brings with it expense and the hassle of priming the pump and so on.
As a result of this arid state of affairs, I have started to better appreciate why we did some of the things we did when I was a kid growing up at this same Manse. Things like going swimming often in the river, and taking a bar of soap and shampoo with us, to avoid taxing the well with baths or showers. Or filling a cup with water for toothbrushing at the bathroom sink, rather than running water from the tap for a minute or two. Or washing your car at the river rather than with the garden hose. It all makes sense now.
Having plentiful water, and power that doesn’t go off for long periods – or, if it does, having ready access to places with heat and light – are things that urban folk take for granted. But as Joni Mitchell so wisely reminded us (speaking of paradise, as opposed to power and water – but really, when you think about it, they have a lot in common), you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
But us rural folks know.
And I wouldn’t change it for the world.