Saturday, November 22, 2008

Giving Thanks for Hot, Running Water

Running water is something that most of us take for granted most of the time. We're thirsty, we get a glass and fill it from the tap. We want to wash our clothes, our dishes, or our bodies, easily done.

This past week our family had to make do without running water for three long days and nights, and it was very illuminating. We live in an area where wells are not possible (high clay content in the soil.) And although city water is available, the cost of running a line down from the road to our house would be several thousands of dollars, so we have learned to make do with our cistern, which holds 5,000+ gallons and runs under the front porch as part of the foundation of the house. When the rainwater collection system in place doesn't fill the tank well enough, we run a series of hoses down from the hydrant we installed in the chicken coop area by the road.

This past summer, as well as last, we had fairly severe drought. One of the consequences of same, about which we were unaware, is a shifting in the soil around the foundation, and sometimes, a crack. Since our cistern is part of our foundation, when this happened, we found out because suddenly we had a slow leak of water into our basement! The crack was high up on the wall of the cistern, so it didn't come to our attention until after we had filled it with city water (which is relatively cheap, but not free, by any means.)

I was reluctant to have the cistern fixed at that point (early September) because I had just paid for all that water. So we used the water up, mopping the leak as we went. Time passed, and suddenly it became very cold, unseasonably so for Kentucky this time of year. I knew we had to have the cistern pumped out and repaired. What I didn't know was that the repair would take several days to dry.

This past Tuesday I called a local cistern repair/cleaning service (basically two guys, a pump, and some shovels.) I asked them to come give me an estimate on cleaning and repair of the leak. I had been told by neighbors this might cost as much as a thousand dollars. Happily, when the team arrived, they said they could do it all for half that amount. Unhappily, they wanted to do it right then, and furthermore, it would take up to three days to dry/cure. Yikes!

I scurried around, filling five gallon buckets with water, all that I had. I knew I could still get water out of the hydrant up at the road, but our needs are not just for a family of four, we have all that livestock that needs watering every day as well! Four horses, two goats, two large dogs, six cats, and a multitude of chickens large and small (we're probably down to about 125 right now, which is a seasonal low.) That many critters needs a lot of water hauled every day.

As the repair men were pumping out what was left of the water I had paid the city for, we were able to save some by shooting it across the horse pasture with a fire hose into one of the horse troughs. But most of it was lost, down the hill into the hollow. The repair men did their thing: cleaning out the leaves and gunk accumulated during the past seven years (we've lived here for five, I feel certain the previous owners didn't clean the cistern since they built the house two years previously.) I didn't even want to see what came out, but was told it would make lovely mulch. (Ick.)

Once cleaned, the cistern was repaired and relined, and off they went. I was left with a house with no running water, and all those critters with big thirsts. So I hauled water. I estimate I or we (James, the girls and me) hauled between 350 and 450 pounds of water per day, for our own use (manual flushing of toilets, etc.) and for the animals. A gallon of water weighs about 8 pounds. We used five gallon buckets (for the most part) and filled them about four gallons full - any fuller and water sloshes out and gets your pants wet, nasty in cold weather. So between 50 and 55 gallons per day. The horses alone go through about 25 per day, then there are all those chicken pens, the dogs, the goats, and oh yes, the humans!

Happily, we have friends who took pity on us and let us come to their house and shower (thanks Susie and Randall!) But it's not the same as being in your own bathroom, not by far. And hand washing with water in basins and plastic gallon jugs is an exercise in ingenuity. I goosed the drying of the repair along by putting a fan down there. James was the brave one who climbed down the ladder, I just couldn't bring myself to descend into the dark, nope, not me. And after three days of being back in the days when water was hauled for every use, yesterday evening we determined that the repair was dry, and we could start filling the cistern.

Four hoses linked together, hooked to the hydrant in the "Big Coop" area where the layers live. We let it fill for about three hours, putting about a foot or so of water in (it holds about six feet in height.) Enough to cover the inlet valve, and oh my gosh, hot showers! In my opinion, there is little in life that can match the sybaritic delight of a long, steamy, hot shower after a long day of hard work in the cold. Glorious!

With luck, we'll remember this experience for a while, and not take for granted the true luxury that heated running water is. But the human brain being what it is, we'll likely forget after a week or two, and the experience will just become one of those funny stories we tell about living on a farm. But I hope, every time one of us takes a shower, we remember, and give thanks.

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