Saturday, March 8, 2014

Honey Bucket

It’s all fun and games until you’re out of water, then shit gets real -- real fast.  At the top of my list of “required services” for Moose Lodge Livin’ is:

#1 Water 
#2 Hot Water 

The joy water brings into my life cannot be underestimated.  Regular triathlon training, a passion for cooking, two-dozen house plants and the daily water usage needs of four people and three dogs adds up to a lot of water.  A lot of water.  

Last week I e-mailed a friend to give an update about life at The Moose Lodge.  The phrase that summed it up at that moment is “Life is Good”.  While it is still “good”, without water I struggle to remain optomistic and find the “good”.  Then I remember that this is all part of living the dream that “this is what you came for” (S. Jurek).  

I had planned a “quick trip” (famous last words) to “Town” this week with George for a BIG Costco and Fred Meyer trip.  We departed on Monday morning as the sun rose above the Mentasta Mountains. Lighting our way to town as we drove the long and winding road, through the mountain passes, over rivers and through dense stands of spruce and frozen tundra swamps.  We arrived in Anchorage that afternoon after enjoying a relatively easy, beautiful drive.  

Caribou about 30 mi. from The Moose Lodge on the way "To Town"
I woke up the next morning with a violent stomach bug and spent the day making trips between my childhood bedroom and the bathroom where I wretched my brains out until I ran out of strength and cried.  I woke up the next morning feeling some distress in my stomach, but my symptoms had improved.  Then I looked outside at the thick snowflakes falling to the “just above freezing” ground, making a slick layer of water and ice across the road, bringing traffic on the Glenn Highway to a standstill.  We headed out with hopes of making it onto the highway, but our efforts were a lost cause, traffic wasn’t going anywhere.  We headed back to my parents house and waited a few hours, then set out again and made our slow, white knuckle drive into Anchorage.   

When we moved to The Moose Lodge I told myself “Anchorage will always be there”.  Meaning, if we chose to come back, we could, it wasn’t going anywhere.  What I didn’t anticipate was how my feelings about town would change and how my biological responses to things like traffic, bad roads, and people with bad attitudes would shift.  While it’s true that Anchorage is still there, I don’t feel the same way about being “in town” and spend most of my time in traffic, in line, or on the road busily trying to cram in every single errand I’ve noted on my master list, knowing full well that I will only accomplish 60-80% of what is on my list (if I am lucky).  This trip to town was no different and in the end I returned home with supplies that make life out here feel comfortable, even without running water.  

My drive home was peppered with several emergency road side stops and bouts with nausea and intestinal distress.  Did I mention all the roadside outhouses are closed for the season?  I was proud of myself in that during the drive I never once broke down and sobbed, though that “place” never felt very far off in the distance.  Instead, I soldiered on and made my way home, mile by mile, all 240.6 of them.  

Sun, fog, snow and ice about 3 hrs from
The Moose Lodge on the drive home
Prior to returning home I “knew” about the water situation, so that wasn’t a surprise, but the reality of not having water didn’t hit me until I skated across the ice rink that is our driveway, powered by the strong gusts of wind of the Mentasta Mountains.  The slightly above zero temps instantly became unbearable with the “wind chill factor” and I was cursing wildly before I even stepped into the house.  I slipped my key into the door and stepped into a life without running water.  I put a show tv on George to distract him while I took a few minutes to strategize, which is to say I went upstairs and paced while I chanted every swear word my brain could muster.  It helped.  Once I got the wood stove going (with the small amount of less-than-perfect wood that we have left), I felt a little more hopeful and somewhat “in control”, at least of my mouth, which is a pretty good start.  

 Last weekend found us in Tok, purchasing supplies to hook up our oil tank to our wood/oil combination furnace.  We knew from the beginning that we would not have enough wood to make it through the whole winter, so it hasn’t been an unexpected surprise, but adds another level of complexity none the less.  Out of firewood. No running water. No hot showers.  What to do now?  

Back upstairs I covered the dirty dishes with towels under the “out of sight, out of mind” principle which is, for the most part, working quite well.  I vacuumed the floors and straightened the couch pillows.  Anything to “feel” like I have some sense of control over a situation that just “is” for the time being a really giant pain in the ass. 

The status of our kitchen without water
The next step was to maneuvering my car around a tight spot in the driveway, between our snow machines, on a perfectly windswept, sun-kissed patch of ice that makes me nervous just looking at it.  My snowmachine “needs work” and if it hasn’t been started and warmed-up, there is virtually “no hope” that I will be able to get it started.  My husband’s machine is a beast, but I could have started it, if I had been able to find the key. Instead I slipped on my studded running shoes, zipped up my down skirt and coat, buckled on my mad bomber hat and work gloves and stepped back outside.  

While the wind blew wildly, I unloaded all the frozen items from my Yakima box, tossing them into the back seat one item at a time.  During the unloading process I caught a glance of myself in my car window.  My reflection staring back at me, no longer the polished, neat, orderly person I was just six short months ago.  Covered in dog hair, a few stray feathers poking out of my coat, my hair pulled back into a nest secured loosely, my face looking tired, serious, slightly vacant.  I began to question my sanity and choice to live here, in this place, this Moose Lodge existence that called out to us.  Back inside the house I glanced out the window at the crystal clear skies and snow capped peaks that erupt from the landscape in every direction and realized “this is why” and remembered that “this is what you came for.”.  So, here were are, we’re “doing it”, as we often say.  Figuring it out, no longer “bird by bird”, but instead “feather by feather”.  

By Friday afternoon I found myself in the barn looking for a plywood box that has a toilet seat secured upon it and holds a 5 gallon bucket.  A “honey bucket”.  Personally I cannot think of a worse name for such an object and I find it disturbing to make any connection between a potty bucket and my much loved honey, but I digress. As I stepped out the front door I made my way off the porch and onto the ice when out of the corner of my eye I saw something VERY large and black charging at me.  Petzl and Honey were next to me, so I knew it wasn’t a flash of one of our dogs.  I instinctivley screamed, not once, but twice, like a little girl, then broke into a wide thankful smile when I realized it was our neighbor’s 150# Alaskan Malemute Mix Husky.  Relief. 

Cody our neighbor's (friendly) 150# dog
I found the box and lugged it up to the house, step by icy, arduous step and brought it inside to get it ready for use as a back up now that our well line is frozen and if we do not pre-heat our water to use for flushing the toilet, we run the risk of freezing up or septic system, then we will really be having fun.  

Figuring out solutions to basic household chores is my new full-time occupation  Parke returned to work full-time about six weeks ago and since his return to work I’ve been tasked with holding down the fort and literally keeping the home fires burning.  Something about those “home fires” and being “at home” to do the laundry, dishes, and flush the toilets; keep the well line from freezing on count of regular use.  By the first night when I’d left to town (Monday) things began to fall apart on the home front, little things.  A door handle that snapped under pressure, check!  Cold basement, check!   Followed up by:  No water, check! Lack of decent firewood, check!  Currently “unoperable” oil heat system, check!  Are we having fun yet?  

My calls home this week were hard for both of us:  

Me: “How are things going?”  

Parke: “The house is cold, we don’t have water, the door handle is busted and I have a stye in my eye.”

Me: “I’ve been throwing up for the past three hours and at times I have not only seen the “white light”, I’ve been tempted by it.”

I sat in our main floor bathroom this morning on the honey bucket and quickly became disoriented, confused, and yes, amused.  How is it that we went from this perfect and polished spa-like bathroom, to a honey bucket in a bathroom with fake sunflowers woven in the water lines to give an illusion of something “fresh” to compliment the bright yellow painted extruded foam board tacked onto the walls.  

Main Floor Bathroom at The Moose Lodge
Where am I? Who am I? What does it all mean?  Not having running water makes me question my existence and reevaluate what I define as my “basic human rights”, or “what I need to be happy”.  An interesting fact I uncovered about indoor plumbing is that only .5% of Americans live without indoor plumbing; however easily 30-40% of the population in the surrounding area does not have indoor plumbing.  What do you really need to survive? To thrive?  According to the Delta Faucet Company The White House got indoor plumbing in 1833, so basically living at The Moose Lodge is a little like living at The White House in 1832.  1832!  Eighteen-thirty-freaking-two! One hundred and thirty two years. Wow.  

Our Main Floor Bath at
The Labrador House
Our Main Floor Bath at
The Labrador House
Our Master Bath Suite at The Labrador House
After I had the chance to take the first few glorious sips of my Saturday Morning Coffee, I decided it was time to start heating water for dishes.  They haven’t been washed since Sunday night and while we have kept them to a minimum, we create an incredible amount of dishes due to our lack of experience on managing a household without running water.  Parke suggested I wait, pray for a miracle, and see if he is able to get the water working today.  With help on the way I sat down for a moment and paused to give thanks for this experience, to declare my faith in this being my path, and acceptance.  We may not have our regular plumbing system up and running until June.  Breathing. It’s all going to be okay.

The sound of water trickling snapped me out of my prayer-like trance, then I dismissed it under the idea that Parke must have just flushed the toilet and emptied the last of the water from the toilet tank.  I called my mom to check in and give her a status update.  Less than 30 seconds later I was serenaded by my joyful husband:  WATER!

Back in October our community generator burned to the ground and we lost power.  Our generator was able to power the bare essentials but wasn’t enough to power the water pump, so we were without running water. It was the first time I had to face this “idea” and the “reality” of living without what most Americans consider “basic services”.  Out here my whining about not having water is almost comical, in that many of our friends and neighbors DO NOT have indoor plumbing.  For some it’s a matter of choice, for others they might like to have indoor plumbing but have adapted to life without it and find they can live quite comfortably.  I wrote about this experience in “What Would Laura Do?”, if you enjoyed this piece you might also be interested in reading about the wake of the community generator fire.  

Now I have to get back to working my way through the mountain of dishes and tonight I have a hot shower to look forward to.  Balance has been restored. Life is good in 2014.