Monday, February 26, 2007

My river, an insomniac deer & the plumbing faerie.
The early spring river report: Being an account of my life at Hearth Hill this February.
A few stories about my life with the river this winter & early spring:
(but first, a pic of my hommies, hanging out on the couch--
aren't they just the cutest?!)
now, on to the stories!

For the first time in my admittedly brief experience of valley life, the river that flows through my valley froze over in late January.
It was a strange sensation. The feeling was caused not so much by the loss of sound, rather the lack of motion, lack of flow, through my life.
A classic case of not noticing something until it's gone. The valley seemed suddenly very still. Very much, well, frozen.

It was an expectant feeling, as if the whole valley was holding it's breath, waiting to exhale.
We crunched around over ice coated snow, made sure that the bird feeder was kept full.
One night i was working very late in the studio & i finally turned out the lights & headed to the house & bed around 3 am. My studio doesn't have a functioning outdoor light & usually this doesn't bother me, as it's just 15 feet or so from the front door of the studio to the side of the house. Then another 15 feet along the side of the house to where the front porch light kicks in & i'm only say 20 feet to the porch steps & the front door.
I've only been aware of the dark in a scary way once before, late last spring, when some coyotes were traveling through & howling on the other side of the river one night when the moon was dark.
This time, i came out of the studio not thinking about much more than some tea and toast before bed when i heard very close to me a very loud "whuffle snuffle whuffle" Puffs or snorts of breath. From something very large. Very close. I ran to the front porch. I didn't wet my pants, but it was a near thing.
I realized, as soon as i rounded the side of the house & pounded up the porch steps, that it was a deer in the backyard, between the house & studio that had been as scared by me as i was by her. Who knew a deer could breathe so loudly?!? Not me! But in the brittle quiet of that late winter night, one deers' snort of surprise was as loud and as resonant as a gunshot. A very eerie experience.
As a result I've increased my nagging on the "get me an outdoor studio light" front. Let's just say that it's moved waaaay up into the "number one with a bullet" position on Darrell &/or Fred's to do list!

My other scary "winter life in the country" story is about frozen pipes:
Darrell went to Arizona-- 2,200 miles away-- in early February. A road trip to sell pottery at an SCA event out there. He had a great time.
I opted out of the three days of driving each way: thanks but no thanks. Instead, i loaded up the dogs & headed down to my Mom's house in Maryland, a mere 300 miles away.
I was planning on spending 4 days there & then wandering up to Gettysburg to bother my pals Rob and Sherry and Luke at Ambrosia Farm for a few days before turning for home. Instead, i got trapped by snow, ice & a broken tractor (which was supposed to plow her long driveway) at Mom's house for a week. It was fun, but i was anxious to get home by the time i managed to reach escape velocity from Maryland. On my trip home, i stopped in to check my email (no high speed internet at my Mom's-- & she thinks _I_ have a primitive lifestyle!) and got a message from my neighbors/self appointed caretakers, Fred & Cindy. Cindy's subject line read "Houston, we have a problem"
Apparently, it was as cold here in WVa as it was in Maryland. No worries, unless the gas goes out.
Well, guess what happened on the day i headed home. Yep. Gas went out.
Thus, no heat. When Fred stopped in to check on our cat, he realized that the water in the toilet bowl was frozen! It was frickin 8 degrees that night. The high that day was 12 degrees. Fred didn't know when the gas had been out, but it was long enough that all of the water in the house & presumably all of the water in the pipes as well, had frozen. The gas had come back on, but the pilot lights were out. Thus, it was still freezing cold in the house as well as outside. So Fred re-started our furnace & shut down all the water & then went home & hoped for the best.
I came home that night at 10 pm. It was a balmy 10 degrees outside, but fortunately the furnace was cooking away & the house was a tropical 70. But no water for me that night-- i couldn't risk turning it on not knowing what the pipes were doing. And D. was in Arizona. And Mykl was either in Florida or NJ. Just me & the dogs, camping in the house. I called Cindy for some consolation & advice which consisted of "hope for the best & don't use the toilets". We got through that night & the next day the temperature soared to above freezing! Fred came by around 2 in the afternoon & we very cautiously turned the water back on.
The plumbing faeries were in a generous mood! We actually didn't break any pipes!!! A minor & very welcome miracle!
So, i must keep on making offerings to the plumbing devas. I like to think of my plumbing faerie as looking not unlike me in my laundry faerie incarnation: my plumbing faerie is a short, fat, balding man with a stubbly beard, a cigar & work boots. He grumbles alot. But he also really likes water & mud & enjoys jokes & good Belgian beer & stinky cheese. He has calloused hands, but he gives a great foot rub & is generous with his stash of single malts. Not unlike a mechanic i used to date, but that's another story. I've poured a beer down the drain as a thank you & moved on.

My last story this time around is about the river. It was frozen over for about, hmmm, 4 or 5 weeks maybe. Still very solidly frozen when i came home from my Maryland trip. I was here alone, recall. Just me & the dogs & the plumbing faeries & the snorting insomniac deer. Very cozy out here. Well, about a week ago it got a bit warmer & started raining. It rained alot. All day, into the night. Rain. Melted the snow & the ice on the ground, typed on the roof. I didn't go outside very much-- it was wet, muddy & icy. Not fun. In fact, i took an extra long nap that afternoon. It was a great nap day.
Well, that night i paid for my sloth with a killer bout of insomnia. I could NOT get to sleep. I wanted to. But noooo. I was too hot. It was 3 am & i'd been trying to sleep since midnight. I finally turned the thermostat down to 55 and opened the bedroom window. I laid back down, trying to sleep. And then Bug woke up & started looking out the window & growling, low & quiet. I was freaked out. Home alone, just 2 midget dogs & me & i still hadn't gotten D. to show me how to use the .22!

I told myself i was being foolish. And then i heard it. This really eerie creaking and crunching noise, like a very large bear walking through leaves right outside my window! Except it was wet & muddy under my window, not dry & crunchy. I laid there, freaked out with Bug growling quietly next to me in the dark for what felt like hours and was probably only 5 minutes when i finally realized what it was: the ice on the river breaking up! Once i figured it out & told Bug what it was, we both felt much better. But i swear, the noise went on and on-- it took at least an hour for the ice to break up & stop with the moaning & groaning. And even then it didn't go back to the frozen quiet of the past few weeks. Now the river was up, almost out of it's banks (lots of rain, remember?!). When the sun came up a few hours later, it was an amazing site: all the ice chunks rushing down the swollen river. I kept checking for a polar bear or at least a penguin to go floating past, but we only got tree branches and plastic bags... as Fred says: "When the river comes up it's trash day in Calhoun County"
The breaking of the ice signaled a definite change in the mood of the valley.
We've gone from the still waiting quiet of late winter to the energetic expectant hush of early spring. We're rushing into mud season out here, which is the prelude to the almost painful yellow green of early spring. We had rain again all afternoon & into the night yesterday & the river is up again. This time muddy & bossy, almost frantic as it speeds by, washing away winter & ushering in spring.
Last night I even heard, faint & far off, but still there, the first tentative peeps from the tree frogs. Spring is coming & my valley is no longer quietly waiting. We're stirring out here, ready to push through the mud & into the splendor of Spring's welcoming light & wind!
I hope and trust that spring is finding & stirring you as well!
May the bright early spring breezes bring you blessings & the first stirrings of new growth.
I'm off to make some pots!

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