Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gonna Move Up to the Country #5

It was just 11 years ago this date that yours truly made the trek from Baghdad by the Bay to Indian Valley, ID, riding in a Toyota Van with Dani Leone, a bunch of cassette tapes, a cat (in cat carrier) & all my earthly belongings that could be crammed into said van. It was a sunny morning when we left San Francisco, & a mild one at that; 750 miles later (give or take) it was cold & snowy.

I don’t recall what hour we pulled in—it wasn’t outrageously late—but I remember my dear Eberle greeted us with a nice meal: possibly her delicious baked beans & cornbread. & that was the beginning of my return to country living, going smack from San Francisco’s Western Addition, a couple of blocks from the Panhandle, to a little town in Idaho where there are (a lot) more cattle & horses than there are people.

Now moving here in the winter presented certain challenges. For one thing, I hadn’t wintered in a northern climate since 83-84, when I was still in Vermont; & in all honesty, I hadn’t missed winters very much in the intervening years (understatement). For another thing, my new home was a very old Idaho farmhouse, & as such had some remarkable eccentricities that weren’t entirely conducive to comfortable winter living. The outlet pipe for the washing machine froze every winter; the room we were using for our bedroom could get so cold that plants would be bitten by frost; there was also a leak in the roof directly above the foot of the bed. Because Eberle’s a bit shorter than I am, this was less of a problem for her, but the leak discharged right onto my feet. The main heat source was a wood stove, which is admittedly cozy in some ways, but is also a lot of work; & the southwestern corner of the house was sliding (the house didn’t have any real foundation, & also lacked insulation), so the window in that corner was cracking. The electrical & plumbing systems? Don’t get me started….

This isn’t to say we didn’t have fantastic times in that house, because we did. But the house was a lot of work, & it would often have fits at rather inconvenient times. So let’s flash back to my first weekend at the house. It was a Sunday, I believe. Early in the afternoon it became clear that the wood stove was smoking—it became “clear” because smoke was pouring into the room both from the stove & the stovepipe. The good news: we did have an electric furnace so we wouldn’t freeze after we let the fire go out; the bad news: we had to carry burning logs out to the driveway. Even wearing very heavy stove gloves, there are aspects to this procedure that just aren’t fun.

But as an aside, I’ll say we were intrepid souls in those days. As a result, Eberle & I became pretty experienced chimney sweeps. She’d tackle the messy job of disassembling the stove pipes & cleaning them out (with a rubber mallet in the driveway), & I go clambering up on the roof with a chimney brush in hand. You can see Eberle & said stove in the pic above. I must also say that after we moved into our new house in the spring of 05, I have never missed sweeping the chimney for one moment.

So we’d dealt with the wood stove, & the electric furnace was humming & rattling & roaring, & we were somewhat frazzled—dare I say we were even a tad snippy perhaps. At some point just a little bit later in the day, I decided I should wash a load of laundry. Now I was actually pretty jazzed by the idea of having a washing machine in the space where I lived, since in San Francisco I’d always walked a block to the corner laundromat. I filled the washer & started a load of clothes. However, when the washer began to drain, water came gushing out of the pipe onto the floor. The outlet pipe for the washer was frozen…. & actually, you really have to picture an outlet pipe that consists of a smaller diameter pipe thrust sort of randomly into a larger diameter pipe (this is nothing—some of the “piping” for the bathtub was garden hose). The real quirk of the washing machine tho was that some previous owner of our beloved old cottage had gotten the clever idea to run this pipe into the small basement, where it simply discharged onto a concrete floor. In rather typically misplaced ingenuity, they then placed a sump pump in the basement to pump the water—either from the washing machine or from the remarkable spring run-off from Mesa Hill that saturates our property—into the pasture. When we decided sometime later to try various schemes to prevent this pipe from freezing (which included running a plumber’s snake down the pipe & leaving it there on the misguided theory that this would leave some channel open—it only helped marginally), we knew we couldn’t use anti-freeze in the pipe. But we did try vodka. Even tho neither Eberle nor I drink at all, I’d go to the local supermarket & buy a half gallon of the cheapest vodka they stocked & “feed” that outlet pipe this rotgut vodka periodically. Sad to say, this only had slightly better results than the snake. So eventually we cut our losses & would drive to the laundromat in Council, 12 miles down the road, for our winter time laundry day. One of the buring questions of winter would be whether the pipe would thaw in February or March….

But back to that January day in 98. I shut off the washing machine rather abruptly, & there I was, hauling laundry out of the lukewarm water. I was not in the best of moods; in fact, my mood had darkened considerably. Poor Eberle, who dearly loved the old farmhouse, was trying to put a cheerful spin on things, perhaps wondering if I was about to pack my bags for Frisco once more. She said from the kitchen, “At least nothing else can go wrong.” No sooner had she said that than there was a complete power failure. It was late afternoon on a cloudy say—everything was practically dark. As I was to learn, (aside from the frightening electrical issues in the old house itself), our property was connected to a rather antique & unreliable power grid out of Cambridge, ID, a quaint little town about 12 miles in the opposite direction, & when the power went out, it usually was out for a good while. Idaho Power, in its infinite wisdom, has recently upgraded this, to our great comfort & joy, tho it did involve lots of new power pools intruding on the landscape….

So what do you do at a moment such as I described? Eberle's in the dark kitchen; I'm in the dark laundry alcove holding an armful of cold wet clothes. Well, of course: we both started laughing. I only remember now that the rest of the day was sweet; don’t recall how long the power was out, but we made do. We did a lot of that between 98 & the fall of 04 when we moved out of the old house….

More joys of country living….

The bottom pic shows the old house on a January morning in 98.


  1. This sounds like the part early in Holiday Inn when Bing moves to the far, ("just bein' lazy") only to find that he has to get up at four in the morning to milk cows with his fingers frozen into place.

    Small town life definitely appeals to me, but I must admit that I like central heating...

  2. Yes, very like that. & amen on central heating.

  3. You two sure were troopers! It brings back fond memories of my first winter being married to Tomm in our old Cambridge farmhouse, which we spent two winters in. Frozen everything, toilet and all, seeing your breath when you wake up, skunks spraying under the house, and those power outages! At least the lack of power leads to using romantic candle light. Poor Tomm has permanent battle scars from wrestling with wood stove issues.

  4. Hey Michelle:

    You & Tomm were in pretty much the same boat I think in your Cambridge place.

    Thanks for all your comments!


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