Tuesday, January 22, 2008

another front comes roaring in

It’s 4 AM Sunday morning and the wind, up on top of the mountain, is just beginning to howl.

The roaring hasn’t yet come down to the valley but already I can feel the mountain side trembling.

That’s the truth!

A major front is on its way from the west, this one powerful enough, it feels like, to rip trees, on top of the mountain, up by their roots, and send boulders tumbling down the mountain side.

And what about those new huge houses that in recent years have been built up on top of the ridge to the east? I don’t think I would want to be up there in this wind.

We had a shareholder (they have since moved) who lived in the house that was built up on top of the next ridge as you turn in our valley and they said when a front comes in it gets so bad up there that they have to retreat to an inside room without windows or doors because even then with the house closed up tight and sealed the air fills with sand and dust and when something breaks loose, like a chair or wheelbarrow, they have been known to come crashing through a window or fly by to disappear into the valley below.

When we first moved to the farm, almost 25 years ago now, the cold fronts coming through in the night would wake me. I would hear the roar and get up from bed and look out into the night.

Back then our house was an still an aging, unkept saltbox (you should see the pictures). The sort of old house you can still see when driving through the countryside, two rooms down and two rooms up above. Easy to heat with a single woodstove and looking, I guess, like the old fashioned rectangular boxes that salt came in.

On the front of the house was a wooden porch with a roof.

And the house had weakened after a hundred years of cold fronts whipping over the mountain and roaring down the eastern slope to strike the porch and house with a powerful broadside.

The first gust from the front would cause the house to sway, Literally to shake back and forth, to cause water left in a glass on a night-stand by our bed upstairs to actually splash and spill.

Back then, that front porch (long since torn down) acted almost like a parachute. The wind would come underneath it and try to lift the house up in the air.

Sometimes, with a particularly strong front, part of the metal roof would rip off, flying off into the forest behind the house, making me fear that we were next, the next gust would take the house and all with it tumbling over the ledge and into the forest.
The swaying of the house would make me consider waking everyone up, to grab our most valuable possessions and to run for safety.

I tonight this front seems maybe even worse than it has been for the past 25 years. The front hitting the top of the mountain. The wind roaring howling up on top of the mountain. A sound every once in a while that could be that of a tree falling. The roar increasing in intensity and finally here it comes. Down the mountain towards the house.

Definitely an experience to remember.

Fortunately, over the years we’ve worked on the house, tearing down that old porch. Reinforcing the sides. Replacing the roof. Even the old sheds that would regularly lose their roofs in a wind storm are now gone, replaced with a new barn.

My, times have changed I’ve even moved the greenhouse up on the side of the mountain where it gets some protection from the wind. Where I don’t have to look at it out the back window and wonder if this gust will be its last. It looks safe and protected up there against the mountain though, I must admit, last year we did lose one of those green temporary buildings right next to it in a windstorm.

One evening it was there. The next morning the building was gone. Only the tools and equipment that had been inside remained.

It took me the rest of the day to find the pieces of the building where they had come to land, way back in the forest.

But enough of that.

With the temperatures dropping down into the single digits its hard to imagine that in less than three months we’ll be putting seeds and seedlings in the ground.

In fact, in less than a month, we’ll be starting up the greenhouse. Spending most of February and all of March starting seeds into flats and then watering and caring for the ever growing seedlings.

Even with this cold, with the snow covering the ground the season’s about to start.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


Do you recall those lines from an old country song that go something like 'When it rains its too wet to fix the holes in my roof and when its dry, my roof is just as good as any man's roof'.

Well, its not my roof that I should probably apply this sentiment to but to my water system. And this freezing weather.

As those of you who have getting vegetables or even the newsletter from us for sometime know, our water comes from a spring.

An artesian spring.

This is a spring that's up hill from us, half way up the side of Highpoint Mountain.

This is where we get most of the water to irrigate our vegetable fields as well as the water we use in the house for drinking and washing.

It's mighty fine water. Real sweet tasting. Clear, cold (especially this time of year). Actually its some of the best tasting water there is to be found.

And I'm not the only one that says so.

The only problem is getting it from the spring to the house.

When Wenonah was a girl they didn't have running water here in the farm house.

When anyone in the family wanted a glass of water, instead of turning a faucet it was Wenonah's chore to take a bucket and walk down to the spring.

Back then they used a different spring for water than we do today. One that's down the hill from the house.

That spring also produces some really nice water. Great tasting and while I'm not sure how much water bubbles out of that spring, I suspect more than the one we currently use.

But I've jumped over a point. The buckets.

Imagine each time you wanted to wash your face or clean dishes. Each time you had a thirst for a nice cool glass of water. Off Wenonah had to go with her bucket. Two hundred yards down and two hundred back.

Have you ever thought about how much water weighs?

Eight pounds a gallon. One of those large white five gallon buckets holds 40 pounds of water.

Two buckets, eighty pounds. for two hundred yards, up hill, through the weed. Roots, rocks, and snakes in the grass (actually there used to be a rattlesnake den right where the rock face juts out of the ground above the spring As recently as ten years ago you would see rattlesnakes near the opening every spring and fall).

I don't know, but I could imagine having to regularly walk down to the spring, fill up the buckets and walk back up the hill might have made Wenonah somewhat concerned about water.

But that's not what I set out to write about. Instead of history I was going to talk about our farms fair weather water system.

The fact that water basically turns into a rock like substance when the temperature drops below 32 I'm sure is a problem everywhere but it's a real acute issue out here far away from shopping malls with artificial climates, and big box stores where the inside temperature never drops much below 70.

Our problem is that to get water from the spring to our house we have to get the water to travel over 1200 feet.

1200 feet through frozen rocks, soil and falling trees.

Fortunately if you keep water moving fast enough in a large enough volume it doesn't freeze.

However, if anything at all goes wrong the whole system freezes up solid. The water turns to rock and nothing, nothing turns it back until the temperature goes above the freezing point again. (which always makes me think about Ice Nine, Cat's Cradle, gmo's and the theory of unintended consequences).

Which brings us around to sunny weather roofs.

When the weather's warm our water system works just dandy.

There can even be several leaks where water drips, drips drips at the joints.

No big deal.

But when it turns cold. Especially when it turns really, really cold.

That's when the water pipes contract (remember, expanding with heat, contracting with the cold) and joints between sections of pipe break.

And the water, even if its moving, when it gets really cold starts turning into slush. And if, on top of that, its gets even colder, the slightest problem turns into a disaster.

Bang! No water coming out of the faucet. And that's my hole in the roof on a rainy day.

For the past year I've had a loose connection between two pipes way up on the side of the mountain.

This is a place where the water is traveling through a 4 inch pipe along a little scratch into the side of a rock wall.

Twenty feet of straight rock above it. And 60 feet almost straight down to the boulders below.

And the pipe is sitting on this ledge we'd scratched out when we built the line of pipe. A ledge that only has inches extra for a person to edge along.

One slip and you instantly start sliding and then tumbling fifty feet to the rocks.

Which in warm weather, without three pairs of socks, two pairs of long underwear, insulated overalls, a thick coat, stocking cap, heavy gloves and a scarf, it's doable.

But when the temperature gets to ten degrees and that dripping water instantly turns to a stream of ice and the pipes have contracted and what was a little leak just yesterday in the sun has turned into a major gusher.

My favorite time for this to happen is 4 pm in the evening when the winter suns about to set, when the temperature is dropping what seems to be a degree a minute and its getting colder and colder and the water as it splashes out of the pipe (remember, our spring puts out about 20 gallons a minute) not only soaks your gloves and boots but is instantly turning that narrow ledge into a sheet of ice.

And you know if you don't hurry and get the leak fixed right now! Before the sun sets and it gets really cold, all that water in the pipe, the 1000 of pipe down hill from the leak to the house, all of those hundreds of gallons of water already in the pipe is going to freeze solid, turn to rock and its not going to (even if the goddess of frozen pipes, you also become pretty superstitious out there in the freezing twilight, deems to raise the temperature above freezing) turn back to water again until tomorrow at the earliest.

And, on top of that, I can remember back to those days (which now with global warming, or whatever, isn't that often but it wasn't too many years ago) that the temperature around here would drop below freezing and stay that way for days, in fact weeks.

Imagine, weeks of frozen pipes. All that pipe from the spring to the house full of water that had turned to rock and the only solution, besides checking into a hotel in town, is for me to get the buckets and just like Wenonah in the olden days, walk down to the spring and start carrying water. weeks back to the house.


Leigh Hauter