A Fierce Gratitude

>It has been over a week since I wrote about “The Blanket Business.” Little did I know we had more to learn. When the temperatures plunged, the animals were fine—blanketed and not. There was one beast, however, whose blanket was not enough: the well house pump.

I should have guessed. Ever since we moved here, the pump has had a mind of its own. Located 200 yards up the hill behind our house in a cockeyed shack, eight feet down a rickety loose-runged ladder, at the base of a looming pressure tank, is a metal casket, the size of a basketball: our vital link to the bountiful waters below. When it froze once before, we developed our current practice of light bulb and blanket. But last weekend the light bulb had died, and the blanket alone was not enough.

We wake up on a frigid morning to a tell-tale sign: a limp stream falling from the kitchen faucet. Minutes later, Geoff is trudging up the hill with a new light bulb and a hair dryer, while I, having contracted the stomach bug, writhe on the couch. We stay connected with walkie-talkies. Two hours later, he is down again. The pump seems warm, but still no water. We decide to wait to see if the sun’s rise will change anything. He goes to play the piano. Why not? We have a concert coming up. Might as well make something beautiful amidst the uncertainty. I take a nap. The kids are playing.

When I wake up, Geoff is on his way back up the hill. Lo and behold, the pump is working! We have water–what a delight! We drink and wash and flush and hoard… until dinner time. Suddenly the flow slows to a trickle again. We stack our dishes next to the sink and go to bed. The temperature is below zero. Even if we thaw out the pump again, it will freeze overnight. We will deal tomorrow. Time to sleep.

The next morning’s light does a world of good for our spirits, but the water is not running. Geoff spends more time at the bottom of our well house. This time, nothing. We realize that we are over our heads and decide to call in the experts. Then there is nothing to do but wait—and melt icicles on the wood stove for our thirsty animals.

While waiting, I decide to dance. Why not? We have a concert coming up. Might as well create some beauty amidst the chaos. Between exercises, I pop out to gather more icicles.

After lunch, just as we are beginning to wonder whether we will be facing another waterless night, the cavalry arrive. Thirty seconds with a blow torch and our pump and tank are frost free. Amazing. Still the water won’t flow. Maybe there is ice in the pipe to the house?

The only problem is that there are two pipes leading out from the pump. One goes to the house and the other to some underground location where water to the barn once flowed. We don’t know which one is which! Our experts cut one. Thaw it. Snake it. Put water through it. No water in the house. They cut the other, thaw it, snake it, and pour water through. No water in the house.

Maybe the ice cube is where the main enters the house? Geoff musters his resolve to investigate. We don’t have a basement under our kitchen where the main is located. He will have to crawl ten feet through a space no more than two or three feet tall, past ancient beams, deserted spider webs, and recent rat poop. He does. Nope, the main is not frozen. So what?

We try some other faucets. Wait a minute! We do have water after all—in the bathroom and laundry room and upstairs—just not in the kitchen sink! Our experts identify the pipe leading from well house to house and turn off the other one. Our water pressure surges as never before—though still not through the kitchen tap.

Finally, at the end of our rope, we open the cabinet below the kitchen sink. There, are our new blue and red PEX pipes leading down into the crawl space. We touch them. They crackle. Frozen stiff. When the pump succumbed, so did they in a cascade of failures. Mystery solved, but not resolved.

We do chores and make dinner with water from the bathroom. Eat first. After the kids go to bed, Geoff goes back into the crawl space with the hairdryer. For fifteen minutes he massages those PEX pipes. Then, miracle of miracles: WATER! From the hot tap, from the cold tap, and into the dishwasher!

We spend the next forty-five minutes washing dishes, joyfully. Never before has it ever been this fun to wash dishes. What a luxury.

Between rinses, we think back over the two-day ordeal. Simply knowing that there was no water streaming into the house made it so difficult to do anything. Even having all the water we needed to drink, just knowing that we had no flow was so unsettling. It was hard to focus on anything else.

Yet, at the same time, the disorientation forced our attention on what was most vital to do. Suddenly, it seemed as if there was no time to waste. Nothing to waste. Everything was precious. We could only do something that was most vital—art.

We set out to make beauty—to transform the situation into a catalyst for creating something new. It wasn’t that we were trying to compensate for loss or fill in the gaps. Rather, we were responding to the urgency we felt to make something more out of the moment than it seemed to be giving. What we ended up making was a fierce gratitude—for water, for our abundance, and for life on the farm. For our dish-washing ability. Vital arts indeed.

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