Thursday, January 1, 2009

the fallen ash

I should've known something was wrong when I touched Annie's fur. I had just woken up, and was warm as could be under my electric blanket, but her coat was as cold as if she had just been outside in the snow and not sleeping beside two large animals. I then noticed how cold the air was outside my little nest. I pulled off the covers and could see little clouds of breath coming out of the dog's mouths as they panted. Oh no.

The oil tank was empty.

This is a big deal people. It was -7 outside, and if the pipes froze they could shatter and burst and havoc would consume us. The cabin's heated by a great big oil tank, and it was running low. I called for a delivery earlier in the week, anticipating this, and knew the truck would be here Friday. I just prayed we'd make it till then. We didn't. The furnace had shut itself off. There was ice in the dogbowl in the kitchen. We were in trouble. Very cold trouble.

I checked the faucets, which I had let drip all night to keep it moving. Luckily, they were still running. Thank goodness, at least we're okay there. But the best laid plans...

By the time the dishes were done, the dogs and sheep fed, and the chickens were laying their morning eggs - all the pipes stopped. Whatever had remained in the water heater had been used up and no new groundwater could get into the tanks. This was getting serious. I was freezing, the inside tempterature was 37. What could I do?

WARM UP! Was all I could think. I am a person of action. I need to do things. So I started working to heat the place up with what I had around. I had a small pile of wood left outside on the porch, and I instantly revved up the fireplace. I lit every candle, turned on the stove, blow-dried the sink was a pathetic struggle really. However, I was actually able to boost the heat indoors and take off my parka. A small victory, but a victory none the less.

I then called my neighbors Katie, Dean, and his wife Nancy. I felt awful calling them at 9AM on a holiday, but I needed their help. I wasn't really sure how to tackle this. So I left a message for Dean and Nancy to please let me borrow some firewood from their huge stack so I could keep the warmth going. And since Katie is my quasi-landlord (not really, in my head she is) and has restarted this tank before, I left her a message begging her to help rescue the joint from flooding and hypothermia. Let's hear it for me.

While I waited to hear back from them, I paced around the house. My fire, the only thing keeping the place tolerable, was almost out. I called two emergancy oil services and they both quoted a trip and fuel to cost somewhere around 500 bucks. Impossible money for me to drop for one thing. I was getting scared now, but then, a small series of amazing things happened to save me from panic, and it began with a ringing phone.

Dean and Nancy had heard my pathetic message. But instead of lending me some logsā€“Dean went out in the the now balmy 8 degree weather with a chainsaw and chopped up a dry fallen Ash into fireplace-sized logs. Out in the freezing cold he cut enough fire fodder to fill the back of the subaru, twice. After I thanked the hell out of him, unloaded all the wood, and had the fireplace going strong again, I cried. I couldn't help it. I was sitting there by the fireplace all teared up because I was so touched by the huge gift, the effort, the goodness of these neighbors. The cabin was warming up, and I felt a little better. Gratitude melts misery.

Then Nancy called and offered me a space heater from her art studio if I wanted to go pick it up in Arlington. I couldn't believe their generosity. Hundreds of pounds of firewood, heat sources, instant service! and all from the same people who watch my farm when I go away and who let me borrow a knee brace when I got hurt last month and was limping for days... If I was a general, they'd still rank me.

Soon afte rall this. Katie and her boyfriend Sam arrived, another pair of rural superheros. Usualy when I am around them Sam and I are playing music together (he's an amazing guitarist) at some warm bonfire or at Sandgate events like the Ox Rost. But here they were in my kitchen, ready to rescue me from my cold home. Within the hour they were checking the faucets, looking at the oil tank, figuring things out. They made half a dozen trips back to their place to get things like extension cords, funnels, and tool boxes. We decided to get through the day by dumping 10 gallons of fuel in the tank to kick it back into action. The heat should help melt the icy pipes. She also brought up two 5-gallon tanks I could borrow to fill with Diesel from down at Chem Clean (a local gas station/furniture restoration business owned by neighbors, fellow mushers, and good friends, Suzanne and Allan) The fuel would tide the tank over till the oil man came tomorrow.

We all got to work, putting heat tape on the pipes, shutting off breakers, figuring out how to bleed the line, and get the water moving again. Katie set up her space heater in the furnace room to warm the place (and us) up. These people could've, should've, stayed home in bed after their late night of dancing, but instead they were here, giving me their holiday. I could have kissed them both.

When everything was in order, I ran down to Chem Clean for the fuel. Jazz and Annie came along because they adore driving and I adored being in the warm car. When I pulled up the gas station I could see Allan's dog sled and knew he had been out running his three Siberians that morning. Sure enough, inside the store were his three dogs, all asleep, curled up on fleece beds. Sherman, Nina and Leera all came up with their blue eyes and wagging tails to say hello to me. Even though they were tuckered out from their morning run, they were happy to greet some company. It's nice to see happy working dogs like those, and in the middle of a very hectic day, giving good dogs a scratch behind the ears is like a 45-second shock treatment - getting your head back in the right place after all the stress. Oh, dogs.

On the way home with the fuel, I stopped at Wayside for some fuel for myself. I got a hot coffee and a muffin, extension cords, and a can of lamb dogfood as a treat for my roommates for putting up with me. (Good coffee is essential to this story, as it is essential to all things.) On the way back to the farm, I called Ed Gust, a neighbor with a plow, to come clear the driveway if he would please. With the oil guy coming tomorrow, they demand a clean route to deliver or balk and drive away. Ed obliged and that afternoon he came rolling into the driveway on his 1952 Ford Tractor. With his red plaid hat and beard, he looked like something from a Norman Rockwell painting. His dog, Juno, a tawny black lab mix with wild long hair (that by the way, runs like the goddamn wind...I have never seen a dog run like Juno. He is but a black blur in the birches) was with him. Loping aside the tractor like a personal assistant (which I suppose he was).

We love our dogs here in Sandgate. They are everywhere with us, always.

Juno was an impressive dog, but the sheep eyed him like he was a spy from the old country. Maude stomped her foot and bitched at him with angry low bleats. Juno pissed on their fence and trotted away. This made Maude bitch louder. I laughed out loud while Ed plowed the drive. Moments like that have become hilarious to me, and a few yeras ago I doubt I'd even notice the antics of sheep. Now I thrive off it. I wish Maude drank coffee. We'd get along so much better if she did.

Together Katie and Sam refilled, restarted, and repaired all the problems. I thanked them over and over, wishing I could do something to repay them. I need to think up something really good, but the only plan I have so far is those two are getting the first scarves I knit from the sheep's wool. They certainly deserve it more than I do.

So, now the house is a comfortable 62 degrees with a roaring fireplace, and the shower spews hot water and soon the kitchen sink wil catch up and do the same. I am here still in awe of how blessed I am to have people like this all within shouting distance of the farm. The day started out terrifying and ended with this sense of home, and comfort, and this weird Vermonter-insurance that we all live by. I never really knew a single neighbor in Knoxville, but here I know everyone and they know me. This is key to me not freaking out or giving up on this farm life. Well, this and really good TV on DVD.

Just recently, Nancy and Dean called to check up on me, offering me some warm soup if I wanted any. Katie and Sam talked to me too, making sure the water was back on and all was well. I offered them all fresh baked cookies, but all four declined the gift. Which shows they not only are helpful, but healthy. Pillars of humanity, them. Surely if life has something to be winning at - they already won. Cold Antler Farm is back in order, and thanks to this small town, it'll stay that way. Mostly because they wouldn't have it any other way.

When I went back into the furnace room to check on the water tank I noticed Katie has taped up a laminated copy of the story of the grasshopper and the ant to the wall. Her version of a lecture for not ordering fuel sooner. I smiled, and loved her for it.

p.s. image above is a screen print by New England artist Dan McCarthy, who does amazing work, usually with trees, winter, and dinosaurs, look him up. He seems kinda dreamy


Blogger The Old Man and His Dog said...

Great story and good people along with a bunch of good dogs. Good stuff. Hints at what a great year this will be for you.

January 1, 2009 at 9:39 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

We have a propane tank, and the propane company comes once a month in the winter to top it off.

I'm glad everything turned out okay, but I imagine it was frightening.

January 1, 2009 at 9:51 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

This has happened to us too- and it was on a Sunday! Same problem- no one would come deliver to us on a weekend. I'm glad it all worked out, and I wish I had neighbors like yours.

January 1, 2009 at 9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get on automatic delivery girl!

January 2, 2009 at 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the picture on the post of the house. I'll definitely check it out.

January 2, 2009 at 12:18 PM  
Blogger Thistledog said...

Yup, you got some good neighbors there, son.

Nice, ain't it? You'll find many ways to pay them back, and truth be told, they got a huge kick out of helping you and lending their skills - sort of the thing about being more blessed to give than to receive...

Keep it warm up there!

January 2, 2009 at 11:46 PM  
Blogger Omee said...

Jenna congratulations on the book. I have enjoyed reading your tales and will share with North Country Spinners. We have taught about 500 to spin on the CD spindles opening a world of possibilities and enjoyment for those who really "get it" as you did that day in Palmerton Park. As a spinner you view every plant and animal, even the cotton in medicine bottles and the lint in the dryer as possible fiber sources (sick really). Maddie(granddaughter shared with Mary) now spins and we will be teaching her girl scout troop in April. No need for electricity and it is better than an hour with a shrink.

January 16, 2009 at 8:07 AM  

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