WAY BACK THEN Blog winter and wanderings

20 12 2008



And of course Winter was nor far away. By the time I had managed to get a new roof on with shakes I split from bolts of cedar and with a swede saw cut a few cords of firewood, that white stuff appeared, which as you can see from this shot taken many years later, came each year on the 5th November.. As tough luck would have it that winter was one of the coldest on record and one night hit minus fifty five. I had managed to get sheets of plastic over the window holes and install an old McClary 224 woodstove I found in a deserted homestead. I stuck the chimney through the plastic with some tin round it  and gave myself over to the task of surviving in the wild in one un-insulated room. Such is the nature of that infatuation the land can spell over its prey. They get the Tonlies— a disease that mostly affects young males with symptoms that cause them to walk around ancient wrecks that are fit only for he junk yard whilst muttering “ ‘Tonly needs a coat of paint here, or ‘Tonly needs a little carpentry there.” But like those hypothetical Inuit forefathers, I was utterly addicted . The amazing  beauty of the winter landscape had me completely hooked For the first ten years up there on the mountain I had no running  water in the house  and no electricity to pump it. I went to the creek with a bucket each day and filled idle minutes digging a four foot deep trench some four hundred yards through rocks and roots to the spring. Then, at last, one summer, I laid in the pipe and filled the trench.Which was where another kind of problem arose. I now had a low pressure gravity system and that meant plumbing. But instead of a warm central, insulated piping system around which new houses are built, my plumbing had to be threaded through some of the craziest carpentry ever made and that meant that the piping wandered up, down and around like a drunken snake on acid. With sickening regularity the cold crept into the wretched old ruin and froze it all solid which dismantled the copper piping joint by joint behind newly installed siding, and the most vulverable place for it to freeze was beneath the kitchen floor. This was accessible only by an eighteen inch crawl space.Plumbing, lying on my back lit by a flashlight that kept falling over and with hot solder falling into my face, and with pipes that contained too many leaks to function but still too much water  to solder became my nemesis. If there is anything in this world at which I excel it is at being a lousy plumber. Here’s a photo of me wishing I had never been born. I must confess there were many times  in which I was reduced to tears at my own futility and stupidity.But enough autobiographical history. Here’s a little entry from my journal back then.

Journal Nov 22nd. Began day with a burst pipe and flooded kitchen. David arrived to help install the big window. It is minus 22 degrees Celsius. We cut the hole in the living room wall 12×12 ft  and in the rigid cold work on the window  never stopping to eat or drink, fighting against the cold and the rapidly importuning darkness. We have to rig up lights and finally, amidst mountains of debris and garbage, wood chips, insulation and plastic have the thing installed by 12 p.m. David leaves and I clean up till 2 a.m.and hit the hay. The window is beautiful and radically improves the room. I sleep the sleep of the terminally exhausted and wake at 7.30 to billowing clouds of breath. It is cold—the coldest November on record and more expected.

Nov 23rd. The cold’s silent tirade continues all day. I spend all day putting plastic at windows, stops on doors , draught-strips around door jambs, tucking insulation in holes and bringing in wood…The gas rings and oven in the kitchen stove are burning constantly, the woodstove is fully open,. This isn’t a house. It is a leaky old Panamanian freighter, and I, it’s captain, alone  on board, fight the storm with all my energy. The terrible mute seas of snow hold immobile, the numbing energy of their assault springing unseen against this impudent little core of warmth, pouring through cracks, knot-holes,crevices. Unshaven at the helm I hold on.

Feb 26.Went into Kamloops last night to get steel for the kiln door and other materials and do washing. Stayed at Rollie’s warm ( all over! Not  merely in one spot) home.Temperatures plunged to minus 30 overnight. Truck wont start and I’ve forgotten the propane tank and length of chimney pipe with a ninety bend that at home with the tiger torch I warm the motor. Get a jump start and,keeping he motor running even when parked, do my shopping and head home. It is getting colder and the wind is lashing down the valley pulling horizontal cotton banners of smoke from the chimneys.Cars, enveloped in steam move through shifting drifts of snow. The river’s great white snake has locked solid. great slabs of ice rearing up under the pressure.. The house is frozen. There are three inches of ice on the bath-full of water I have left for fire protection and for the warmth. I light the potbelly and all available propane burners—gas stove ,oven and lights.Go to the studio and light fire there.It is minus 30, and as a brilliant moon rises behind the mountain trees explode with the cold, cracking like rifle shots.. Outside the door the cold waits like a mugger to clamp it’s violent hands on my face. I break my last pair of glasses lifting a big log into the truck. My chainsaw has blown its motor in protest at having to work in such temperatures. While I am stripping it down to see if it is repairable the bathtub has been leaking slowly through the plug and has blocked the waste pipe with ice and flooded the kitchen –once more. It has frozen behind the cabinets and  cupboards ( waiting to flood me one more time when it thaws). I crank up the tiger torch and try to thaw out the pipes and mop the kitchen floor. My hands are so painful I cannot grasp even a cup and have to hold it with my palms .Then I go upstairs and by bucket bail out the water that has melted in the tub  . I am using hundreds of dollars-worth of propane to stay alive in this madhouse. Nothing is worth this! The effort to “make it”–to be an independent man, self supporting , is too much. My two neighbours have packed up and left to be on welfare in the city. I should join them . It is insane to live like this, fighting, fighting a malevolent climate for survival. What a day!The mercury continues to drop and it is still only November. I am filthy. No snow yet to speak of to boil for cooking. Nothing is worth this life quality.

What I am beginning to realize is that this blogging thing can have many threads.We don’t have to worry about the academically uninspired  Masonry of Mediocrity that surrounds the publishing lottery and its pernickety value system and grammatical orthodoxy. Lets make the threads proliferate until we have enough to weave a fine literary basket that will hold it all—all our joys and tears; all our ecstasies and remorses. And lets round out this thread back in time with a later shot of me lost in the torture of plumbing. Who needs waterboarding to make him surrender? I confess. I was a fool.


                                       Plumbing King

In the feelings grave

Grave feelings rest

On thoughts as thin as wind

And I suppose

More than anything

I want to reach out

To you, to talk

About experience in such a way

You’ll know and say

This man was here

Where I am now.

The gulf is bridged

The terrible phantom

Of isolation slain

And the phenomenon

Of Love sent out

Like an emissary

To affirm the system safe.

And this craft of

Overloading language

I suppose is poetry–

Coaxing symbols

That were invented

For counting beans

To spell the tale

Of Divinity’s immanence.










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