Friday, February 19, 2010

Water on My Brain

Running Waters
Water on My Brain

Today I celebrate Water Appreciation Day. It’s my own private observance. I named the day myself. Actually, I observe frequent water appreciation moments. When I turn on the tap and the precious liquid gushes forth. Or when I stand beneath the rain nozzle on my shower. Or when I pull the little chain.

We live in a part of the country which outsiders frequently describe as “brown,” in an area in which the average annual rainfall can only be depicted as “pitiful.” I support and practice water conservation in my own little way. Perhaps the results of my conservation efforts are only a drop in the proverbial bucket, but I do my part.

My motivation is completely self-serving. The emotions which fuel my gratitude when I turn on the tap well up from my personal memory bank. I am happy that my neighbors all have good water, but only because I do too. I don’t regret the rich experiences which resulted in my full and over-flowing memory account; I simply do not wish to repeat them.

Back in the mid-sixties I lived on a little ranch south of Dodson. To borrow from Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” To say we lived a primitive life is an understatement. We lived in a little shack created by cowboy-ing three grain-storage buildings together, shotgun style. One stepped over a threshold to enter each of the three rooms. Some homesteader had added windows (for light) to an already drafty structure and tacked on a roof. The well-built barn, heated only by the breath of the milk cow, was warmer. When winter winds blew, the curtains wafted in the breeze. I quickly learned to tack sheets of plastic over the windows, inside and out. We heated with wood and coal. I had an electric range sitting next to the wood-fired cook stove. The electric range sat idle except during the summer.

Here’s where the water comes into the picture. I am not complaining, just reporting. It is just the way things were. I couldn’t rely on the creek for water. Deer Creek, right outside my kitchen door, only ran during spring melt-off and the rare cloudburst. Although we were among the last people to farm with horses, we did not have to hitch old Tom and Jerry to the wagon and haul barrels down to the Milk River , a couple miles across the hay fields. During the hard winter of ’64, when we retired Tom and Jerry, I helped break the new team, Harry and August, harnessed to the sleigh, over the deep snow to feed the cattle every day.

But, no, we did not haul water. Er, not any distance. We were lucky. We had a well. We had a good deep well with good pure water so cold it hurt your teeth, even on the hottest summer days. When I got married my father-in-law gave me two brand-new galvanized buckets. And the pump was only fifty steps with empty buckets down the path from the kitchen door. It took twice as many steps sloshing back when they were full. With them I hauled water to fill the reservoir in the wood stove. I hauled drinking water to another bucket on the stand inside the kitchen door. Beside it sat a wash basin. A dipper hung on a nail above the bucket. A towel hung on a nail above the basin. The slop-bucket where I poured dirty wash-water, dish-water and food scraps, sat on the floor beside the wash stand. When it was two-thirds full, I lugged it out to the creek bank and threw it into what could have been a great compost pile if I’d had any sense.

From the well I hauled bucketsful of water for cooking. I hauled water for cleaning. I hauled water for washing clothes in the wringer washer. I hauled water to fill the galvanized bath-tub which hung on a nail outside the kitchen. I hauled water to heat in the copper boiler on the wood stove, winter and summer. Every drop of water I hauled in, I hauled out again, all in open five-gallon buckets. Hauling water in the summer was a chore. But every winter was a winter of my despair.

The other facility used no water. It was the little house down the path behind the main house. In the summer it reeked noisomely. Wasps and rattlesnakes hung out there, keeping us on our toes. In the winter, well, constipation was a problem.

The way we lived was neither good nor bad. It was just the way we lived in that time and place. We were fortunate we had electricity. But the day my father-in-law said he was going to put running water in the barn, but not in the house, was the day I began packing to leave.

There was nothing romantic about the way we lived. The Society for Creative Anachronism holds no appeal for me. Give me running water from the tap, an indoor flush toilet, a washing machine settled in its own little room, and I am blissfully happy.

Sondra Ashton
Havre Daily News: Looking out my back door
January 21, 2010

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