When Cog and I moved into our new home up here on the mountain, we never actually sat down and created a formal division of labor. Since we were both anxious to dive in and roll up our sleeves, we each tended to deviate toward skills we were familiar with. As such, while Cog operated the mechanical and more technical aspects of setting up a more sustainable lifestyle, I directed my efforts towards growing and preserving food, learning how to cook food from scratch and making our home more comfortable.
But more than a year and a half after moving here, something has hit me like a freight train. If I need to know how to run this property without Cog because he became sick or disabled or if he needed to dash for a family emergency or even the more unthinkable, he passed away suddenly, I wouldn’t have a clue how our basic mechanical systems work. We have added so many layers of alternatives and backups to our backups that it is a veritable maze to navigate for the uninitiated.
Even though the propane standby generator switches on automatically, I need to learn how to manually shut down the regular electric grid supply to our house and manually activate the power supply from the propane standby generator if automatic doesn't work. I need to learn how to turn the standby generator off in case we need to conserve propane. I have no idea how the options work to charge our bank of deep cycle batteries via the solar panels or from either of our two generators or even from the grid for that matter. And the list goes on.
As Cog has installed these various independent systems, he has meticulously run all the wires inside conduit with the corresponding switches and electrical panel boxes all along the way......both inside and outside the house. In addition, Cog installed our backup hand pump system in our well last December. He did it in such a way that it will feed water into the house's pressurized water supply system so we can, at least on a limited basis, operate ‘normally’ with quick showers, cleaning chores and normal commode flushing.
The benefits of all these complimentary systems are enormous, but some of the components need maintenance and experience occasional problems. I have joked for many months that I would need to follow Cog around with a clipboard and take extensive notes, and I recently gave this some serious thought. With this in mind during this last bitterly cold week I began my clipboard training. Obviously my timing sucks.
I have a whole new respect for Cog. While I always appreciated the fact he ran our wood stove boiler in the winter months, it is a different reality to actually experience trudging out to the boiler in negative wind chill temperatures, often after he stops just long enough to make my morning coffee and feed the cat. Now he waits (notice I did not say patiently) while I fumble for my arctic ensemble and secure my long hair under a large hat so the embers can’t get to it. Together we tend the stove as he fills me in on all the details of this temperamental beast and its various quirks given different wood and various weather conditions.
In between following Cog around the property this week I took the one sunny and almost warm day we had to move cinder blocks into the garden for my new composting system. I took it as no coincidence that I came across an article this week about why we should never use cinder blocks to line gardens, raised beds or compost areas. It seems most cinder blocks are made with fly ash, which is a toxic residue from coal power plants. The concern is this fly ash will leech into our soil and then our garden plants exposing us to yet another health threat.
After considering other construction options and the amount of compost our garden will require, I went ahead with the concrete block frame but have left room to line it with non-pressure treated wood later this season. I can easily begin the compost pile without it touching the block itself in the meantime.
Our possum visitor, Whitey, has returned almost nightly for a stroll across our back deck. Not only was he not deterred from stopping by just because he found himself trapped in our house one evening, but I recently found him leaning against our sliding glass door as he literally sat in the cat’s large food bowl while he ate from it. As I took pictures, and even another video, I am certain he knew we were right there. Nothing was about to come between him and his second grand meal at Chez Cog.
When Whitey finished Tramp’s food and waddled off stage right, Tramp immediately appeared at the door looking a bit miffed. “Let me in! I thought he would never leave. Um… can I get a refill please?” There seems to be an unspoken tolerance between the animals. This is not this first time we have witnessed them walk in wide circles around one another in avoidance. Perhaps the so-called Ukrainian combatants would benefit from observing how this is easily accomplished.
We are battening down the hatches as we prepare for tonight’s frigid weather. The forecast is for a low of 2°F overnight, but the wind chills with the expected 25+ mph winds should put it well below minus 20°F. However, out here on the shear edge of the mountain we are in a micro-climate which, among other adjustments, greatly intensifies the wind. Several storms per season result in winds well over 50 mph, dropping temperatures even lower. I am readying my long johns for my late night and early morning “clipboard” rendezvous with the wood stove boiler.
In defiance of this ridiculously cold weather, I have planted more cilantro and started lettuce seeds in my sun room window. I find it hard to believe just now, but Spring is just around the corner.