So spring is, as I said last week, finally here. Except for the last four days when she went on a brief holiday. She has a lot of nerve, is all I can say, to take a holiday just when we were finally hopeful for warm weather. But nope. Spring is fickle and selfish like that. She wants to make very sure we appreciate her. Humph. So off she waltzes to god knows where and leaves us with plummeting temperatures, freezing rain, wind, and then of course, to top it off, a spring black-out. Same old story, freezing rain, ice-covered everything, then wind, followed by downed trees, and then downed power lines. And no power for us and for many, many others. Sigh.
The day of the freezing rain was uneventful, except for the fact that we felt as if we were living inside a giant frosted root beer mug. The world was encased in ice. Trees sagged under the weight. The limbs of the big cedar tree next to our driveway drooped onto our hydro wires, and we watched and held our breath. But the wires held.
Then at midday, we lost our telephone landline, and the internet. Then cell phone coverage dwindled to a trickle. I made a pot of tea and decamped to the sun room to sit in front of the gas fire with a book. A real book. Made out of paper and everything. “We’re lucky we still have power,” we said as Hubby made dinner.
I should mention for those who have never lived in the country where one has a septic system, a sump pump system to keep the ground water out of one’s basement, and a water well, the pumps for which are all run by electricity. That when the power goes out, we lose heat and lights like most people, but we also have no water. No water for drinking and showers, but also no water to flush the facilities, if you catch my drift. And when that happens we are just grateful we have a battery-powered, back-up sump pump. Because if we didn’t we’d have no water where we wanted water, and too much water where we didn’t want it. Ah, already you can tell where this is going, can’t you?
Thursday morning we awakened to a surreal world. Ice-covered and fog-shrouded. Geese sailed out of the mist on the river and were glad that the freezing rain had stopped. Everything was still covered in ice. And when we ventured outside we could see plops of ice slipping off the trees into the water. Looking to fisherman Hubby like so many schools of fish jumping. The sound of shushing as trees divested themselves of their ice, and some of their branches, was everywhere. Hubby dug out the portable radio that we take camping and we listened to the news and the weather forecast and then went back to our respective books. Other than being bored, we felt lucky. We still had power when so many didn’t. The lights flickered off and on again a few times. I stopped resetting the clocks after the second time.
Then in the late afternoon, the lights flickered again and went out. This time for good. Shit. The furnace powered down. Everything was quiet. It’s uncanny how much noise a house makes. Noise that you don’t notice until the power goes out. Okay. No worries. We had the gas stove in the sunroom and Hubby could build a fire in our wood stove in the livingroom. It wasn’t cold out, although the temperature was supposed to drop considerably overnight. And since we had weathered the worst of the storm, we assumed that the power had been deliberately shut down to make repairs somewhere in the system and would be back in an hour or so.
“Oh, ye of too much faith,” she misquoted. Ha.
We could do nothing about any of this, though, so we returned to our books.
Until the alarm on the battery for the back-up sump pump began beeping. And beeping. Hubby ventured down to the basement with the flashlight and it was then that he noticed that the back-up sump pump was not doing its job. And the groundwater was almost at the level of the basement floor. The poor battery-operated pump was virtually kaput. Still pumping weakly, some might say valiantly, but not able to lower the level of water at all.
We commenced bailing. I lost count of the number of buckets we removed from the sump pump well, but we only succeeded in lowering the water by about an inch. And the well is not that huge, trust me. What with the melting snow and now all the rain, the water from the weeping tiles surrounding the house flowed in to replace whatever we removed. It seemed a futile task.
Only when it was getting dark did we realize that we’d need to do something about supper. I set off in the car to find a take-out restaurant that had power and hot food. And returned over an hour later…seems everyone in our end of Manotick and environs had the same idea. The lineups were huge.
And here’s the worst part.
The part of the city where I ended up going had not lost power all day. Not even a flicker. People had gone to work, and gone home, and stopped for a takeout supper, and they all looked normal. But I looked like hell. My hair was a mess, I wore no make-up, and I was wearing sweatpants and a fleece. In public. I know! But we were desperate. In our foolishness we’d not thought we’d lose power. We were hungry. And Hubby had to stay home and mind the sump pump. It had to be me that went. And so I went. I call that true sacrifice, my friends. You never know what you’ll be called upon to do in a spring black-out emergency.
So after our Big Macs, and after Hubby lit the fire in the wood stove, and I lit some candles, we donned our camping headlamps and went back to our books. Hubby said we couldn’t bail all night, so we gave up except for checking every once in a while, and hoping that the valiant, but increasingly weak back-up pump could at least stop the water from rising any more and spilling out onto the floor.
Then it got colder. Hubby put more wood on the fire and we pulled on our ski underwear. Then Hubby announced that the falling temperatures had seemed to slow the flow of water giving our hapless sump-pump a fighting chance. Yah. That crisis had been averted, for the time being anyway.
I read late into the night on Thursday. I could not put my book down. Somehow after I purchased it months and months ago, I had set it aside and never read it. What was I thinking? Eventually I decamped to the bedroom, getting a crick in my neck trying to angle my headlamp onto the page, and earning a telling off from Hubby at about 2:00 A.M. to turn my light out.
The next morning we boiled water for tea on our one-burner gas camp stove. I made toast over the flame using the little round rack for the roasting pan and a pair of tongs, and scrambled eggs in the cast iron frying pan. We ate in front of the fire. And then, guess what we did. Yep. Back to our books.
I made numerous pots of tea on the camp stove, and sat in front of the gas fire in the sunroom immersed in my book all morning. That darned book. I was obsessed. I finished it around midday just after the power came on.
Hubby had come out to tell me the sump pump was working well and the water level was way down. That we needed to reset the timer for the water softener before the system regenerated when we didn’t want it to do so. And now that the wind had died down he was heading out to check the fallen tree limbs in the backyard. I don’t think I even heard what he said. I was sobbing into a tissue and tossing in onto the pile already on the table beside me. I put my glasses back on and finished the last chapter.
So. Here’s my point in telling this story. How does one survive a spring black-out?
Well. A nice wood fire helps. And warm ski underwear, worn under everything. A camp stove is essential. And when the sump pump well gets too full, bail the water into a bucket and use it to flush the facilities. Ha. Silver lining there.
And, and… this is the important one… you absolutely need a great book to read.
The book that got me through the great spring black-out of 2023 (bit of hyperbole there, friends) is by Frances Liardet. Think of Me is set during World War II in Alexandria, Egypt, and in England in the seventies. Parts of the book relate how James Acton an English RAF pilot and Yvette Haddad meet in 1943 in Alexandria, fall in love, eventually marry and move to England where James takes up his post as an Anglican vicar. Parts of the book relate James’ life ten years after the death of Yvette, in the England of the seventies. The rest is told through Yvette’s diaries, their story and her story from her perspective, which she writes in the months leading up to her death. And that’s all I’m going to tell you. You have to read it for yourself.
Frances Liardet is a wonderful writer. Her prose is beautiful. Hilltop views, primroses, ocean scenes, silk scarves, kitchen chairs, little wooden boxes, manky woodworm-riddled roof beams, pain and joy, kindness and anger, friendship, faith, love, loss, redemption. Seriously I can’t even begin to tell you how much this book moved me. Her description of everything from the smallest detail to the most monumental events moved me.
Liardet’s plot, like all my favourite books, is not linear. It starts, progresses, then stops and loops back upon itself. The truth is eked out, eventually. And eventually all is well. I’m glad the plot did not move forward in a straight chronological line. I wouldn’t have been able to stand the suspense of reading about Yvette’s illness. Or whether James would survive his war and his eventual internment in a concentration camp. I much preferred the looking back narrative style. Not that there wasn’t plenty left unsaid, that we had to find out gradually. There was.
This is a ten or fifteen hankie book, people. But it is ultimately a joyous book even in its sadness. Have numerous soothing cups of tea and a box of tissues ready to hand. Cancel all your engagements for two days at least. That’s how long it took me to read this book.
And I have to tell you that if you have also read Liardet’s earlier book, We Must Be Brave you are in for a treat. She brings back several characters from that book. I was thrilled. It felt like kismet.
In my earlier post I said that Frances Liardet’s first book met all my criteria for a good book. This one does too. And the fact that they are loosely tied together makes them ever greater in my eyes.
So if you haven’t read either of them, you should. Don’t wait for a spring black-out, for the power to go out and the sump pump to back up to get started. Start now.
P.S. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will earn a small commission which helps to pay for the blog.
P.P.S. Please don’t take my hyperbole for true whining. If you don’t know me yet, that’s just my weird humour. I don’t mean to say that I think we are hard done by. Not at all.