St. Bernard, Nova Scotia
In last week's diary, I signed off with snow falling and Wendy and I about to go out to a bluegrass concert. The good news is that the concert was excellent. The band, The Jaybirds, played together very tightly, and we had a toe-tappin' good time. The bad news is that my precaution of parking the car at the top of the driveway after the concert was all too prudent. We woke up on Sunday morning with no power (yet again!), and with 30cm of fresh, heavy, wet snow on the ground. Compare the first photo with the same view taken less than 24 hours earlier, in last week's diary entry.
We spent the day on Sunday doing snow-related activities. My first duty was to go to the fire hall and help the crew put chains on all the trucks. I had to hike out Pickles Road to the main road, where another firefighter gave me a ride to the hall in his 4x4 truck. With the fire trucks prepared for the bad roads, I came home to start shovelling. Even with the car at the top of the driveway, a considerable amount of snow had to be moved to dig it out. Around 2:30 pm, the snowplow finally cleared our street, leaving a huge pile of hard-packed snow across the end of our freshly-cleared driveway. Fortunately, the fire chief, who is also a heavy-equipment operator, came by shortly after with a front-end loader, and cleared it away for us. There are advantages to being on the fire department!
The other big shovelling chore was the deck, where, by my calculations, about 3 tonnes of snow were loading the somewhat rickety structure. All of it had to be thrown over the 30" railing! We also cleared out walkways to the garage, cottage and the end of the driveway.
In between shovelling, Wendy and I went out showshoeing down Pickles Road and into the forest. In the late afternoon, we sat on the chesterfield wearing our headlamps and reading. The power finally came back on about 6:00 pm.
Wendy's eye is recovering nicely from her surgery. Although she could have been back to work as soon as she wanted, the combination of the surgery and the weather and bad roads made it prudent for her to take a couple of sick days on Monday and Tuesday.
On Wednesday, she returned to work. At least for the morning... By mid-day, the weather system that had brought the arctic airmass to us on Sunday was starting to head back to where it belonged, bringing the front back over us one more time. The support staff in Wendy's office were sent home early, a smart move, since we ended up with another 25 cm of snow on top of the 34 cm from Sunday. The power, naturally, went off again.
By Thursday morning, the snow had stopped, but we were snowed in again, a repeat of Sunday. We spent the morning shovelling, and in the afternoon snowshoed down through our woods and across a big clearcut lot adjacent to ours. By mid-afternoon, the snowplow had made a pass down Pickles Road, so I shovelled away the big pile of snow thrown up by the plow. I had just finished and was leaning on my shovel, admiring my handiwork, when the snowplow came back the other way, throwing up another big mound! The driver took pity on me and cleared away some of it with his blade, but I still had a lot more work to do.
We have set a new record for precipitation (476 mm, including the snow which melted down to 58 mm of water), as well as a new record for low temperature (-9.7°C) in November. We may also have set a new record for power outages, with an accumulated total of over 92 hours without power since November 12th.
In honour of the first Sunday in Advent, this coming Sunday, here is a photo (or three) of our Christmas lights in the recent snow, taken during a rare moment of electricity.
This weekend, we are looking forward to attending the annual Christmas Craft Fair here on Denman. It is an island tradition, and one of the major events of the season. All the local artists and artisans display their wares for sale.
What a difference a week makes! We have had above-zero temperatures and a moderate amount of rain this week, and as a result the two feet of snow have mostly melted. Earlier in the week, I cleared one side of our loop driveway, so on Thursday, we were able to park the car near the house for the first time in nearly two weeks. The other half of the driveway looks like it should be passable tomorrow.
With not much else happening on the Island, I have been refinishing an old Ikea chesterfield. I took the frame apart and, over a few days, sanded it and put several coats of Varathane on it. While it was drying, I sewed new zippered slip-covers for the cushions. I think it turned out quite well, if I do say so myself. The colours are more in keeping with the rest of our colour scheme.
We are getting into the season of Christmas dinners. Last night, we attended a potluck dinner for my men's group and spouses. They are an interesting bunch of people, and we had a great time.
Tonight is the annual Fire Department dinner, the department's main social event of the year. With about 25 members and their spouses, the hall should be quite full. The department supplies the customary deceased fowl, but the rest of the dinner is pot-luck, so there should be enough for us to eat. We are bringing a chili and a lemon tart, same as last night. (It makes ingredient shopping easier!) The dinner includes awards presentations, some serious, some not, as well as being "payday", the day we receive our honouraria for attending weekly practices and callouts.
Denman Island was hit on Monday night by a storm that, in all but name, was a category 2 hurricane. At the height of the storm, between 4:00 and 6:00 pm Monday, winds were measured at the Chrome Island lighthouse, just off the south tip of Denman, at 177 km/h, just 1 km/h short of being a category 3 hurricane. In addition, two separate observers on boats in the Lambert Channel reported seeing a waterspout, which is a tornado at sea.
There was considerable damage on Denman Island. Numerous trees were uprooted or broken off, many onto power lines. At least 70 spans of high-voltage power line were brought down, and one house had four trees crash down on it while the occupant was inside. Luckily, there were no reports of serious injuries.
Electrical power was knocked out for the entire island for 48 hours, and many houses did not get their power restored until late on Sunday. There are still isolated pockets without power which are expected to be reconnected to the grid some time on Monday.
Our house, luckily, was undamaged. Our power was out from about 1:45 pm on Monday until 6:00 pm on Sunday, over six days straight.
Monday's storm was the first of three that hit this week. The third storm, on Thursday night was as strong as Monday's storm, but hit farther south, around the Victoria-Vancouver-Seattle area. From our point of view, it was notable mostly because it caused half our emergency Hydro repair crews to leave and head south. We were not happy about that!
From that third storm, we only got a little bit of snow and no wind. It was enough to make the roads quite slippery. The Hornby Co-op delivery truck ended up in the ditch on the hairpin turn at the bottom of the big hill, and remained there until an all-day effort the next day by a towtruck and a backhoe dragged it out.
With generator power available, I could trundle the generator over to the pumphouse once a day and hook it up to the pump. That gave us an opportinity to fill up water jugs, flush toilets and re-pressurize the pressure tank. The pressure tank allowed us enough running water for washing hands and brushing teeth.
Needless to say, we are talking cold running water. Hot water was only available by boiling a pan of it on the wood stove.
For flushing toilets in between pump runs, we used buckets of rainwater.
Fortunately, our septic system is operated by gravity. Many residences on Denman require an electric pump because their septic tank is uphill from the house. Those folks would have had to use the outhouse.
We kept reasonably clean by taking sponge baths with water heated on the stove. Once the firehall had power, we were able to shower there. One of the benefits of being on the department.
We were able to make porridge for breakfast, and we toasted bread by holding it in tongs in the open door of the firebox.
Prior to getting the generator, we loaded up some of our recycling boxes with snow left over from the last snowfall and put our perishables from the fridge into them, out on the back deck.
We had one food casualty: a bag of raspberries that thawed in the freezer and leaked red juice all over the bottom.
At the height of the storm, on Monday, I got a phone call from a neighbour who was trapped away from home by a fallen tree. She wanted to tell her husband where she was, but couldn't call home because their only phone runs on electricity. I went down the street to deliver the message the old-fashioned way. Thougn I would normally have walked, this time I drove, because I could hear trees crashing down all around. I figured that I would be safer inside the truck than outside on foot.
There was no chance to use the computer. It is dangerous to the computer to run it on generator power without a UPS, so I didn't even try. I was able to go to the firehall and get online once they had power there. However, without my password file, there was no way to upload anything or check my email. My passwords are stored on floppy disk, but so well encrypted that I could not read the disk on another computer! I may have to re-think my level of protection.
On Friday night, we walked downtown to participate in "Midnight Madness", the one evening of the year on which all the Denman Island businesses stay open for late shopping. They had all the sidewalks downtown lit with hundreds of tea-light candles in paper bags, which made a nice decorative effect. There didn't seem to be much Christmas shopping going on. Mostly, people were exchanging storm stories. The standard greeting on Denman Island this week was "Do you have power yet?"
On Tuesday, the day after the big storm, and before the next one hit, we drove down to Victoria for Wendy's post-surgery checkup on her eye. The surgeon was very pleased with her recovery. Wendy can already notice an improvement in her vision.
The drive was fine, though there were many trees down along the sides of the road. On the return trip, we were held up for half an hour due to tree-removal on the Malahat section of the highway. Our timing was perfect, because only 12 hours later, the second of the three storms closed the Malahat highway entirely for a while due to accidents and downed power lines.
Tonight (Sunday night), just as our power was being restored, we attended the community Christmas dinner at the Community Hall. It was a well-attended event, with over four hundred people being fed in two hours. They even had Tofurkey for us veggie types. We did our part by helping in the cleanup. It is a good way to bring the community together.
In comparison to last week, this week has been quite uneventful.
Denman Island is invariably described in all the tourist literature as "bucolic". Well, here is a suitably bucolic view, taken today. Hard to believe it is December, isn't it? Those little white dots are sheep.
There are still pieces of trees lying along the sides of the roads, and some of BC Hydro's line repairs have a distinctly temporary look to them. We presume they will be back sometime soon to finish them. However, things are pretty much back to normal for most Denman residents.
I have been setting up a permanent electrical connection for the generator. I did some price-checking, and you'd be amazed at how expensive a generator transfer switch is! However, there turns out to be a much cheaper option that still ensures that the connection is safe. I will be installing a mechanical interlock on the system this week.
I have also been drawing up plans for a generator shed. Last week, I used a tarp draped over it and held in place by bungee cords and logs for weather protection, but that is not a suitable long-term solution. A shed will be a place to store the generator as well as providing shelter when it is operating.
What we are hoping is that the generator will supply the same level of protection against power outages that an umbrella does against rain, or sunglasses do against sunshine: if you have them, you won't need them!
A very merry Christmas to everyone, from Wendy, Keith, Liesl and Owen.
My project this week has been to build a shed for the generator. There was a convenient spot right next to the power shack. It is away from the house to lessen the impact of noise and exhaust fumes, and right next to both the main electrical panel and the main load: the well pump. The location will also minimize the effect of the noise on the neighbours.
The shed is basically a lean-to integrated with a small deck. It provides shelter from the elements while allowing enough air circulation for cooling, intake and exhaust. It also gave me some experience in deck-building, a skill I will need when we get around to replacing the main deck around the house in a year or two.
Once I had the shed built, I was able to install the generator and give it a trial run. It will be left permanently plugged in, so all I had to do is flip a some circuit breakers to disconnect the power line and connect the generator, start it, and violà: lights and appliances worked in the house!
That should be enough to ensure that we never have another major power outage, based on the umbrella principle. Still, if we do, at least now we are better prepared.
My next major project will be to limb the half-dozen or so large trees that came down around the property in the storm, buck them up into stove lengths and split them. There is probably enough firewood there to see us through the next couple of winters.
With a couple of long weekends in a row, Wendy has been having fun baking. It is after all known as the "festive season", and we have been doing our share of feasting. Here for your viewing pleasure are: green tomato mincemeat tarts, roasted mixed veggies, and chocolate cupcakes with pink mint icing and crushed candy-cane decorations.
Naturally, I did my part by taste-testing her various creations. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it! I can hereby certify that they all passed the test. Try not to drool on your keyboard!
We had a quiet Christmas, and New Year looks to be the same. We are taking the time to relax a little, watch a few movies on video and go for walks. We might have some friends over for afternoon tea if they are not busy.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Walker
Last modified: 6-May-2013