Cruising Through an Ice Storm

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Views through the windows

by Lorraine Payette (posted after the power came back on)

December 22, 2013 – Sunday – Home (near Gananoque, Ontario, Canada):

Technically, this is the second day of “ice storm 2013”. Funny how people are affected differently in different areas, with no two seeming to have the same experience.

“Thousands without power…” “Traffic ground to a halt…” “All unnecessary road travel banned throughout the region…”

The news has stories of discomfort and disaster – tree limbs falling, people getting injured, but nothing like it was in 1998. We’ve learned some things since then, improved our technology, and for some, at least, things are better this time around.

“Disasters” come and go and, if you take the time to learn from them, you can manage just fine.

Ice storms are NOT caused by particularly cold weather – completely the opposite, in fact. The weather hovers around freezing, not cold enough for flat out snow, not warm enough for a steady, melting rain, just perfect for any precipitation to freeze on the surfaces of anything it hits. If these conditions persist over a long enough period, you get not only freezing rain, but an actual ice storm where the accumulated build up of ice causes extreme damage to trees, buildings, power lines and anything else that cannot withstand the weight.

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Trees and ice

I have, as always in the winter, a certain amount of food, water, firewood, candles and lamp oil socked away. There are matches in abundance, and the fire runs continuously. The house is relatively snug, and the inside temperatures far more comfortable than they are on most winter days. The ice has formed a coating over the structure which keeps out the wind, and I am remarkably comfortable.

Ice on snow

My generator has never been repaired, so the electrical appliances such as refrigerator, stove, microwave, etc., are not working, but that is simply a minor irritation. I have coolers, and plenty of ice is to be had lying about on the ground. Food has been transferred into the coolers, packed with said ice, and then placed in an outside shed where the animals can’t get at them. As temperatures are supposed to drop to – 24° C or so in a day or two, I will have to be sure to bring the things in that I don’t want to freeze, but the rest should be fine.

My meals are usually cooked over the wood fires in the winter, so there is no real difference there. I keep a large canner full of water on the stove now to use not only for cleaning, but to help humidify the air. The moisture makes a huge difference in the comfort level of the house, and when the fire falls low in the night, the heat radiates off into the room.

Dinner time

The dogs are thoroughly enjoying this weather, and can’t understand why I am less enthusiastic than they are. A cross between Collie, Malamute and Great Pyrenees, they refuse to come in or even use the shelters I provide for them. I have been out with my camera, and I keep them fed and cuddled, but playing in the constant light rain is not nearly as welcoming a thought to me as it seems to be to them, and they are obviously disappointed. However, they “help” with everything I do outside, offering frozen kisses and sudden, unexpected “extreme close ups” to help me record the doings in my neighbourhood.

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Doggy shenanigans

I can hear the ploughs struggling along on the highway, but ice on the windows prevents me from actually seeing them (even if I were so inclined). There seems to be no other traffic, and the silence is very complete. I can hear the water dripping over and (sometimes) past the icicles on the eaves, and the sounds of the fire as it heats the pipes, crackles the wood, licks its way along the bottom of pans filled with everything from food to water to ice. The sounds of the water murmuring on its way to a boil, the steam forcing its way through the spout on the kettle, the shudder of the ice melting down to become scrub water – all very soft yet distinct. Sounds that would not be heard if the constant hum and drone of distant traffic and electrical power were still thrumming along as usual.

The ice is a wonderful resource if used properly. It can be melted to provide water not only for cleaning, but other uses as well. The animals don’t seem to mind drinking it, but I avoid it. Even when melted, boiled, strained, filtered, and treated for chemical as well as microbial contamination, the taste is highly reminiscent of a lukewarm tea made from pencil shavings. Nothing you add to it takes away that less than subtle undercurrent of flavour, and it is only for use when all other potable liquids run out. I give it credit for being wet and soft, I am grateful to have it for what it can do, but I hope not to be drinking it any time soon.

I imagine there are many out there wondering about those of us in the midst of this “disaster”. For those who have no experience, for those who cannot cope without their technological toys and wonders, it is probably quite difficult. But for those who know how to manage, this becomes a peaceful time to reflect, enjoy good food and quiet pleasures, and gather with others in the warmth and light of the fire to celebrate a solstice come, a Christmas or other holy day soon to be here, sharing thought and camaraderie. Too soon everything will be back to “normal”, and another opportunity to learn from nature and better ourselves will have swept by.

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