I was planning on getting back at being a regular blogger this time reflecting on life at the pivotal time of retirement. And then suddenly I disappeared again. It was because I had these great plans sharing what our new life looked like. I had planned to share the fun times, the surprises, and the challenges that came with this new phase. We got challenges and they were nothing like we imagined. As the world was rapidly changing, when I thought about our challenges I felt blessed that my challenges were so small to what some others were facing so I decided to sit it out for a while.Continue reading
Life in the country is one where you are responsible for all your water; your freshwater and your wastewater. When we lived in homes on public utilities we liked to think we were conscious of our consumption, but in retrospect, we did not even begin to understand water. I think most folks on public systems are not truly aware of the impacts they have on fresh and wastewater. This last week we were reminded of the cycle of water for the home.
We live in a cold semi-arid climate in southwest Montana. It means we get an average of 13 inches of moisture. That is snowmelt, rain and anything else wet that comes from the sky. Only 13 inches of moisture occur each year to flow into streams or rivers, replenish aquifers, be used for irrigation, furnish wildlife and humans with water, support the native and non-native landscapes and everything else that needs water. We are too cold for the cactus most people think of in a semi-arid climate. Instead, we are covered with bunch grass, sage, and a few slow-growing trees.
When you live in an arid or semi-arid climate you are much more aware of the scarcity of freshwater. If you live in the country with a well I think you are even more aware of your freshwater source. I look out my kitchen and see my wellhead every time I do dishes. I drive by it each time I leave and return home because it sits near the road. I am lucky because my water is plentiful, soft, nearly mineral-free (based on the lack of buildup in my shower, and tastes great because it has no taste.
When we moved here we made modifications to our home to conserve water in every way we could because though we had been on a well before this was our first time on a septic system. We swapped out all faucets for ones with aerators. We changed shower heads for something that would restrict our use without thinking. We got a front-load washing machine for the single reason of how much less water it uses than a top loader. We made sure all our toilets used a minimum of water. We don’t water our lawn. When the natural moisture causes it to go dormant, it is okay with us. We treated water like the precious commodity it is. Not only did we want to consume less water, but we also wanted to generate less wastewater for the septic system.
Our septic system was here when we arrived. We read up and researched how to treat our septic system correctly for function and to help it last as long as possible. We had it pumped on even years and did not send “bad” things down the drain. We are on our same gallon of bleach that we had when we moved in here 18 years ago. We try to use the least damaging to our septic bacteria, but effective cleaning solutions for dishes, sinks, floors, and toilets. Grease is collected and put in the trash. Obviously, we generate as little wastewater as possible based on the paragraph on our consumption. In spite of all these proactive actions on our part, it failed last Sunday. What that means is the drain field stopped draining and the tank filled up and backed up.
We had no clues or warnings this was going to happen so we ended up with a failure in the middle of the winter. We were able to get someone out here on Monday and pump the tank. We were told the solids showed that yes we should have had one more year before it was pumped. Unfortunately, the liquids were topped out and then some. We are working with our contractor to look at what may have caused this failure. Our system is 30 years old which by all standards is at the end of the lifecycle. This year we have had inadequate snow cover and there are folks around the area who have had their leach field freeze for the first time ever. This is all complicated by the fact it is winter and it is not like we can walk out in the drain field and see what is different right now from the other 17 years we have been here. Once we understand this a little better we can move forward on the “what next?” step.
I shared this with you all not because I wanted to gross you out, but because I am hoping that this will remind all of you that water is precious. Freshwater to drink isn’t unlimited and there are many things that dip in the usage pool of that precious resource. Wastewater, though most of us don’t think anything of it other than to flush the toilet is an issue out there. If you learn a little about your usage of both and change one habit to be a better water steward then I will be please and thank you for being aware, when it would have been much easier to not be.
There are things that are on our life list we want to cross off that we haven’t gotten to before now that we are retired. We are making some plans to take care of some of those. But retirement isn’t all about running around non-stop crossing things off your bucket list. Yes, you have time to do some things you could not carve out of your busy lives before, but many of your days are doing those same simple things you enjoyed doing every other day of your life.
After a long hiatus, I am going to try working on this blog again as we enter a new season of life, retirement. I will be sharing challenges, things we do, things we discover and anything else that pops into my mind as I look out the window and enter the next season of our lives.
RangerSir and I attended his retirement party last night. Life will never be the same, which is good and sad at the same time. Keep watch as we share more about this new life.
RangerSir and I have returned from vacation and now I feel like I can blog here out in the world of everyone knowing because it is all in the past. I think the hardest part of planning a vacation was making arrangements for our livestock. It was much harder than I had imagined, as I had remembered as a young adult, I loved getting away from roommates. Getting paid was a bonus because it was like having a part-time job that didn’t cramp my lifestyle. We finally make a connection for a house/pet sitter before we left. It worked out well but oh the journey was an adventure.
We started by putting out the word to friends and family that we were looking for a house/pet sitter. We have a small college in town and I was sure that someone would know of a person who was interested in the job. We got no bites. We were unsure if it was because we lived out-of-town or it was our menagerie but no one wanted the job. We were offering to pay the sitter what kenneling would cost.
After a couple of weeks, we got worried and started to make kennel arrangements for the cat and dog. We watched our neighbor’s horses and barn cats, so we knew that they would open the door for the chickens in the morning and close them up at night. It was a workable solution, but it wasn’t the best solution because we did not want our house empty for ten days.
We started to tap into websites offering house/pet sitters, talking to folks, trying to figure out our liabilities, and what could go wrong if we were two days away from rescue. There were so many pros, cons, and unknowns. You asked everyone you knew if they knew this person on the net wanting to sit for you.
Finally, we made a connection with a young woman who would be in her last two weeks of high school the time we needed her. Lots of people vouched for her maturity and reliability. It was unnerving after all she was in high school. I met her mother and knew her step-father and grandmother. They were all comfortable with this and supportive of her doing this. She had an afterschool job but would be home the same hours as we were when working. We met with her and talked with her and in the end, she would be our house sitter. RangerSir reminded me in a couple of weeks she could call herself a college freshman, so if she had such good references we should go with it.
In the midst of all of this one late afternoon, three of our chickens flew over the fence in their run attached to their coop. They came to their favorite dust bath location by the back door at the edge of the foundation of the house and they were prone to do. Unfortunately, Mr. Fox came right up to our back door and got our girls. It was unnerving and devastating because this happened just a few feet from our back door that we use as our main entry. RangerSir and I had decided just this year that we were not going to do baby chicks and the hens we had were likely our last hens. In retirement we would be in town and chickens would not be part of our lives. When we were gone so were these hens. It seemed that fate was telling us that our train was moving much faster than we had thought it was. We had one chicken left after this unfortunate incident and we called a girlfriend with a flock to see if she would take our last hen. She took the hen with all the food and supplies we had for our backyard flock. Housesitting at our place just got easier for our young housesitter.
The first night we were gone and out of cell phone connection most of the day and early evening. We got back into service at 8pm Montana time to have a message from our housesitter who came home to find that we had no electricity (no water/well either). When we finally connected up that night she just wanted to know if there was something special she needed to do as she had tried the breakers and no luck; the power company in town couldn’t help her. I placed calls to her and made sure she knew where the oil lamps and flashlights were (things we had not covered in the walk through before we had left). We are the next to last house on an electric run connected to a local electric co-op. We placed calls to the co-op linemen in charge of our area and electricity came back on at 9pm her time. She was so calm and collected and told us no worries, she was ok and it would be ok. It was an immediate demonstration to us that we had left our house and critters in good hands and that this young woman may be in high school, but she was ready for heading out into the next step of life and working her way through the what life was going to throw at her.
When we got home our dogs and cats were happy to see us, but a little put out with us as well. Life had been good for them while we were gone. The house was clean, the sheets and towels were pulled and washed, though we had not asked her to do so. We could not tell that she had been there. The neighbors were impressed with what they had observed she was home with our pets as we had wanted and no crazy visitors. I’d love to have her again, but she is ready for the world. She and friend will be visiting NYC before she heads off to Seattle for school. So as great as this was, if we go on holiday we will once again be looking for a house sitter.
As RangerSir and I interview places we are considering for our retirement move, one of the things is on our list is water. I remember the day our dry creek bed first ran with water. Even if it is only a short spell each year I was thrilled to see water run in the small drawl that ran across our property for the first time. I called RangerSir at work with my news. I told him to guess what I had discovered that day on our property. Of course, he asked for a hint. My hint was people fight and get shot over this. His first guess was water. Not sure how that happened but it was one of those moments when we both knew we were on the same page about that resource.
It may seem kind of an odd thought in a country where we seem to have plenty of water that it is a blog-worthy topic. Yet it is not that simple, no matter if you have your own well or are on a “public” system. Here are some things to think about when you talk water.
There are many cities where your water does not come from a city-owned municipal utility. There are cities where you get your water from a publicly-owned for-profit company. Think about that for a minute. You are getting an essential commodity from a company who is charged with making money for the stockholders. The people who own your water don’t live in your community or have any care about your water system other than what economic return there is. There are two communities in Montana that are poster children for the disaster that this can be. Butte’s mining companies owned the water system from the beginning of the town’s history (prior to 1900) and for years they put no money into the system infrastructure. It was in such bad shape that the water was still in most cases flowing through the original redwood pipes. The city had over 800 bursts pipes annually. Splinters, rust and more came through the city water system into homes. Finally, in the 1990’s there was a transfer of ownership of the water company from the mining company to the city. The system was in a bad state. Bonds and mill levies were passed and millions were spent to bring the system back up to snuff. It wasn’t cheap, but the community can once again use the water that comes out of their tap. Another Montana city, Missoula, recently purchased its water system back after being sold and resold by public companies because its aged system was starting to need capital investments. The public companies liked the income but weren’t so crazy about investing in infrastructure. It cost the city a lot of money to buy their system, but they did it saying they wanted to ensure the people of the city had “access to clean, affordable and reliable water.” Similar things have happened elsewhere. It isn’t cheap for a municipality to own and maintain a water system but from what I have seen, the other option isn’t so great either. So as I look at cities one of the questions I ask about is their utilities. I assume nothing.
Here in the country, we have a well. We are lucky in that our well is exceptional. What I mean by that is, water is clean, plentiful, not full of minerals, and it doesn’t have a nasty odor or taste. We have it tested regularly and say a prayer of thanks for our results each time. That said, I think about what will happen if our well runs dry? Just a couple of miles away as the crow flies the houses are on a different aquifer. Those wells don’t supply enough water out of the ground on demand for basic household needs. In order to support their water needs, those folks have large holding tanks in their basement to ensure they have the pressure and quantity of water for a normal household. Pretty strong wake-up call when you know it is just geography and luck that I can turn on my spigot without a worry.
There are other stories around the word about water shortages for people and agriculture. It is something that we don’t often think about until it doesn’t work.
When I grew up there was a prosperous agriculture society out there in rural America. There were lots of small and medium-sized towns full of businesses that supported farm families. You could find schools scattered across the countryside to educate the farmer’s children. Each community would have an elevator for the local farmer’s co-op. The farmers used this to store and transport their corn, grain and other commodities.
In the years since I was a child we have continued to become more efficient in agriculture as a results there are fewer farms and ranches, and the ones that are out there are larger.
Today producers, ranchers and farmers, are growing more food than their grandfather’s could have imagined. In spite of the changes of time one thing has not changed, the life of a producer is at the mercy of the winds of nature. A farmer works from sun up to sun down and livestock never takes a vacation. Today the economics of being in agriculture are hard and many people not only run their farm operation, they also hold a second job to make ends meet and even up the ups and downs of crop and animal prices, hail, drought, lost livestock and so much more we can’t imagine. Given a choice more and more folks are choosing to move to the city rather take on the challenges of being a producer.
Today with fewer folks choosing the rural life small towns are dying. When a small town dies not only are businesses loss, but many of the local elevators are being abandoned in favor of larger more centralized elevators. Small elevators are an icon of the past; an icon of agriculture. Just like barns, you see fewer of them across the countryside. They are being abandoned and falling into disrepair. Someday like old farm houses and old barns they will fall down and will no longer be there to remind of the all the people who came before and work out there today to feed the world.