Contemplating The Mysteries of the Homestead

By , December 9, 2013

Just because we’ve been running and gunning since returning home in an effort to repair/rebuild our water system (see Crisis and Opportunity) doesn’t mean we haven’t taken a bit of time now and then to contemplate The Mysteries of the Homestead.

Currently, there are three Mysteries of the Homestead:

1. How did the wind manage to do all that mischief while we were gone?

When we came home, we found the yard littered with various items that were wildly out of place. We found an old cat box cover, usually kept under the house, out in the yard. We also found an empty tin can, which had held homemade ant bait at the base of one of our house posts (a fairly well protected spot) far from its original position. We also found a sheet of clear corrugated plastic, used as a spot warmer in the garden, on the other side of the cabin from where we’d last put it.

Perhaps most curiously, small sheet of plywood got flipped over. Our “veranda,” built by the previous owners, uses an old, heavy duty pallet as a floor. This has been rotting for years. When one of us put a hole through a floor board, we laid the plywood over it so we could continue to use the deck. We never nailed it down, but it never moved from where we placed it, till sometime while we were gone.

We know that Haines experienced 50 knot winds (more than 57.5 mph) while we were gone, but we’ve seen those before. What could have lifted that plywood? I suspect it may have to do with new eddies and currents created by removing some of the nearby trees—forces we have not experienced first hand yet, and are unaccustomed to.

There’s no telling what hit our “homestead.” The Haines forecast can be more or less severe than what we get. Our sea cliffs and ridge make some very strange eddies. A very high wind could have done all of the above, but we’ve not seen that very often. Of course, it was Thanksgiving, a time of year known for incredible wind storms in Southeast Alaska.

2. What exactly is happening with our water system?

When we switched to the winter water system, we started by turning off the fill flow to the summer water tank, and tried to lower its level some before turning on the flow from the winter tank. We left it for a couple of days, and used plenty of water, including at least one shower session. When I went to turn on the winter tank, I checked the summer tank. Oddly, it appeared as full as ever, even to the point of overflowing out the crack (that’s normal. The crack is why it’s the summer water tank). It puzzled me, but I didn’t explore further.

Now that we’re trying to rebuild our plumbing, we wanted to turn off the winter tank’s flow. We closed the spigot at the tank and ran the faucet to empty the line. It continued to flow at about half pressure, and never emptied. It appears the valve might be malfunctioning.

That will be a fun project! Sometime next summer we’ll have to get at the spigot, which lives in a little box under the water tank. To open or close it, we have to lay flat on the ground, reach in up to the armpit, and turn the spigot. Digging it out will likely be a major excavation. But, it may have to be done. Meanwhile, we’ll start learning how to repair spigots.

The rebuild continues. As always, there are setbacks. But, at least we have water.

3. What THE HECK happened in the wine cellar?

Since autumn, I’ve been storing our bottled homemade wines over at the guesthouse, where it’s cooler. When we came home to so much freezing, I checked to see if any of them had frozen. I’d made a nice, cozy nest of newspapers, cardboard, and blankets for them, and found that they had survived the cold. A few bottles, however, had popped their corks.

I’ve been almost obsessive lately about waiting to bottle my wines so there’s no latent fermentation, which has led to carbonation. The first bottle I found that had blown its cork came from a batch that fermented for over a year in the vat! I have yet to discover why a few select bottles from two different batches blew their corks. We didn’t have a “warm snap” in the months since I put them there. The ambient temperature hardly got above 45°, if that. Freezing might have done the same thing, but none of the bottles show the slightest evidence of ice crystals, even though we’re still below freezing every day.

Like I say, they’re mysteries. But, thanks to mystery number 3, we have something nice to sip while contemplating them.

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