Rob's Blog Archive

April 6, 2014

Opening the House










I had spent the previous night at my friend, Steve’s.  It let me say hi to him, have dinner and so forth.  It was also only two hours from Seeley Lake.  I wanted a short ride and lots of daylight  when I got home so I could open the house and take care of the dogyard.  I knew it had snowed a ton while I was away in Alaska.  It seemed that all the snow that should have fallen there fell here, that in addition to the snow Seeley Lake normally gets.  Clearing doghouses was going to be a lot of work.

Turning onto my driveway, I was delighted to find it plowed.  I had called the guy who does this and announced my coming home about a week and a half before I arrived.  I expected the driveway to be passable, but there are always glitches, forgotten chores, and so forth. 

Stepping out of the truck, house keys in hand, I smiled at my having left gates open.  It’s a standard for my taking any winter trip away from the house, but learning to do this as well as other tricks to dealing with winter trips took a few years.  The door to my mudroom has an eastern exposure and gets afternoon and evening sun.  With this, the snow had melted away from it and I could open it and step inside.  I fumbled with the key---locking doors is unusual around here so I normally don’t--- but that only lasted a few seconds.   I stepped in and looked around the house.  Everything looked good.  I had put all of the containers filled with liquids into buckets as a precaution, and none seemed to have broken. 

I took a couple of minutes getting ready to turn on the water pump.  Most importantly, I made sure the water heater was switched off before I threw the breaker.  I also closed the valves I knew about---Dave had opened all of them when he prepared my plumbing for a cold shut down.  I held my breath, and switched on the breakers for the water pump.  Immediately, I heard running water hitting the floor and shut off the power.  I had forgotten that he had pulled the two filters I have on my incoming water.  Happily, I had two new ones and I didn’t have to use the old pair.  Five minutes later, I threw the breaker and again started the pump. 

Water started flowing and where it didn’t, it seemed like air was being forced out of the pipes---I had kept warm and cold valves open upstairs to allow this to happen easily.  Everything looked to be going well for another five minutes.  At that time, I walked into the downstairs bathroom and I saw a big puddle in a familiar spot---when my washer had/has leaked, it has seeped under the wall between the utility room and the downstairs bathroom.  Puzzled, I bounced into the utility room to see a pair of valves I had forgotten about open to air.  I closed these and found a towel to soak up the water that had leaked out. 

The biggest question I had was how to make sure the hot water heater was full before I turned it back on, something Dave had warned me about.  I decided to leave the hot water valve in my upstairs sink open for twenty minutes before I hit the switch.  I wanted to be careful.   The carpet in my downstairs bathroom will be easily replaced and that was already on my agenda.  A new water heater, at least for the first week or two after I got home, wasn’t. 

With my plan in place, air and water flowing out of upstairs faucets, and my electric wall heaters turned on, I started working on clearing the gate between the small yard in front of my kitchen and the main yard for the dogs.  I discovered two things.  First, the snow was dense and had a very heavy crust.  I had to break it up before I could shovel it.  Second, and much more insidious, the gate was embedded in four inches of ice.  It would end up taking about an hour using a pick and a big ice chipper to even get the gate to budge. 

I had switched on the water heater while I was still breaking out the gate and by the time I could move it, I had hot running water.   With this, I knew my house had survived intact. 

Once I finished with the gate and had it opening and closing freely, I started clearing the doghouses.  I had big dreams, shoveling out nice corridors between the houses.  These didn’t account for how heavy and solid the snow was.  Once I got to the third house, Sybil’s, I gave up on corridors.  The one bit of good news, something I hadn’t experienced before, was that once I was more than five yards from my house, the snow was dense and cold and would support my weight.  Just clearing platforms and finding the chains would work fine.

When I left for Alaska, I figured that I’d be back later than I was and didn’t anticipate a near record snow year in Seeley.  With this, I hadn’t bothered throwing the chains into the doghouses before I left, another winter roadtrip procedure.  Luckily, fifteen of the eighteen chains were easy to extract.  They had been buried in snow.  Unfortunately, the other three chains were embedded in ice, just like the gate had been.  However, unlike the gate which is straight and it was obvious where the buried bottom pipe was, the links of the chains changed direction.  I could chip out a few, pull hard, then see where in the ice the chain had hung up.  I’d chip a few more links out, pull again and check again.  It was a tedious process, something I don’t intend to repeat.  In the future, chains will always go into the doghouses.

By this time, the dogs were starting to whine.  They had been in the truck for too many hours.  Beyond that, they knew they were home.  My consolation was that once I finished, I’d put them in the yard and they wouldn’t have to be in the truck for months.

It took about four hours to clear eighteen houses---I just barely beat sunset.  With this, I had to decide who went where.  I had cleared platforms and chains, but I didn’t have time to clear out any frozen straw that remained in their houses.  That would be a couple of days later.  While it stayed cold---it was right at freezing when I arrived---this wouldn’t matter much.  Still, I wanted to make sure that my old dog, Vixen, and my arthritic dog, Tok, started out in clear doghouses.  Fortunately, there were two that fit the bill.  From there, I decided to put dogs in spots I hoped wouldn’t lead to any fighting.  Half would be where they had been before the trip, half would be moved. 

Dog location decisions made, I started unloading the pack.  I walked dogs to the yard, opened the gate and nudged them in, leaving the necklines they had been traveling with on.  Even if there were much that the lines could catch on in the yard, I was right there. 

No matter what the process, moving eighteen excited dogs the fifty yards between my truck and the gate takes time.  I took two pairs---the four dogs who had been doubled up---but moved the rest as singles.  Fondue, now second oldest in my kennel, was number eighteen.   With her entry, all of my dogs were running free in the yard, something they hadn’t done since we left Willow.

I got my treat bag---I’m sure I’d have had a REALLY pissed off bunch of dogs if I neglected giving them their hook-up treats.  Giving them treats while hooking them up to their tethers, as much as anything, had all of us feeling like life was becoming normal.  I hooked up Jake, the dog I’ve had the longest, last.  We were home.    


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