Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

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Illustration of skunk sitting on eggs.
Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

Life is full of surprises and adventures. My UPS driver calls every weekday to see if I have anything to ship out and is usually surprised when I don’t have some story to relay. I certainly don’t go looking for adventure in my daily life, but it has a way of finding me. 

Myth or Fact?

In a recent article, I wrote about harvesting our phenomenal acorn crop this past fall. I was determined to note if an abundant acorn year correlated to a very cold or long winter. This had been the coldest January in 15 or so years. Our creek froze all the way across. And even the heat tape on the pipes could not keep them from freezing.

When the microhydro turbine’s nozzles clogged with debris from the heavy snowfall, the turbine froze. In a cascade effect, with no working hydro—and little sun or wind—our battery bank became depleted. 

It was our good luck—or not—to be on vacation during this time. Our house-sitter and our business apprentice were heroic in their work to get our home system up and running again, with no lingering problems.

Black & White

The night we got back from vacation, I put the chickens in their coop but apparently forgot to close the coop door. In the morning, I was surprised to see some of the hens were already out pecking around in the run attached to the coop. Chagrined, I went to the coop to make sure their feed and water were full and to give them a sprinkle of hen scratch. The feed and water were fine; everything looked good. But as I was leaving, I lifted the lid on the nest boxes to check for eggs. That’s when a sleepy skunk rubbed its eyes, blinking up at me. I think I said something clever, close to “Oh, shoot!” and quickly, but quietly, shut the lid.

I got one of my live traps and baited it by wiring one of our storage apples inside, beyond the trip pad. Then I bagged it in two garbage bags, leaving only the trap door end uncovered. A little package tape secured the bags to the trap. A small slit in the top allowed the trap handle to come through. 

The trap was set in the chicken run, facing the coop door, which I left open. I was really hoping that the skunk, being a nocturnal animal, would just leave. No such luck—by morning, I had trapped it! And now I had to do something with it! I sneaked up on the trap and carefully pulled another garbage bag over the front end of the trap, standing behind it the whole time. So far, so good. Ever so gently, I put the trap in the back of my husband Bob-O’s truck, securing it with a bungee. We drove it up to Jenny Creek, about six miles away, for reassignment.

I attached a 12-foot length of parachute cord to the trap release, since I wanted to be as far from the trap as possible when I released the skunk. After setting down the trap, I carefully removed the bag over the door. I backed away and, reaching the end of the cord, tugged on it firmly. The door swung open, but the skunk would not leave the trap. Bob-O picked up the trap and shook it, open end down, until the skunk dropped out, tail up and aimed at us. We ran, and it wandered off into the woods. Whew, not phew!

Pipe Scream

One sunny cold day, Bob-O happened to glance at the meter on our dining room wall that displays our battery’s state of charge. On a sunny winter day, with the PV array and microhydro system working to capacity, the batteries should have been at 100%. Looking at the system meters, he discovered that the microhydro turbine was not contributing a single watt to our energy system. So he donned his ditch boots, called the dog, and began the hike to the hydro intake to make sure it wasn’t clogged. Since a lack of power from a clogged intake is rare, he stayed along the creek bank as he walked the pipeline. Not too far up, he saw a 5-foot section of pipe shattered into large ugly shards, which were lying in the cold water. Some large rocks had worked their way out of the steep bank and tumbled right onto our penstock.

Bob-O returned to the house, retrieved some black plastic garbage bags and made his way to the intake, inspecting pipe as he went. Once at the head, he covered the intake with plastic to slow the flow of water entering the pipe. Knowing that draining the pipeline would take a couple of hours, he doubled up on his chores and took our trailer to get a load of horse manure for our garden.

By the time he got back, the water had mostly emptied and was just a trickle from the pipe. Bob-O got a section of scrap 6-inch pipe and two couplers from the boneyard. Then he put a coupler on both open ends of pipeline. In winter and with water in the pipe, using glue was not an option. Instead, he drilled three holes though each coupler and into the pipe and used screws to secure the couplers.

After cutting the scrap pipe to replace the missing section, we both climbed into the creek. He attached the repair section to the downstream coupler with screws. My job was to lift the empty downstream section so Bob-O, who was lifting the upcreek section, could slip the coupler over my end of the pipe. The theory was that lifting them would separate them enough to slip the coupler on the penstock, and then when we set the pipe down, the weight would push the new section tight into the coupler. Right…

We ended up using a tractor, ropes, chains, and a come-along to finally get that darn pipe together. We did it though, before dark, and it wasn’t raining. Some days are just lucky days.

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Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze is making vegan cheese at her off-grid home in northernmost California.

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