Last week I entertained friends from Ohio here in Northern California. The house itself is small and unremarkable, but the land and location are pretty sweet. The property is currently in between tenants so I’m busy cleaning, painting, and gardening while my guests are out exploring the countryside. My invitation to them was part of a larger strategy. They’re a smart, capable, charming, and energetic young couple. I try and pull such people into my orbit whenever possible. Sometimes I click with people like this to mutual benefit. Sometimes not. But I constantly cast a wide net to see what works.
I’m always working to improve the productivity of the garden in a way that builds up the soil and generates more food. I’m fond of saying that my long term goal is breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I err on the side of utility, but try and make things pretty if at all possible – if only to avoid upsetting the neighbors. My latest project involves attaching hog wire panels to an arbor so grape and kiwi vines can climb and provide both fruit and shade to the back of the house. At the base of the arbor I’m planting guavas, blueberries, dwarf figs, and thornless blackberries in large galvanized horse troughs. Gophers are a huge problem in this part of the world so everything needs to be planted in wire baskets or raised containers otherwise they twitch and disappear into the ground like something from a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
My last such project included claiming the narrow strip of dirt between my neighbor’s driveway and my own. It wasn’t a lot of space, but it receives full southern sun and was in a place I couldn’t help but cultivate since it was so readily accessible. This otherwise useless patch of wasteland is now home to a dozen thriving dwarf fruit trees and berry bushes.
What does this have to do with the larger topics of urbanism and land use management on this blog? A great deal actually. We had a scare for about an hour that proved instructive – in a good way. The water stopped running in the entire house. The kitchen. The bath. The garden hose… dry. Of course this happened at 6 PM on a Friday. I called my usual well, pump, and filter man and waited for him to arrive. Before I purchased the house in 2010 I had everything inspected and was told that the well was north of seventy years old and it could collapse tomorrow – or might last another twenty years. No one could know for certain. I assumed the worst and went in to Plan B mode.
I attached a hose to the 5,000 gallon rainwater tank in the back garden, stretched it to the back patio, filled some clean buckets, and stationed them in the bath and kitchen for washing and flushing. Then I instructed my guests on the situation. It’s warm here and we can get by with room temperature water for bathing if need be. 5,000 gallons won’t last forever, but it buys us a fair amount of time while the well gets sorted. The rain water tank is part of my larger preparedness strategy and in this case it worked beautifully.
The well man arrived promptly and ran through his usual diagnostic steps. Lo and behold, there was a bug in one of the electrical control panels. An actual insect! It had crawled in to the pump house, wiggled in to the machinery, and tripped one of the computer components. It didn’t end well for the bug. The problem was fixed in ten minutes and the water promptly flowed freely again. As outrageous as the after hours emergency house call bill will be, it’s infinitely less expensive than drilling a new $20,000 well. But I was very pleased with the fact that if the well had failed I was entirely ready with a viable back up system. See also: earthquakes and power failures.
I had a talk with the pump and filter man and he’s now in the process of switching out the fancy electronic system for a plain vanilla century old mechanical device that the Amish would recognize and approve of. Less is more, as the saying goes. I like gravity. Water never fails to flow downhill. I like something made of sheet metal and springs. If it breaks you can fix it with a screw driver and some common sense. We’re well in to the age of diminishing returns on advanced technology. I consider this experience a dry run for future difficulties that are more pronounced and harder to bounce back from. So far, so good. Chalk one up for household resilience.