Third in the series.
Standing at the bathroom sink, staring down at that dry faucet, I freaked out. All of a sudden, every warning sign of the last eight hours returned to leer at me with sharp, grinning teeth. Because I'd ignored the signals, I was now trapped alone without power, water or a land line and with my car stuck in a snowbank.
In a panic, forgetting the flashlight, I ran to my nightstand where I frantically fumbled around in the dark for my cell phone. The same cell phone I could no longer recharge.
The phone had one bar left. One. I shut it off to preserve that bar as long as possible.
I sat on the bed steps and tried to calm myself. No matter what my fear tried to tell me, I wasn't in a cabin on an isolated mountaintop.
I had food, I had milk and juice, I had blankets and warm clothes, I had a flashlight and batteries. I'd be all right for several days.
Okay, I wasn't as mobile as I'd like to be. The Toyota was stuck. But it wouldn't be stuck forever. Snow melts. And, until it melted, if I had trouble, all I had to do was stand in my doorway and shout until someone heard me. There were people all around.
Slowly, I got my breathing under control. My analytical left brain tried to comfort my intuitive right brain, promising there was nothing to worry about.
I recognize that feeling trapped is an particular issue of mine. I spent a fair amount of my childhood feeling trapped. To subdue the feeling response, I deliberately shifted to a thinking response. I began to plan.
**I needed to see how many candles and matches I had available
**I'd purchased four flashlight batteries. I needed to check whether I had any more
**I reminded myself that snow melts. I still had the use of my gas stove. I could melt snow to drink and to flush the toilets
**I had a fireplace. Although I hadn't purchased wood in a while, there was still a woodpile out back. I needed to check it
The thinking exercise worked. I returned to bed -- if not calm, at least no longer crazed.
The one thing that still worried me was the question of what had happened to the water. I'd wrapped the outside faucets and left the inside faucets dripping; the pipes shouldn't have frozen.
My dreams Thursday night were filled with serpents guarding moats and hurricanes uprooting banyan trees. Even my subconscious was fretting about the water pipes. Friday morning, I decided to wait a couple of hours for things to warm up outside before calling the municipal water department.
I started in the garage where I retrieved a large Rubbermaid plastic trash can that I use to hold my leaf bags when I rake in the fall. I dragged the can through the house and out to the back door. I would use it to collect snow to melt so I could flush the toilets.
In the kitchen, I lined up three saucepans and my large soup pot. I would boil the snow in the saucepans and keep the drinking water in the soup pot. I put a large plastic container in the sink that would serve as my washbowl for cleaning my hands and dishware.
The first thing you need to know about boiling snow is that the return on investment (ROI) is not very good. It takes four pots of melted snow to fill that one pot with water. The snow was 15 inches high in the backyard and appeared to be very clean. I boiled the drinking water and washbowl water, but only heated the toilet water.
I was appalled by how inefficient my bathroom toilet tank was. It took ten and a half pots of water (or 42 pots of snow) to fill it. I experimented with not filling the tank to the line. Under six pots of water, the tank didn't work properly. Eight pots seemed to be the optimal number.
After working for over three hours (!) hauling and melting snow, I stopped to have breakfast and to call the water department. I used my precious one bar of cell time to ask if there had been a broken water main in my vicinity. The clerk said "no" and sent a crew to my house.
The crew boss knocked on my door and asked me to step outside. I followed in the footprints he made in the snow to the southwest corner of my house. He pointed, and I stared in horror at what looked like Armageddon.
A cluster of four red oaks had tipped forward under the weight of the snow and fallen down the slope of my front yard. The upended root balls had ripped my water line right out of the ground. The devastation was unbelievable.
Three of those trees were over twenty feet tall. The fourth was close to forty feet high.
My first reaction was grief. Those oaks had been a large part of the reason I'd purchased the house and a constant joy. I never tired of them -- even when raking dozens of bags of leaves every fall. Now their bare root balls loomed above a jagged crater in the earth. The giant hole was filled with ice and with the water still pouring from the broken line.
The exposed roots looked like a writhing mass of snakes swimming in the watery caldera -- reminding me of the previous night's dreams.
I bit my lip to keep from crying.