snakes and water…

Here are some tidbits of unrelated subjects. The first being snakes. We saw a big gopher snake slowly making its way across the gravel road during the late morning hours. It was still a bit cold, so the snake was moving slowly, which made it really easy to check it out for a good long while.

I mainly wanted to post these pictures because I can't get enough of seeing Axel in the wizard hat, which as an added bonus helps render snakes spellbound and motionless. The little dude is so cute these days. That fine, wispy hair in the sunlight, all aglow. Magical.

*Now for some unrelated information about our water situation up here on the 'Stead. *

Water is a big issue around these parts. We don't have a well, and aren't hooked up to city water. We have two cisterns (just huge underground plastic tanks, really) that can be filled by two means. The first is a capture system on our house, whereby our gutters drain into a big rain barrel hooked up to a hose that drains into one of the cisterns. This system is awesome--when it rains. But by July it isn't raining much, and we are using more water during these growing season months. In addition to bathing (more frequently in the dusty summer months), we have tomatoes, herbs, native plants and raspberry bushes in the yard to take care of.

So: the other way we get water is by filling our big 1960 Chevy Apache water truck, donated to the Homestead by Parks and Rec. We take it down to Parks and Rec HQ across town, fill it up, drive it back and fill the cistern(s) with it. The one by the orchard has to be topped off several times a summer because of all the thirsty sheep and goats, and there isn't a roof nearby as suited to efficient water capture as the one on the caretaker cabin.

I guess I should say Andy does all this. I have never tried to drive that massive beast down our winding road. But I am prepared to someday if push comes to shove. I'll let you know if that happens. I did get to ride in the Apache for the first time recently, when we took an uncharacteristic family spin down the hill in it for the benefit of Sunset magazine photographer Andy Geiger. The kids thought that was about the best thing ever.

Because water comes with a real price in labor for us, we are really aware of our usage. We don't have a flushable toilet; we use a composting toilet. We NEVER open up the tap and let it run, even when bathing. Instead we turn on the water long enough to rinse our bodies, then turn the water off, lather up, and then turn it back on and rinse quickly: "navy showers," as they say. Or rather navy squats: We don't have a stand-up shower, just an old bear claw bathtub that we crouch in. After bathing, we use the left over bathwater to put on front yard plants. The same goes for old dish water.

Recently, Andy had the brilliant idea of parking the Apache uphill in the orchard [not really all that brilliant, sweetie: it's only been staring us in the face for three years!--Andy] and hooking up a hose to it, letting gravity do most of the work. It still takes some time to give everything a good soak, but not nearly as much time or effort as hand pumping requires. Plus it's easier to drink a beer when you're only standing around holding a hose instead of pumping, lugging, pouring into watering cans, sprinkling...pumping, lugging, pouring, sprinkling...

We need to bathe so much more in the summer because we are playing in dirt all day, and, of course, sweating. Fortunately we live in Montana , where there is cold stuff aplenty to jump in. We end up visiting a river, creek, or lake nearly every day to cool down and rinse some of the dirt off. We are lucky in that to be sure. Sometimes we'll settle for a quick trip to the splash deck at Spaceman Park for a bucket of water or two over the head. It's chlorinated, which I like to see as a positive thing, as it does a better job of really washing off the grime. The other kids playing around us look at us a little funny as we furtively scrub and rinse, but oh well. Buncha soft city kids, as Andy likes to say, half-joking.

When I visit other homes that are tapped into city water, I see the unabashed use of water all day long. Letting the tap stay open for minutes at a time while washing dishes, or watering yards everyday for hours at a time, or flushing toilets after peeing in them one time--these are examples of what I'm talking about. At the risk of sounding holier-than-thou, I used to do many of these same things, so I'm not judging. But living on the homestead has changed how I value water.

I don't take water for granted, because I know it WILL run out. It has run out for us, many times. We have run out of water in the dead of winter, when driving the Apache is tricky, to put it lightly. We've had to pump water into buckets from the orchard and haul it up an icy road in a Radio Flyer wagon to get us by for a few days until the ice melted, and the road was driveable again.

It isn't possible to go without water for more than a day or two. So the reality of it running out is something we are mindful of every time we turn on the sink. I have had to embrace a dirtier, less-showered existence. My house doesn't sparkle, and my fingernails usually have dirt underneath them. It's not easy for me, because I feel more socially accepted as a clean-fingernailed, sparkling-home kinda mom. But then I remember the price of water in labor and hassle, and it supersedes my need for social acceptance.

I want my kids to value water as well. I want them to value anything and everything that they use and consume. I want them to experience having (almost) too little of things so that they know the importance of them. How else do we expect them to feel grateful for what they have, and want to protect it? Excess of anything, except maybe love, does not equal happiness. I've thought about this before, when I have had excess. Now that I don't, I actually realize it. I don't have excess water, money, or even food sometimes. But I usually have as much of most things as I need at the moment, and I am happy for that.