Water is in short supply this summer at my family home in Nova Scotia. This is a rarity because we grew up with lots of fog and rain, and a generous water supply. Hopefully this year is only a blip and not a new normal. Ponds and wells are drying up in record numbers. No one can ever remember the pond below going dry. Can you see the deer footprints?
Admittedly, we are guilty of wasting water on a grand scale.
- We shower at least once a day.
- We do laundry every day — sometimes several loads.
- We wash dishes several times a day.
- We flush the toilet every time.
- We ignore leaky taps.
- We wash vehicles.
Things were quite different when I was growing up in the sixties and seventies. While many homes had inside plumbing, we did not. (Boohoo.) We still had a yellow outside toilet. We carried water from the well for drinking, to fill the kettle on the stove and for the wringer washer.. We bathed with a basin, soap, facecloth and towel. Because we were little ruffians, we didn’t know it was called a “sponge bath.” Ooh, la,la.
Mom washed dishes in a a WEAR EVER aluminum bowl. Two litres of water — maybe?
She washed clothes in a wringer washer using the same water for several loads. Clothes were sorted into piles of whites, darks and the dirtiest clothes were last.
The amount of water used varied according to the size of the load. Did I mention our well never went dry? But it wasn’t always that way.
How to Dig a Well (à la 1950s)
Mom and Dad purchased our property in the mid-fifties. The existing well was hand dug in the fifties to replace a well that went dry in summer. But where should they dig?
Dad asked Mr. Harry Harding to “dowse or witch” for water using a forked section of an apple tree branch. He found the water just fifty feet from the house. Creepy….
That was just the beginning of an arduous task — not for the faint of heart. Dad and neighbours, Darius, Leslie and Ira, all strong men, dug by hand as deep as possible. In order to go deeper, the men erected a tripod over the well, and attached a block and tackle (pulleys and ropes) to which they attached a much larger bucket. They lowered the bucket to the men in the well. They filled it with dirt and rocks, and the crew above hoisted it to the surface. At about nine feet, they encountered rocks too large to remove. Thankfully, the well hand one very healthy spring that kept the well full.
Leslie walled up (lined) the bottom four feet with rocks, which was the custom, and well rings were used up to the surface. Dad, Darius, Leslie and Ira are gone, but the well looks like it did sixty years ago. A job well done, men of West Head!
Dad, being Dad, collected as much rainwater as he could in barrels. He used this water for his large vegetable garden. We teased him about his army of barrels. You see, Dad never met a barrel or a bucket he didn’t want to take home. In fact, Dad used the buckets littered around the hill to tell wind direction. During a telephone conversation he would mention casually, “I think the wind has shifted. The old buckets are blowing in the opposite directions.”
Dad died in 2013 and I was determined to “clean up Dad’s clutter.” I filled dumpsters and my brother’s pickup truck with what I deemed junk. Dad’s blue twenty-gallon barrels and white five-gallon pails made up a large chunk of the junk. Then we demolished the barn and got rid of any that may have been hidden in it. I felt unspeakable freedom as the junk went out the driveway.
And from then until now we never missed them — not even once.
I left West Head on August 3rd and returned to Bobcaygeon. That very night, our daughter who remained in Nova Scotia with her two young children, called with the bad news — the well had gone dry. Oh, no!
Immediately, my one-of-a-kind brain went into overdrive. Would we have to drill a well? How much would that cost? And what if we had to put in a system to remove calcium, iron, manganese, salt and sulfur — the usual interlopers.
Those systems cost a fortune. Dollar signs, not sugar plums, were dancing in my head. What if we could not use the house in the summer? What if? What if? What if?
While I was obsessing about what to do, Allison who is resourceful and smart, came up with a workable plan. She could buy drinking water and disposable diapers, wash clothes at the laundromat and swim in the lake to get clean. All she needed was a BARREL for water to flush the toilet. I had to confess I had thrown out ALL OF THE BARRELS AND PAILS that littered the field. At the time, I never wanted to lay my eyes on them ever again.
I could feel Dad staring at me from heaven with his cute grin and scolding, “Meldie, no barrels down home? Where did they go? There have been barrels on the hill since time began. I guess you ain’t as smart as I am. They didn’t call me the Old Sly Fox for nothing. Now get yourself a couple of barrels.”
Allison drew water from the well to flush the toilet using one of Isaac’s little sand pails. Each day, Allison measured the water in the well. We suggested she turn on the pump and see what would happen. The pump came on, made an unusual noise and not a single drop of water flowed from the tap.
A friend had a brilliant idea. Let’s actually check out the pump that is in the cellar. Perhaps it has a “RESET” button. It became apparent that the pump had lost its prime. The friend primed it and right away I got a call from my grandson, Isaac.
“Guess what, Nanny? WE HAVE WATER!”
And then Allison filled in the details. There had been water all along. Why did the pump lose its prime? Who knows? Gremlins? Elves? Pokémon?
Going without running water for a couple of days, reminded everyone that water is precious and limited. No more “empty-the-hot-water-tank showers.” Jump in, soap body, wash hair, rinse hair and body, and get out. A three-minute limit? Even better, put a pail in the shower to collect water to flush the toilet. No more letting the tap run while brushing teeth or shaving. Only full loads of laundry, please.
Isaac has been busy doing the rain dance. Just let me know if you want him to dance around your well. In the meantime, we will keep our eyes on the weather forecast. It has to rain one of these days, right? Once it starts, it may not stop. Do you know where your ark is…just in case?
PS: I did some snooping on the internet and found some unconventional suggestions from across the pond. 27 FUNNY WAYS TO SAVE WATER DURING A DROUGHT. I hope it tickles your funny bone. I am not endorsing any of these, but I hope it gives you a chuckle. Feel free to add your own suggestions.