Something quite real, and critically important to me right now- and a metaphor too, for larger difficulties facing us all.
We've got winter this year; kind of a surprise. According to the Minnesota weather people, we've got the earliest, heaviest, and most widely distributed snow cover in over 10 years. We had a white Thanksgiving, which the oldtimers here say used to be far more common than the rare brown Christmas. I can remember 5 brown Christmases out of the last 10- and a couple that were borderline.
It's cold. Down to -8°F last night; 8 below zero. We get our water for the Little House from a good ol' Aermotor windmill. It's frozen. Because the weep hole is blocked.
This is a windmill I put in, shortly before Beelar was born, 30 years ago. I watched the whole process avidly, the entire well-drilling process, installation of pipe, erection of the used windmill - and I kind of freaked out when our well-guy took out his file and - cut a hole in the pump pipe.
"What in the heck are you doing!?" I asked quite proprietorially. "You're making a LEAK in my pipe??"
The well-guy was quite calm about it- he'd obviously been here before- "That's the weep hole."
He explained. "You have to have one, to keep the well from freezing. Most guys around here put the weep hole about 6 feet underground- I put it 8 feet. I've seen it freeze 8' deep here, once every 15-20 years. It's just a little hole- you don't lose much water; and it lets the water drop back down below the frost level when you're not actually pumping. If you don't have a weep hole, the water will stay right up at the top of the pump- and freeze solid in any kind of cold weather."
Ah. Ok. So, my well has to leak a little, in order to work all winter.
I'd had no idea, of course. Mostly, these days, water systems in northern locations just keep everything down below the frost. Mostly. Here was a totally simple bit of old technology- that almost everyone had forgotten. Luckily for me, I found someone who still remembered.
My weep hole functioned perfectly for 20 years. Then clogged, froze- and in a particularly bad way; the well was pumping slowly in very cold weather; then the wind came up. After it had frozen. The wind ripped the immovable sucker-rod (I love the old names) right off the power head, where it had been specifically BRAZED on, not welded. The braze broke- and a good thing, too- if it had been welded, it probably would have destroyed the power head. I'm pretty sure the guy who brazed the rod on knew that. (My rod repair man wanted to weld it. It's brazed.)
What a mess. All this was not something I could fix on my own, had to pay folks to do it. Found a different well-guy this time, a local Amish man who did regular work on windmills for his community. Should know what he's doing, I figured.
Alas- he'd recently moved here from southern Ohio.
They don't use weep holes- don't need to, where he had grown up. He kind of knew about weep holes; but it wasn't something on the top of his mind- so after servicing the well, replacing the pump leathers after 25 years, he put it all back together- with the weep hole still blocked. This time, at least I was watching for problems- so was able to prevent the windmill from ripping out the sucker rods again- but we spent a lot of time hauling water from the greenhouse well (pumped by solar power, with a modern "pitless adapter" below frost). Far more work than just having a house well that worked.
Next year- found a different well-guy; got the weep hole cleared out, and slightly enlarged- since something seemed to be blocking it these days. Worked fine for a whole winter- and now, it's blocked again.
And frozen. Sigh. Hauling water from the greenhouse again. The most likely cause of the blockage is an increasing presence of "iron bacteria" in the well, slowing building biofilms on everything. Possibly it just took 20 years for the iron bacteria to become a problem.
Cleaning out a tiny hole 8' down a 1" pipe with a half-inch steel sucker rod in it is a problem. There's 140" of steel pipe to pull up- not trivial. At the moment, we're just living with it- along with the daily need for firewood, to keep us warm in zero weather. So far, the well pipe hasn't ruptured from the freezing, though I'm not sure why. We'll just have to wait for it to thaw, right now. Then try all the remedies being recommended (bleach, first of all.)
The metaphor part- our world is built on technology. Our lives depend on it. And a huge proportion of critical processes are increasingly understood by fewer and fewer people.
Going back to Rome- at the peak of their civilization, they had incredible roads, incredible city/province wide water systems, sewers, passive solar heated housing, floors with built in radiant heating- and on, and on.
But as their world aged, with fewer and fewer "spare" resources for anything beyond immediate survival needs- the technology failed, and disappeared; for centuries. Eventually, no one understood how it had been done- no one remembered how to do it.
Our own world is orders of magnitude more complex. It worries me.
Had a CAT scan recently? 10 years ago I was privy to a situation you never heard about. My brother was working on a project to design a computer program that could diagnose CAT scan machines that were broken. It was urgent. Because, at the time; there were a total of FIVE people, in the world, who were fully trained and competent to fix CAT scan machines. Five. And thousands of machines to keep running. Those 5 repair men were about to collapse of exhaustion, flying from Dallas to Hong Kong to Paris to LA to...
Just my cheerful thoughts for the day. Spice is doing better, as am I- but we're not quite back to full speed yet.