Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I’ve often written about the people who show up at our door because we’re the only house on a 10 kilometer stretch of deserted road. We’ve always done what we can to help them. I’ve always contended that one day the shoe would be on the other foot, so I’d better go out of my way to help other people out.
The opportunity for a role reversal came in mid-December for me. I had borrowed our neighbors’ big trailer to transport the final load of hay out of a barn. The new owner of the barn just wanted all of the old hay removed. (I wrote about this here.) We’d had some wet snow and then the temperature had plummeted which made the roads quite slippery. I decided to go anyway since I always drive slowly when I’m towing the trailer. I left my place on Saturday at about 8 a.m. and I was on the far side of town, 20 minutes later, before I encountered another vehicle on the road. It was weird, like one of those movies where you start thinking aliens or zombies have kidnapped everyone. I was the ONLY vehicle on the road. Other people think this way, right?
It was really cold but I got the truck loaded with some straw that we use for bedding for the chickens, and I got a reasonable load of hay on the trailer. Everything seemed fine until I turned out of the driveway on to the road. Something just didn’t look quite right with the tires at the back of the trailer. It was driving fine, but once I got on to Miller Road I stopped to check it and discovered that one of the tires was flat.
Many years ago I would have had a huge hissy fit, and basically just laid down in the middle of the road and had a huge temper tantrum. “Why me?” “Why now!” “Not today, any day but today.” Wouldn’t you know that I had committed to be back home in plenty of time to meet Bill and Lorraine in Kingston for an Aztext Press business meeting at lunch? Everything had been going along tickety-boo, I was running ahead of schedule and everything SHOULD have worked out properly. But fate has this way of humbling you when things start going well. The challenge is always how you’ll deal with it.
So, I took a minute, took a deep breath and tried to evaluate the situation. The good thing was that it’s a huge trailer with two axles, and only one of the 4 tires was flat. I looked at the bright side and figured that I still had 75% of my tire capacity! I also had a really small load on, compared to what I had started hauling out during my first trips. I had started with about 6 rows of square bales but on this particular day the load was less than 2 rows high because much of what was left were broken bales. I thought I might have been able to “limp” home with a flat tire but it’s not my trailer so I didn’t want to do any more damage.
I remembered that less than 2 miles up the road was Eric Smith’s farm. Now I don’t know Eric well, but we have chatted a few times. And he is the only politician who has ever come to my house. When he was running for municipal council he actually drove 6 kilometers past the Kouri’s to knock on my door and ask for my vote. I was at a meeting, but when Michelle told me that he had stopped in, I decided he had my vote for life.
I had seen Eric at the farm on a previous hay hauling expedition earlier in the fall. So I drove slowly, and ever so carefully, to Eric’s farm. As I was pulling in to his laneway a truck pulled in behind me. It wasn’t Eric but a guy who looked a lot like him. I thought it was either his doppelganger, put in place by the alien body snatcher who had duplicated him and who had kidnapped everyone the night before, or maybe his brother. Turned out it was Jack, his brother.
So Jack and I discussed the situation. I did not have a pump in my truck. The pump that I usually carry in my truck was, of course, back in my garage in the “To Be Fixed” pile. I had slammed the door on the plastic plug that powers it from the cigarette lighter. I was wishing that I had spent more time on my “To Be Fixed” pile.
Jack looked around the barn and found a tank of compressed air, but it was empty. So he insisted on driving back to his farm, about 5 minutes away, to fill it. Remember; I’d never met Jack before. He didn’t know me from Adam. But off he went. When he got back we were able to get the tire inflated, but it didn’t seem to have much air pressure. So Jack suggested that I drive the trailer back to his farm so he could fill it up properly with his air compressor. I asssured him that it seemed to be holding and that I could just limp home but he insisted that we fill it up properly. I was painfully aware that it was his Saturday morning and so far he’d spent 20 minutes helping me and was now insisting that I follow him home so that I could use up some more of his time.
So off we went and I was able to maneuver the trailer close enough to his shop that he was able to fill up the tire properly. It looked like it was holding so I thanked him profusely and headed off and got home with no further problems.
I was really grateful for his help so about a week later on my way back from Napanee I stopped in and gave him a copy of “The Renewable Energy Handbook” and “Biodiesel Basics and Beyond.” I hoped he might find some useful information in them. He assured me that my gifts weren’t necessary but I reminded him about how much time he had spent helping me out. As we stood chatting I noticed some really neat looking chickens wandering around and so I asked him about them.
Jack said, “Oh you want to see chickens? Follow me.” He led me into a barn and there must have been about 10 different varieties of chickens. There were some with big fluffy, tufts of feathers on their heads. They looked like something you’d see at some British horse event where the women wear funny hats. I was just amazed at the variety. Jack said that the chickens belonged to his son. He had sourced the eggs from a specialty chicken supplier and had hatched and raised them. He mentioned that some of them might be for sale. I was excited to hear that since Michelle had told me she’d like some unique breeds when we add to our flock in the spring.
You can’t see these chickens from the road and I doubt they’d ever be advertised, but I had managed to stumble upon this great local source of cool chicken breeds for the spring. And I’d had the good fortune to meet a farmer who was a great source of information about farming in the area.
I don’t like things like car problems and flat tires. They screw up my day. They throw a monkey wrench in to perfectly laid plans. But sometimes adversity can lead to tremendous opportunity. It’s enough to make me start dragging an old trailer around, finding a farm that looks interesting and letting the air out of the tires so that I have an excuse to meet the owners. Yes, someday maybe, but in the meantime, I’ve fixed my pump and it has a permanent spot in the back of my truck.
For more stories about life in the country in an off-grid home, be sure to read Cam's latest book "Little House Off the Grid." For more information about Cam or his books please visit www.aztext.com or www.cammather.com