Still Playing With Water After All These Years

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather
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 If Michelle is from Venus, I’m from the planet “Immaturity”
and I don’t see this changing any time soon. Apart from generally being a
juvenile kind of 50 year old male, I still laugh to the point of feeling ill sometimes
especially for slapstick comedy, like on the sitcom Modern Family, when the
young son ran through the living room to go outside to play and bounced back on
his *ss when he hit the screen door. Not highbrow stuff, but come on, how can
you not laugh at that? Well … my wife manages to watch that scene without
laughing. In fact I know that something is hysterical if Michelle actually
cracks a smile.

Another area of my life where I show my immaturity is my
love of “water play.” I spend a lot of my time playing with water and Michelle
has given up on even rolling her eyes at me. She used to tease me about my
hobby but now she just steps over the buckets and accepts it. I’ve been playing
with water for as long as I can remember. As a kid at this time of year I
enjoyed shoveling the snow and ice from around the storm drains to help with
the spring runoff. During my summers at our family cottage I would spend hours
building reservoirs with the sand on the beach and then carry endless buckets
of water to fill it up. Eventually the water would get too high. For a while
I’d try to staunch the leaks, but eventually the weight of the water would
collapse my dam, a river would be created, the river created a delta and it was
like a geography lesson on my summer holidays.

In our off grid house I still constantly play with water.
Water is amazing stuff. For generating electricity moving water is great
because it’s so heavy. There is a lot of potential energy in moving water. So
having it fall a distance and turn a turbine is a great way to generate power.
The reverse of that is that it takes a lot of energy to move water around. In
an off grid home with finite electricity this is a basic fact that of which I
am keenly aware. Now don’t get me wrong. After 13 years of upgrading our system
I don’t HAVE to move any water manually. Our pump can do it all for me. But any
time I have a chance to do it myself I rarely decline.

As you read on Tuesday, we’ve had a lot of rain here lately
and it has caused its share of problems with flooded buildings. Right now I
have two garbage cans under the downspouts near the house. I only ever use
these for temporary water storage so they are very clean. First I fill up the
corn pots on our woodstove with rainwater, and then I put 5 or 6 buckets on the
floor near the woodstove. After dinner the pots on the stove will be scalding
hot, and the buckets near the woodstove will have warmed up to room
temperature. I use them all to fill up our claw foot bathtub. We end up with a
deep, very hot bath, with soft rainwater. Sounds like something from an
exclusive spa! And the only energy used to move that water came from the
granola I ate.

In the summer I play with our rain barrels. They are always
in a state of partial or complete fullness, so in the wee hours of the morning
if there is suddenly the sound of rain on our metal roof, I will strap on my
headlight and head outside to make sure all of the taps are switched off and
the rain barrels are getting filled up. It’s like a compulsion, I just can’t
sleep if I think I’ve left some rain barrel open to drain it, and I’m going to
‘waste’ that rainwater.

We have two good wells. Our drilled well has never run dry,
even in the worst droughts. Our dug well by the garden gets very low sometimes
in the summer but it always bounces back the next day. So really, all this
water play is unnecessary.

Sometimes I try to ignore the potential water I could be
harvesting and pretend I’m just like a city person where things like power and
water are provided for me. It never lasts long, and now even if the batteries
are fully charged, if it’s raining and I can harvest that water, I just go for

When I start carrying around buckets of rainwater Michelle
likes to hum the theme music from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene from the
Disney movie “Fantasia.” In that animated movie, Mickey Mouse puts on a magic
hat and commands the brooms to start carrying the buckets of water for him. Of
course the brooms run amok and we all learn a valuable lesson. I wear my goofy
Sorcerer’s Apprentice moniker with great pride.

There is one bit of magic that I have learned and I gladly
share it in my talks and in our books. The magic is letting the sun do the work
of moving water!

When I first began gardening near the old barn foundation I
got most of the water I needed from the dug well. I would lower down a bucket
on a rope, then pull it back up filled with water. I’d fill up two larger
buckets, which I then carried uphill to water barrels that I had placed in the
garden. The water from the well is really cold, so I’d let it sit for a day
before I’d use it for watering my plants. This technique was an insane amount
of work. Of course I was young (40) and stupid in those days. The more
exhausted I was by bedtime, the more chocolate cake I figured I could eat
without ramifications.

Once Bill Kemp heard about this he would have no part of it.
We were at a restaurant and so he grabbed a napkin and sketched out a system
for me. I bought a 75-watt solar panel and connected it to a 2-gallon-per-minute
DC pump from the local hardware store. I connected the two with the type of
plug you would use to hook up trailer lights and this is how I turn it on and
off. Now as soon as the sun is up it shines on the solar panel, which runs the
pump that pulls water up from the dug well, and then pushes it through a
regular garden hose throughout the garden. First I fill up 5 or 6 water barrels
that I have placed around the garden and then I plug it into my drip irrigation
system, which goes the rest of the day.

This magical solar panel and pump does what used to take me
half a day of physical, backbreaking labour to do. I power my whole house with
solar panels, but I’ve never had to keep a fridge cold manually, or do a
laundry with a manual washing machine, so I have no appreciation for what that
solar electricity is accomplishing. I have, on the other hand, spent several
hours lowering a bucket on a rope down a dug well, and carrying buckets of
water all over my garden to water it. I can easily grasp the amount of physical
effort that my solar panel and pump have assumed for me. My little male brain
finally has a point of reference that I can grasp and it really is like a light
bulb has gone off over my head. And it blows me away and gives me hope that we
can one day move our fossil fuel burning, energy wasting ways off of carbon
emitting sources and into clean green sources.

In the meantime, if it’s cloudy and rainy, and you see a guy
in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice hat and cape walking around aimlessly with buckets
filled with water, that’s me! Now all I’ve got to do is make a little reservoir
with snow and fill it up to overflowing until the dam breaks!

Photos by Cam Mather.

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