Monday, February 4, 2008

A Dispatch from Shantytown

When I finalized my living arrangements for my four months in the NWT and learned that I was going to be living in a trailer down near the water, I was hoping for comedic gold. I could handle living in a shack for four months, I thought, if it would give me some material to add to my inane repertoire of personal anecdotes. I was somewhat disappointed, then, when I actually moved in and found that once inside you wouldn’t know you were inside a trailer, and it was one of the nicer places I’ve resided in within the past few years. Indeed, this trailer was more akin to upscale Northern tourist lodge than it was a postcard from Ricky, Bubbles and Julian. That is, until the heat and water stopped working during Yellowknife’s coldest week of the year.

Last week’s saga started on Monday night within seconds of me posting the blog about how delightfully cozy winter up here can be. Seriously, five seconds after I posted that one, the power went out, which is of slight cause for concern when nighttime temperatures approach -50. I went to bed with a sweater on, and when I was awakened a couple of hours later by the lights coming back on, assumed that I had survived unscathed. That was, until I received the following e-mail at work on Tuesday from my roommate Mike (who is currently housesitting elsewhere): "Hey Hart did you have water at the trailer this morning? Just dropped the dog off and noticed the water wasn't working."


It would seem that pipes underneath a trailer in Yellowknife in January require a little more TLC than those under a house in Victoria in September, and ours had frozen. Mike called the one business in town who could unfreeze them, and was told it would be Thursday at the earliest before we were back in business. Alright, I could deal with this. I shrugged this bump in the road off as best I could, knowing that the gym I belong to (abs like these take work, ladies) was close-by for purposes of showering and filling my water bottles for tooth-brushing, etc. No biggie. Tuesday night was waterless but otherwise uneventful on the domestic front. Wednesday I awoke to a house that was a little chilly - a reflection of the still-plumetting outside temps, I told myself - and allowed myself a little extra time to walk to the gym in order to conduct my elaborate beauty regimen (my sculpted facial hair is just as much work as the aforementioned abs) before work.

I had pretty much forgotten about the troubles on the homefront by mid-morning , when I received some more electronic joy from Mike: "In other late breaking news - When I dropped Taiga (the dog) off this morning the house was pretty cold, turns out the pilot light on the furnace went out." So looks like I was oh, so perceptive when I thought the house was chilly that morning. The pilot light was indeed out, and for the next 36-hours we could not get the furnace lit for more than an hour at a time, at most. It would seem that propane, much like the human body, is not meant to function at forty-five below. It turns to gel, which doesn’t bode well for those in Yellowknife trying to heat their homes with it.

So within a period of a little more than 24-hours, I had gone from a peaceful co-existence with the Northern elements set in a cozy but modernized trailer, to an all-out battle against the cold in a son-of-a-bitchin’ cold shanty with no plumbing.

The heat would stay on a meager temperature for an hour at most, like I said. So I would try my best to keep things warm-ish while I was home (with the assistance of a sometimes-helpful propane fireplace). This meant that early in the morning and after work, the place would be see-your-breath cold, and I slept in multiple layers and a toque in anticipation of how chilly the shanty (no longer a trailer, remember?) would get while I was in bed. Furthermore, any liquids left lying around would be frozen by morning. Lucky for me, frozen liquids weren’t something I generally had to concern myself with, since you may recall that the plumbing was still out. There was certainly no shortage of water to be found outside, though, it just required a little bit of melting in order to be useful. During one of my forays into the elements to collect snow to boil I decided to prove my toughness by going outside clad only in pants and a t-shirt. Sweet nipples of frostbite, that was a cold twenty-eight seconds.

By Thursday afternoon things started to come around. After multiple visits from the propane company, we had heat once again that night (something I celebrated by keeping the thermostat at an environmentally unconscionable level for the subsequent 24 hours), and after the weary pipe-thawing man came by for a few hours on Friday night, the water was flowing and my dwelling had officially reclaimed its prestigious "trailer" status after an adventurous five-day downgrade. A shanty no more, and the peasants rejoiced.

Some of you have asked if it remains cold here, and to answer that I'll let the picture of the temperature and I (below) that I snapped on the way to work this morning speak for itself. I would say something here about how the cold is still manageable and not entirely unpleasant, but I think I'll hold off after the chain of events set off by last weeks flagrant display of disrespect for the season. I don't know what else Old Man Winter could throw my way, but it would not be cool if a polar bear came crashing through my roof tonight.



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