The summer of 2021 was also when our little Widder-cottage started to experience electricity ‘brown-outs’.
Here’s the thing with old houses, when things start to go all agley-googly, they really go agley-googly. In this case the electrical wiring, still the original stuff from when the house was built in the 1970’s, was in serious need of updating.
Over time we’d gotten used to using only one appliance that produced heat, the microwave and the kettle for instance, otherwise the circuit-breaker for that particular area would be tripped. That was OK, but when the ‘brownouts’, started, (also during the infernal summer of 2021) it was a horse of an entirely different kettle of kittens.
When we ran any major appliances at the same time, like the clothes dryer and the oven for example, (in different rooms and on different circuit breakers I might add) half the house would be without power until an electrician could be called to replace a major, and very expensive, fuse, (not expensive for us, thankfully, but certainly for our landlady) which sometimes took a couple of days. (different from your average fuse that we were able to replace ourselves)
In spite of our best efforts we blew that bloody fuse three times.
Even our little cottage, that had sheltered and nurtured us through all sorts of trials and tribulations and celebrations and laughter, was telling us it was time to leave.
That hellish summer of 2021 ended, as summers tend to do in these uncertain times now, with a sudden shift in temperature. The long lingering evenings of yore (the stuff of fairy-tales – be they film, book, or spoken around a campfire) are almost gone from the land. All is abrupt and extreme, and suddenly it was Autumn.
Covid numbers soared and provincial health region borders were again sealed.
Also, it started to rain.
Well, I lived in a temperate rainforest, what did I expect?
Ah, but we were also living in ‘interesting times’, and the rain didn’t really stop. In fact it just got heavier and heavier … then heaviest, as a new weather phenomenon entered the collective consciousness, ‘atmospheric rivers’.
As our little blue marble of a planet warmed up, the atmosphere (now all toasty and warm) was, and is, able to hold more moisture. Unfortunately, what goes up must eventually come down, and with the help of another atmospheric event called a ‘pineapple express’, (so called because it usually originates near Hawai’i) down it came.
Drainage ditches filled up in the blink of a eye. Creeks and rivers overflowed their banks. Water, with nowhere else to go, pooled in low-lying farmland. Still the atmospheric rivers kept coming, and more and more land, and people’s homes, kept flooding.
The annual ‘melting of the snows’ regularly produced such freshets throughout the Fraser Valley, (where our little island was, and still is, of course) so most folks in the usual at-risk areas were well prepared for such events when they occurred in the appropriate season (late spring through summer) but in Autumn? No-one was prepared.
This was the extreme weather event that did indeed show up on our very doorstep. We were on a flood evacuation alert for over a week. Waiting, like so many people in and around our little island, and indeed throughout the Lower Mainland, for that knock on the door, and be told to leave immediately.
We’d winterised and covered our RV, just a week before, those ‘rivers’ started drenching everything, so with practiced ease, we dewinterised (which consisted mainly of draining the ‘anti-freeze’, out of the water systems) took the cover off, prepped our escape supplies just in case, and waited, and waited.
Like some sort of slow-motion train-wreck, the floodwaters rose higher and higher. Low-lying parts of the island disappeared underneath the silently creeping brown floodwater. (once you’ve seen that particular colour of water you never forget what it means) People were evacuated with barely enough time to gather their long-prepared belongings and head for higher ground. Neighbours helped neighbours. Shivering dogs were rescued in the middle of the night by volunteers who waded from house to house to make sure everyone got out.
Our little cottage was on a slightly higher part of the island, but the uncertainty of not knowing if or when we would receive that dire knock on our front door was nerve-wracking.
The knock never came. We dodged a very close bullet there. Others were not so lucky.
The torrential rain did however, wash out parts of every access road, highway, logging road, railroad track, bridge and tunnel into and out of the Lower Mainland. No road or rail freight, or traffic of any kind was able to leave or enter.
With the entire region basically marooned, gasoline rationing was introduced.
For reasons I won’t go into here, the one thing guaranteed to give me the ‘willies’ is feeling trapped …
Surrounded by floodwaters – check.
Floodwater only centimeters under the only bridge off the island – check.
Gasoline rationing, so even if we left, how far could we get? – check.
Not able to leave the Lower Mainland anyway, because of Covid, and destroyed infrastructure – check.
Yep, I had the willies.
(I’m amazed I actually got through these years with my sanity, relatively, intact. Although, sanity, especially mine, is a very subjective concept, I’ll admit)
I actively restrained myself from wondering, ‘what was next’? (out loud at least, because winter was coming)
Winter of 2021/2022 in our little corner of the world became the season of arctic outflows. During one such event the external fuse (the one that required an electrician to replace) blew yet again. Three days without power in half the house and daytime temperatures never getting above zero. We had extension cables everywhere, but remained very careful that we didn’t overload the rest of the house. That would’ve really, really pissed us off.
We’d had enough. Come hell or high water, as soon as the high passes were clear of snow, as soon as the roads through those high passes were repaired, (the damage to them being as a result of the atmospheric flooding mentioned earlier) we, were, leaving.
Unfortunately all the stern resolutions in the world didn’t alter the fact that we still faced the same dilemmas … Where to go. How to get there. How to cram everything we weren’t taking with us in the RV (almost the entire contents of the house, 2 storage sheds, and a well-stuffed patio) into a 20x10x8 storage locker.
Those storage locker dimensions are in feet, I have no idea why Canada has a dual measurement system, when ‘officially’ we’re using metric, but there it is. I suspect it’s because our neighbour to the south still uses the ‘imperial’ system and politicians lack the will, and captains of industry, on both sides of the border, remain unwilling, to adapt. One of my biggest challenges when I first arrived here from Australia in 2004, was to retrain my perception of distances, measured in centimeters/meters/kilometers to include inches/feet/miles at the same time. My brain freezes up only ever fifth or sixth time I have to convert something, which I think is a pretty good average.
Time, dancing to its own tune, and be damned to the effect us humans were having on the environment, passed. Snow melted, the days grew perceptibly longer, and the outside thermometer I’d sacrificed to record just how cold it did get throughout winter, breathed a sigh of relief as its mercury started to slide up its glass tube. Strangely enough though, it didn’t move quite as high or as often as I expected.
The reported numbers of people infected with Covid slowed (I doubt none of us will ever know the fullest extent of the pandemic) and our regional borders started to open again. Emergency repairs to the Coquihalla Highway, the main route up off the Lower Mainland, the one we would have to take, and damaged in the flooding, were completed in record time.
Spring sprung into action, and it rained.
I felt as though, except for a brief snowy interlude, it had been raining since September the previous year, but a little rain wasn’t going to stop us now. Our resolve to leave was unstoppable.
We packed in the rain. We took trailer-loads of boxes and bags, (the things that couldn’t be boxed or bagged, we taped together with duct tape) to the storage locker in the rain.
We re-dewinterised the RV, in the rain.
Mrs Widds lost her footing on a soaking wet board and fell, injuring her back two days before we were scheduled to leave, in the rain.
Our wonderful landlady allowed us an extra week to take care of the myriad last minute things that needed taking care of, which we did, in the rain.
On Friday, the 6th of May, we finally hitched up the RV to our truck and hauled it out of the driveway for the last time. Note I said the RV left for the last time.
We parked it at Cheam Fishing Village and Campground, where we’d camped previously, (in the rain then too, I might add) and merely slept there while we returned to the cottage several times to finalise the cleaning/tidying up, and videoing the final results to send to our landlady … in the rain.
For the following ten days most of the entries in my day-planner simply read, ‘too bloody exhausted to do anything … and it’s still raining’.
On the 16th of May we left the Lower Mainland behind us, and headed up into the coast mountains with only the RV campground in Kamloops, where we’d stay that night, as a fixed destination. We had no idea where we’d go after that.
We broke through the rainclouds at the top of the Coquihalla Summit. Blindingly bright sunlight bounced off the snowdrifts, piled high by the snowploughs, bathing us in all its glory all the way to Kamloops. We stayed for two days, visiting with Mrs Widds sister, the Melodious One, and replenishing supplies … and it didn’t rain. However we did experience a few icy snow flurries.
People we met there, (and by my own observations) said it was the coldest, longest winter they’d ever experienced.
La Nina, responsible for the seemingly never-ending rain, had decided she was also going to delay spring, for months.