Well, I have to be honest, that was not really the way I pictured taking a whole week off from the blog or my first week’s vacation from work in 18 months.
I’m sure everyone has heard about the shitshow that Texas became last week when the winter storm rolled through. There really is no other word for it, it was a massive clusterfuck shitshow of epic proportions. It ended up being considerably worse than forecasted, and of course no one really expected the entire state’s power grid to have a massive failure. The thing about Texas is that we are 0% prepared for anything like this. Our pipes aren’t buried as deep, they aren’t meant to withstand a week of sub-freezing temps, usually winter is our lightest season for power useage thus when more things are down for maintenance, and we don’t have equipment like plows and salt trucks to clear roadways. People don’t have appropriate clothes for this, or equipment for their vehicles. When we get frozen precipitation, things just shut down and everyone stays hunkered down at home for the duration (like… 6-12 hours). It rarely happens more than that, and it never gets super cold. 20’s maybe. Certainly never down into the single digits, and for sure not below freezing for an entire week. Winter weather is bad enough when you ARE prepared for it and used to it, but it’s a whole nother (very dangerous) ballgame when you aren’t. A winter weather event like this has literally NEVER happened before down here. Ever. In history. As long as they’ve been keep records. At all.
It started snowing on Sunday the 14th, and by the time dawn came on Monday we had about 6″ of snow. Never seen that before in my life. Our issues with the power started almost immediately… it started flipping on and off in the middle of the night, as ERCOT began doing rolling blackouts to conserve power.
Which – we were honestly lucky to be in a rolling blackout area and not in just a plain old blackout area. Lots of people lost power that night and didn’t get it back for DAYS. Our rolling blackout was enough, at least at first, to keep a little bit of heat in the house. But the constant on/off cycle of the power was not agreeing with my heating units in the t!ny house at all, and it kept flipping the breakers. For I while I could just go out and flip it back on, but soon my heating units just stopped working at all and wouldn’t even turn on anymore. I was hesitant to abandon the tiny. I had my faucets dripping but I only have a 300 gallon greywater tank, so I was keeping buckets under all my dripping faucets and dumping them outside every couple hours to keep my tank from filling up, since it was too cold to run the pump to empty it. Monday night was LONG, with sporadic power, no heaters, a rapidly plunging temperature in the house, and getting up every couple hours to dump buckets. Luckily I had a sleeping bag and lots of blankets, so me and the dogs were able to snuggle together and stay pretty warm. By the next morning, though, it was 38 degrees in my t!ny house, the heaters were still totally unresponsive, the rolling blackouts continued with no end in sight, there was a forecasted low of 5 degrees coming up, and it was clear that we had to wave the white flag. I shut off the water at the source, left all the taps open, flipped off the circuits for most of my appliances, packed all my and the dogs’ shit, said a little prayer to the goddess of pipes, and retreated to the main house. I absolutely hated abandoning the tiny.
The main house was still holding steady around 58 degrees, and they have a wood burning stove, so out I went in search of firewood. Which, by that point most everything was wet or buried under snow or both. I wandered around a good portion of the property trying to gather up a couple good logs to burn and didn’t really find much that wasn’t super soaked. I ended up cutting up a bunch of old spare boards and gathering hay and shavings as kindling, and after one false start was able to get a good fire going that could maintain itself. The boards didn’t burn as long as a log would so it required a lot of tending, but it was a fire and it was warm. The power continued to cycle on and off, in a fairly predictable pattern. I logged the on/off times on my phone and we were getting about 15-20mins on and 40ish minutes off. That helped me at least plan when to do things. Of course, right around the time I felt like “ok, this is handled… we can deal with this” the water pressure started to drop off. Due to all the power issues, the water stations weren’t getting the water pumping like they usually do. At the same time, the power grid continued to be perilously close to complete failure. There is a little bit of OH FUCK that sets in when you’re staring down the distinct possibility of being without power or water for an extended period of time in the middle of the worst winter storm your area has ever seen. There’s a distinct apocalayptic feel to it.
I had filled the bathtub with water before any of this started, so I did have some potable water. But if it completely went off, and the pipes froze or burst… it could easily be a week or more before we had restored service. So the next day I spent 6 hours putting bowls and pots and containers under every trickling water source, transferring it to buckets, and carting it outside to fill every single trough and canister I could find. I also had plastic containers under spots where the snow was melting a little bit off the roof, to gather that water too. Bucket by bucket I was able to fill 2 100gallon troughs, 14 buckets, and 3 big water jugs. It was a full time job, with quick stops to throw another piece of wood on the fire. By the time I was done I don’t think I could have lifted another bucket if I tried, my arms were just useless noodles. There is nothing fun about carrying dozens of buckets through the snow and ice from the house to the barn for hours on end. Nothing fun. Especially when you slip on some ice, fall down in the slushy mud, and spill the buckets you were carrying. That shit wore on my mental state. Bad. Mostly because there was just no telling how long it would go on and how much worse it would get. That was the bad part.
The water did go completely off for a while, then slowly came back to a trickle of gross brownish water. We were under a boil water notice for the forseeable future, but I was so happy to have it anyway. As long as a little bit of water still came out, all didn’t seem lost. And we were still getting a little bit of power every once in a while at least, and I was able to get the house back up to 70 with the wood burning stove (that thing is amazing, I need one). For all of about 5 minutes, things didn’t look so bad. We were warm, and I had enough water stored to get us through at least a week, probably two. I was completely exhausted and worn down mentally and physically, but there was a plan and the horses were still ok, and that’s what mattered most. Once again, right around the time I felt like “ok, this is handled… we can deal with this”… another problem. Because every freaking day there was a new problem.
Henry lost his everloving shit because coyotes were chasing the neighbors cows in the distance (which, to be fair, was not normal or good). He stopped eating and drinking, and just stood there staring off into the distance with his eyes wide and his heart pounding. For hours. And hours. Then all night long. Into the next morning. He didn’t touch his water or his hay or his breakfast. By mid morning I was starting to panic because he hadn’t had anything to drink since the afternoon the day before. I had been giving them mashes of hay pellets, salt, and their regular food all along as soon as this started, and he’d eaten it really well. Now he wouldn’t eat shit. He’d just stand there and stare off into the void, punctuated by periods of spinning.
I started thinking about wtf I would do if this turned into an impaction. The roads were impassable, how was I going to haul him anywhere? What vet was going to be able to come out? I was texting with my vet about all the things I could try when the second wave of snow and ice came. That’s when I officially felt totally defeated. Power issues, I can handle. Water issues, worse, but I can still handle. But something happening to one of the horses and being totally helpless? That I can’t handle. Watching the snow pour down from the sky again was feeling a lot like a breaking point.
I made another mash, added some extra fun stuff like brown sugar and peppermints and oats and flax, and went and stood in Henry’s stall. Finally – FINALLY – he started to pick at it a little bit, but only if I stood there and held it up to his mouth. I got about a third of it into him that way, and that seemed to finally get him jump-started a bit. He was still super worried about the cows, but he did start to pick a tiny bit at his alfalfa and regular hay. By the afternoon (so, 24 hours after this first started) he had drank a little bit of water too. Not enough to ease my concern, but something at least. When the snow finally ended in the late afternoon and the sun peeked out, which was enough to melt a teeny patch near the barn, I took Henry out to let him graze on that patch. That REALLY seemed to finally do the trick, and while he still didn’t relax, he grazed for a while, then went back in his stall and started eating his hay more enthusiastically, and drank half a bucket of water. Huge relief. Major. God I was terrified. None of the days were good but that day was the worst.
By yesterday it was back up near 75 again. From 5 to 75 within a matter of days. Luckily we seem to have escaped major damage. We had a tree fall over a fenceline into the jump field, but it’s not a perimeter fence and it didn’t hit anything else on the way down. The pipes in both houses and the barn seem to be intact, and we got my heaters restarted. We remain under a boil water notice but the pressure has pretty much returned to normal, and the power has stayed on for the past few days. Now all the snow is melted and it’s as if nothing ever happened. Well… grocery stores are completely stripped bare, because no one was expecting to need food for 10 days and the restocking trucks are just now able to start getting back in. Gas and food were in short supply by the time the roads cleared. Starting to think maybe there’s some legitimacy to hoarding. Luckily I have enough to not need to go to the store for another week or so, and a full tank of gas, but some of my friends and coworkers were having to scrape together whatever they could find.
The whole experience was just… bizarre. It was like life was totally normal, and then in the blink of an eye we went into straight up Survivor mode for 5 days, and then in another blink of an eye life was pretty much back to normal again. It feels like two entirely different lifetimes. I did learn a lot though. Like… apparently south central Texas is not far enough south. Also, I hate winter. Also, I’m good with never seeing snow again. Also, if the power goes out while your incinerating toilet is in the middle of a burn cycle, your t!ny h0use WILL fill up with pee smoke. Also, WTF IS UP WITH THE TEXAS POWER GRID. People freezing to death in their homes or on the street, people not having food or water for days on end… this was absolutely terrible and inexcusable. While it sucked big time for me, I’m extremely thankful that we at least had what we did and the human and all animals made it through unscathed. Sure puts things in perspective and makes you think about just how tenuous all of this really is.
Anyway, hopefully I’m back now, and able to get back into normal life and normal routine. And here I thought 2020 was bad…