A Bit Different Life On Gabriola Island

When A Chicken Blogger Is Put On Ice

I grew up in a big city – Toronto – in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I might have been an urban kid, but we lived on the edge of a ravine and large park, which all the neighbourhood children explored. We shared that space with raccoons, skunks, snakes, salamanders, pheasants, and even the occasional fox. I think of that era as a golden age in which kids were encouraged to play outdoors and entertain ourselves. There was no fear of ‘stranger danger’ or going to endless organized activities and costly classes. We valued imaginary games, physical activity, and friendships with the people who surrounded us. I remember as a young teen being limited to one hour of television watching a day. What I don’t remember is being bored. I had friends at school that I connected with again in the evening by phone. I read voraciously, wrote poetry, listened to music, walked my dog, hiked, went tobogganing and cross-country skiing. I spent my summers at a horse riding camp and on a Mennonite farm.

Those were the days before computers, cell phones, streaming services and the internet. Those things, which at first we thought of as luxuries, are now considered necessities. Technology is critical for communication, banking, reading, travel and for lots of folks, shopping. We use them as dictionaries, to listen to music, watch movies, check the weather and book our holidays.

So, what happens when you don’t have them? I have to admit I have been somewhat resistant and a late adopter, but now find they are so ingrained into my daily life that I go through a bit of withdrawal when they are unavailable. The last couple of weeks have hit me like more like a case of enforced cold turkey.

I live on a small island off the west coast of Canada. We’re close enough (20 minutes via ferry) to a small city so that we don’t feel remote. In my community we are all responsible for our own sewage and water by installing septic fields, and wells or rain catchment cisterns. I’m well equipped to deal with an electrical outage: we’ve got a super-capacity woodstove, a propane stove for cooking, and a 2400-gallon cistern that holds water pumped from our well. We’ve got candles, propane lanterns, and a battery-operated radio. What we don’t have access to during an outage is running water (the pump runs on electricity) and all the usual things requiring power: lights, TV, computer and cordless phones. I don’t have a cell phone, but it wouldn’t make a difference, as we don’t get cell coverage on our property. I’ve resisted getting a generator, not wanting to deal with the noise and maintenance.

In 2018 we lived through five days without power when the biggest windstorm in British Columbia’s history left 750,000 customers without electricity. The storm moved in and we lost power just as I was driving home with a car full of groceries, looking forward to my first day of the Christmas holidays.  Those five days went by at a snail’s pace; we did get regular radio updates, given the magnitude of the story. We have a landline phone so were able to call out to friends and family to find out what was happening and when our power might be restored. Five days seemed long, but the last folks to have their power restored waited a full 12 days. Ours, fortuitously, came on just after 4pm on Christmas day as we were getting ready to attend a community dinner in an area that got their power back two days before.

My latest experience has a bit of a twist. There was a weather advisory for snow on a Tuesday. I usually take my car via ferry to work on Monday and then bring it home at the end of the week. In between I take our local bus and travel on the ferry as a walk on. As I watched the flakes come down outside my office window, I decided to head home early and take my car in case I couldn’t make it into work the next day. I was lucky in that I pulled up to the ferry just as it was loading and made it home in good time before dusk.

My main coop has an auto door and the flock of 24 adults and 10 teenagers head to bed on their own. My back pen, housing 14 six-month-old pullets, is more problematic. The coop has a flat roof where my birds prefer to roost. I’ve been going out there before their bedtime to wrangle them into the coop. Some of them, upon seeing me, hop down on their own, some stand at the edge waiting for me to lift them down and others require a bit of encouragement by a gentle nudge with a bamboo pole. Of course, jumping down means there has to be enough daylight to make a safe landing. As the days are getting shorter it’s a tight squeeze for me to get home at the optimal time. If I’m late it means lifting them off one by one and tucking them into the safety of the coop for the night.

I made it home an hour before lock up only to find that we’d just lost power. So much for my hot bath and an evening of TV watching. I had enough time to do a cursory clean with a poop scoop, fill up the feeders and waterers and knock the snow off the tarps and overhead netting. I started with the main pen. Hitting the tarp to get the snow to slide off didn’t impress my birds. By the time I made it to the back coop my little flock were all huddled into the corner – the only place not protected from the wet snow that was still falling.

I did my chores and peeked in the coop to see one of the pullets dead just inside the door. I couldn’t see any damage or injuries and her body, despite the weather, was still slightly warm. I wondered if the flock was hiding because they witnessed what happened. A mink wouldn’t leave much evidence as they suck blood, but the dishes inside the coop weren’t disturbed and I figured a predator attack might have knocked them over. By now it was getting darker, and I didn’t have the energy to deal with her body, so I bundled her up and put her in the freezer planning to get a necropsy done in the future. Frozen specimens aren’t ideal but sometimes it’s the only option.

Two hours later the power was restored but continued to go on and off until we finally lost it 90 minutes later. Good thing I’d had a bath and we’d eaten dinner. By 6:30 it was dark and there were still a few hours till bedtime. That was filled with some board games and then I headed out to the chickens to knock more wet snow off the overhead netting and tarps. I was cautious to watch my footing as previously I tripped and fell, cutting my head and damaging my thumb, which took months to heal. The weight of the snow can bring sections of the netting down leaving my birds vulnerable to hawks or escape.

I took the following day off work knowing that my presence would be required to deal with the aftermath of the short-lived snowfall. Sure enough, the netting had separated, and some sections were hanging or were on the ground. I managed to bring the ladder into the pen without spooking my birds and secured everything. By the time I was done my fingers were numb, but my flock was safe.

On Wednesday we learned that not only had the island lost power but a critical overhead fibreoptic cable that carries cable TV, internet and phone service had been severed and was floating in the ocean. Although our electricity was restored that day we were left without communications technology for five more days; three of which I was off work. (See the news story here)

As you can imagine it was comforting to be able to cook and have a bath but I was counting the minutes until my internet was restored. Good thing I’m a bit of a planner and had already written a number of posts for my blog. I was able to put the finishing touches on the ones saved on my hard drive, but wouldn’t be able to do the layout until I had access to my blog.

If you think a few days without services is easy-peasy I challenge you to lock away your phone, modem and TV remote. I live on an island so it’s not as though I could go anywhere that had those services. All commercial businesses were without access to debit or credit machines so cash was the only accepted payment. There were line-ups at the only gas station and for short time they ran out of gas. Since there was no landline phone service there was also limited access to calling 911 and we were advised to drive to the fire hall in case of an emergency. They brought in an satellite cell repeater to extend coverage. The community was invited to sit in their cars within its two-kilometre range, but I found it was iffy and could only get one bar on my work cell phone. I ended up driving to the other end of the island if I wanted any updates from the utility companies.

My partner and I played cards and board games and invited our next-door neighbours in to join us one night. I dusted, swept the floors, and cleaned the kitchen to kill some time and feel productive. I tended my coops and carried out fresh water several times a day since there was still snow and ice. My flock was as unimpressed with the weather as I was. Although I live in a temperate rainforest, they aren’t keen on getting soaked and certainly don’t like walking through the snow. I worried about them getting wet and then cold overnight, but they seemed to have fared okay.

I went back to work on the following Monday (happy to access my blog and Facebook page there) and came home to a repaired fibreoptic cable. Unfortunately while the electricity provider was doing their inspection they noticed some major damage to their equipment and announced that the whole island would be shut down for two days mid-week from 7am to 6pm while they fixed it. That of course, meant, once again, there would be no electricity, internet or cable services. Luckily for me I leave home before 7am and return close to 5pm so I missed the worst of it. I decided to come home earlier both days to put the pesky teenagers to bed, so still had to endure a bit of deprivation of my creature comforts. The first night the power was restored 30 minutes early, but the second night it came on two hours later than scheduled and boy, those 120 minutes felt like an eternity.

The very next day there was a weather advisory of high winds and lots of rain. If you live in a city you probably don’t think much about those things but nestled into a forest can mean a number of things, namely, power outages and damage from falling trees. Over the 18 years we’ve lived on this property we’ve worked diligently with an eco-forester to remove dead and danger trees, but we’re still surrounded by 75’ Douglas Firs that could do considerable damage if they came down. They’ve fallen beside our guest cabin, on fences and an arbour, over the driveway and four years ago, one fell over the property line onto our neighbours’ house leaving a gaping hole in their roof.

It’s not common but you do hear stories of folks killed by fallen trees while they lay snuggled in their beds. So when the winds start to whip up and howl and the rain is pelting on the metal roof it makes me anxious. The power flickered a few times and although it stayed on I was too distracted to get much work done. By morning, there was a power outage just down the road, which luckily didn’t affect us. I’ve seen photos of chicken coops damaged by storms and was relieved to see my flock had survived unscathed. The worst damage they’ve sustained from heavy snow loads was one year the tarp over their coop was shredded and last year the shelterlogic frame holding the tarp bent and needed replacing.

Eleven days after the storm we seemed to be back on an even keel and breathed a collective sigh of relief. Unfortunately that was short-lived as less than ten days later we were hit with another one-two punch from Mother Nature. That experience dragged on for several days, changing our holiday plans. Here’s the post about how my flock and I managed that experience.

1 comment on “When A Chicken Blogger Is Put On Ice

  1. I grew up in the 50s so I know what you are talking about as the usual childhood then. What a gift that was!

    Liked by 1 person

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