Thursday, February 14, 2013

“Robinson’s Planet”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

A recent episode in the Icehouse brought back memories of my grandparents’ farm in Columbus, and a long-gone television program.
After what had been a relatively mild winter, our area was besieged with heavy snowfall and a harsh breath of bitter cold. Overnight, the air turned undeniably frosty.
This drastic dip in temperature caused the water supply at my rural home to go stagnant with ice. I awoke on Tuesday morning to discover that my kitchen faucet was frozen. Indeed, the entire house had been disabled. Washing machine, bathrooms, and even the outside spigot.  
Coping with this situation required bringing in water from alternate sources. I remembered filling our tub with snow, during past episodes, to melt and provide flushing capability. But for the moment, I relied on gallons purchased at Giant Eagle.
My grandparents had depended on an outside pump, located on their back porch. The farmhouse where they lived had never boasted running water. An enameled basin, with a long-handled ladle, held water for inside use. There was a single sink built into the countertop, with a drain. When hot water was required, it came from a teakettle.
I replicated this primitive routine on the frozen tundra of Thompson.
While using the bottled liquid in miserly fashion, I still managed to consume six gallons per day. By the end of the week, boxes and empty jugs were piled all over my living room. Yet I managed to cook food, wash dishes and clothes, and perform a sort of personal absolution – all with my regular water supply still held in stasis.
In desperation, I tried using a portable electric heater to thaw my in-ground hydrant. The tactic had worked well in previous years. But Mother Nature kept her environmental thermostat dialed far below freezing. There was no budging the ice blockage below my floorboards.
It made me think of a classic TV episode where wandering astronauts encountered a planet given to extremes of blistering heat and numbing cold. I had seen the show as a young child:

Lost In Space – “The Hungry Sea” (1965)

The Robot: “Outside temperature: 59 degrees Fahrenheit and rising.”
Dr. Zachary Smith: “I've known people to make conversation about the weather, but this is ridiculous.”
Maj. Don West: “You know, I've got a feeling this stuff's got a message for us if we could only read it.”
Judy Robinson: “What is it?”
Maj. Don West: “Well, it's just a piece of vegetation.”
Prof. John Robinson: “We found lots of this frozen solid in the ground.”
Maureen Robinson: “Well, it looks as though it's been charred.”
Prof. John Robinson: “It has.”
Maureen Robinson: “Burned and then frozen?”
Prof. John Robinson: “Mm-hm.”
Maureen Robinson: “Well, that doesn't make sense, does it?”
Prof. John Robinson: “Darling, very little on this planet makes sense, by Earth standard.”
Maj. Don West: “I hope you're not gonna pay attention to anything from that robot.”
Prof. John Robinson: “We'd better. This is orbital data on this planet.”
Maj. Don West: [laughs derisively] “Who's data? Smith's!”
Prof. John Robinson: “It explains everything - the terrible cold and sudden rise in temperature. Here, look.”
Prof. John Robinson: [sticks two pegs in the sand then draws around them] “Here's this planet. This is its sun. Now the orbit of this planet is nothing like the Earth's orbit. It's a flat ellipse, and the sun isn't in the center. It's over here on this leg.”
Will Robinson: “Then we must have been at this end, away from the sun. That means we're heading in back in close to it now, is that what Dr. Smith tried to warn us about?”
Prof. John Robinson: “That's right, Will. In a matter of hours we're gonna be in danger of roasting alive. And there's no time to get back to the ship. We're gonna have to build a shelter right here!”

My arctic angst could not be hidden. But then, when a week had passed and more, the weather forecast changed. Like the planet found by Professor Robinson, my Geauga County home was about to grow warmer.
On Monday afternoon, I discovered that the master bedroom’s toilet tank was suddenly full. A quick run to my kitchen confirmed the thaw – WATER AT LAST!
I had just asked my sister if it would be okay to do a load of laundry at her house. Feeling victorious with the crystal stream dribbling out of my kitchen faucet, I took an iPhone picture.
The photo went out in a text message. “Water at last!” I repeated. “Water, water, water!”
One day later, it was 57 degrees outside. My yard became a sea of mushy white and trickling streams. The circular, brick garden in front of our house had reappeared from under a mountain of snow.
Yet the projected low in only twenty-four hours was 16 degrees.
Once again, it seemed, we were back on Robinson’s planet.

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