Farewell Fort Simpson

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I’ve slept in three different places in four days here in Fort Simpson. I’m bouncing around because the house where I rent a room has had no water for over a month. The sewer lines are fine — we can let water down the drain — but the supply lines froze one day in March. The village maintenance people tried to thaw them, but after pushing their water-pic-snake down 150 feet, it was still frozen. So, I started hauling empty bottles to work and filling them with water to use at home. I can’t tell you how many times I turned on the kitchen faucet just to exclaim, “right! No water!”

Not having a toilet is the biggest problem. We really take flushing for granted! When faced with what to do about my waste, I am surprised how frustrated I got. Initially, I lined the toilet bowl with a garbage bag and used that for a couple of days. It worked okay. When it was full, I pulled it out and tied it up… now what!?! I knew it shouldn’t just go in the garbage — I took a composting course in February that taught me a lot about microbes — so I thought I would just take it to the sewage treatment plant. And then a rare vindictive streak came out — I could take it to the village office and say, “um, what should I do with this? You take it.” Yikes.

Obviously, I didn’t actually do that. I adapted and found other places to use the washroom. I showered at the firehall, which has just enough hot water for a short shower. I got a larger water bottle for transporting the blessed wet stuff. I made sure I used the toilet before heading home from work. What else can you do? The toilet took about 10 L of water to flush! So I did it rarely.

Human waste. It’s yucky. A friend of mine said that in second-world countries, people have learned to flush with far less water. If you throw it down the bowl, forcefully, it will flush with as little as one litre. So I tried it, with about 1.5 litres. It worked! But it must have been beginner’s luck, because as our time without water went on, I tried several more times and I could never quite make it work. Once, I splashed pee-water all over myself and the bathroom. That was my low point.

I wish I could say I was all zen about the situation: that I accepted what was, gracefully, but really, I didn’t. I was frustrated. I mean, I live in Canada. This should not happen in Canada. Yet I knew it did — last year in Wrigley, perhaps as many as a third of all houses had frozen pipes. But they don’t have underground sewer lines. Everyone uses tank water — a tank for good water, and a tank for sewage (and grey water — anything that goes down the drains). Trucks come by periodically and fill or empty the tanks as needed. But in a place with normal plumbing, I just couldn’t believe this was happening. Yes, I know I’m in the North, but it wasn’t even close to -40 C when it happened.

And it went on and on. The village made some visible efforts in the early days, and then they seemed to forget about us. Later, I heard there were quite a few houses in town that were having the same problem. So, the two maintenance guys ran from place to place, not quite hunkering down at any one house to fix the problem. I don’t think they are terribly inept, just mildly so. I made them cinnamon buns to thank them for their hard work — they had promised a temporary solution would be in place and I thought I wouldn’t be seeing them any more — but it never worked. I guess garden hoses aren’t what they used to be.

Are any of you noticing my awful jaded tone? As I said, I’m not proud of it. I would much rather remember Fort Simpson as the amazing island in the summer, with the ageless water of the Mackenzie River flowing eternally by. It is so peaceful in the evening, and evening just goes on and on. The community garden is an abundance of growth, vegetables, and glorious weeds — some of the best natural remedies!! I have seen the northern lights more times than I can count, and life-changing aurora a couple of times. So, I guess I have the Fort Simpson aurora to thank if I’ve changed! 😉

I’m changing my tune, and that’s important, because I’ll be leaving Fort Simpson soon. I don’t want to go out on an unhappy, frustrated note; I want to leave on a lovely song! My honey and I have some amazing opportunities coming up (which I’ll talk about soon in another post), so it is time to go. I’ll miss this northern land, with its helpful, genuine people. Sure, it’s not perfect — there’s a lot of drinking, a bit of price gouging, and the coldest, darkest winters I’ve ever experienced — but for me, it’s also an oasis of snow, a candle in a dark window, and an incredible pocket of friends.

**If you are in Simpson, please come out to my farewell potluck tomorrow, Sunday, Apr 13, starting at 4:00 pm at the Firehall. 🙂 **

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