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Eric Bergeson column: Home again, home again

While in Arizona basking in the sunshine, it is easy to get inspired. In fact, I filled several pages in a notebook with lists of what I was going to do once I got back to the northland.

I couldn't wait to get in my warm house and be amongst my books. I was going to clean my garage, my cupboards, my closets, my desk drawers, the whole works.

Add to that I was going to learn Bach, read the classics, write a memoir and learn to cook Thai food.

Yeah right. As I drove up I-29 and the temperature dropped, I could feel myself sinking into a vat of molasses. I had energy to pick up a half-gallon of milk and a box of cereal, but that was about it.

The house was nice, but for it to have that special toastiness that comes from free heat, I had to get the wood stove going.

All the wood was wet. To try to get the fire started, I used up about fifteen newspapers, five milk cartons and several boxes. No luck.

I called my counselor on all things rustic and farm related, dear old Dad. Diesel fuel, he said. Throw a little pail of diesel in there and it'll go.

The diesel in the tank was all gelled up, but Dad had a pail in the shop. I loaded it in my pickup and drove out to the house.

Of course, the stuff spilled all over the box of the Ranger as I bounced over the snowdrifts. Then it got on my gloves and my jacket. I stunk.

But boy, was that slick! The fire took off with a roar.

With that problem solved, I threw the diesel-stinking jacket in the garage and went in for a shower to get the smell off. Then I unpacked everything from the trip and washed two loads of clothes.

Some of the stuff belonged in the garage. When I opened the door, lo and behold, the garage floor was covered with an inch of...sewage. In the middle of the sewage puddle was my diesel-stinking coat.

I suppose that's one way to get rid of the diesel smell on your clothes. Cover it up with sewage.

My sewer had frozen and had backed up into the garage floor drain. It was midnight on a Friday night. It would be Monday before I could get any professionals to come to my rescue.

On this issue, Dad had no advice.

I left the puddle to sit overnight, hoping it would go away. It did not. I slurped up the sewage with the shop vac.

Then I ran hot water in the tub nearest the sewer, hoping it would melt the ice. Instead, it just refilled the garage with warm gray water.

So, I reconciled to a weekend of living like a pioneer. I washed dishes in a big basin and dumped the dishwater off the porch. The sub-zero weather made for some miserable trips outside for various plumbing-related duties.

My big list of life-changing tasks was long forgotten. I was just trying to survive.

On Tuesday, Tim the sewer man arrived. He had picked up Dan the gravedigger at the café at breakfast. Between those two, I figured we had a decent chance to solve the problem by sunset.

Once they found the septic tank cap, pried it off and pushed a hose up the pipe towards the house, through which we ran hot water, it took all of thirty seconds for the ice to break loose.

What a relief. After a few off-color septic tank-related jokes that I won't repeat here, Tim and Dan drove off into the cold while I went inside to run water down the sink just for fun.

Indoor plumbing is now on the list of things for which I feel daily gratitude.

But the head of steam I built up in the Arizona sunshine had been used up on my wood stove and my sewer.

It's difficult to conjure up the inspiration to learn Bach or cook Thai food when you stink of diesel.