—From EF—

I just finished a job I’ve been putting off for way too long. I get like that with some tasks. It may be big and complicated or a runty little thing, like this one was, but if it falls into the deeply-nuts part of my mind it becomes (a) toxic and (b) nearly impossible. I had several of these things nagging me, and CB sensibly said, well, write them down, and I’ll do whatever I can to help you get started. It worked.

We’ve been in this house for 22 years, so the old water-softening system has been chugging along for way longer than that. A tree man came to do a job for us last year, did his thing, and before leaving pointed to a huge scraggly tree at the side of the house. “You got a water softener?” Yup. “Where does the backwash go?” Into a hose that disappears underground at the side of the house. “Well, looks like you’re killing that tree there.” Holy crap.

I needed to cut into the drain hose before it went underground and connect it to a longer drain that went well past the trees, and I had to give it a path that was consistently downhill. That meant a lot of digging and ivy-clearing, but eventually I got the job done. Whaling away with pitchfork and shovel and throwing dirt around felt good, and it made me think of the earlier big dirt-jobs I got handed with this house.

We moved in in 2000, and before long found that the combination of downhill water run-off and a huge network of gopher tunnels had resulted in a lot of dirt migrating to the space under the house. I’m small enough to wriggle through one of the openings that give access, and when I took a powerful light down there I realized that a whole lot of dirt was going to have to go somewhere else. I had a new job. I called it mole duty.

I hauled old shelving boards down there and laid them end-to-end to make a track to the opening, and used old restaurant bus-bins as containers to fill and push. When I had three full bins I’d bang on the floor for Conrad to come get the dirt and give me empty bins. We wound up with a dirt-pile the size of a Buick in the far corner of the back yard, and the dirt underneath the house was clear and level. People said, “Wasn’t that yucky?” Well, no, it was cool and sandy and didn’t have much of a spider population. I didn’t have enough space to get all the way up on hands and knees, but I became very good at elbow-and-belly-wriggling. I got to know the house from the ground up, literally.

The other big dirt-job came about seven years later when the septic man said our leach-lines were clogged and not draining properly. I called around to find out who deals with stuff like that and discovered two things. Roto-rooter people are notorious for making things worse by punching through the walls of the leach-pipes, and going for full-bore excavation costs tens of thousands of dollars. One very nice guy I talked to offered to come take a look, no cost, and he gave me some clues about what we might be able to do ourselves.

I went to the county’s records of our property and found some old pencil-scribbled papers with a sorta-kinda idea where the D-box was—the big drain from the septic tank goes into a square cement box that distributes the flow to the two fifty-foot leach lines. The scribble made it look like it was about three feet down. I did my geometry, translated the scribble to the geography of the front yard, and CB and I started to dig. Three feet—nothing. Four feet—nothing. We hadn’t put a lot of thought into the diameter of our pit because it wasn’t going to be very deep, but by the time we hit concrete it was five feet down and I was the only one who fit in the hole. I’d actually done all the last part of the digging myself, using a special little sharp spade with a very short handle. Once I found the D-box lid and pried it up, I realized that this was going to be my own very private work-space, me and my fifty-foot snake.

I’d called my under-house job “mole duty,” and this became “muskrat duty.” I’d do it for two hours at a time, and it went on for weeks and weeks. The leach pipes were filled with tangled gobs of little roots and clotted mud, and it would sometimes take more that an hour of pushing and cranking the snake to get something loose enough to haul back out. The first time I got a good big hairy one I called it a muskrat.

All the time I was doing muskrat duty the toilets were off-limits, for obvious reasons. We coped. (You don’t want to know.) When my snake made it all the way to the ends of the leach-lines, no more muskrats, we whooped and hollered and flushed madly in celebration.

Actually, I found that I like dirty work.      


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