Water and Other Simple Things

Water. So simple. So necessary. So easily neglected. I will never take water for granted again. It has been a blessing (recently) and a curse (in the past).

It started about six months ago. More accurately, it started several years ago. Much more accurately, it started 15 years ago. But back to the present and the recent past. We have had some serious troubles with…water…for the last six months or more. Like many people in Wisconsin, we had some freezing pipes problems during this very long, very cold winter. Specifically, the pipe that runs water to our office/barn, running underground from our house to the barn, froze sometime late December of this year, about the time Deb and I were wandering around the Southwest enjoying our travels in various national parks, canyons, and Native American cliff dwellings. Well, we didn’t entirely enjoy the trip because our Hybrid SUV, with its 186,000 miles, had some disturbing messages leading us to stop at no less than three Ford dealerships on the way. But I am getting off track. I could have written about “Cars” instead of Water, but that is another story.

Water. How central is that in our lives. We are born out of an environment composed largely of water. We, as human beings, are, as one Star Trek episode said of us, “bags of mostly water,” about 75% I think. What an odd thing, being a “bag of mostly water” walking around, talking, doing, dreaming, and the like. How is that possible? But again, I am off track from the “water problem.” We came back from this lovely dry climate of the U.S. Southwest to the equally lovely, but also cold and wet Midwest, arriving just after the New Year. We arrived to find our water in the office/barn had frozen. Now this is not good. It is not a good thing to have frozen water in your office where people coming in for psychological services have enough on their minds, and would rather not worry about  the sink not working or the toilet not flushing. So, being the good doer/caretaker I am, I put some buckets of water in the office rest room for people to use when flushing the toilet and some hand cleanser. Surely, I thought, this would take care of things until our predictable thaw of the ground in February, maybe late January. Surely, it will thaw. January finished, February came, and no thaw. Well, we certainly will get to early March, and it will thaw. March came, and no thaw. How awful, do we have to wait until July for goodness sake?

While we are not-to-patiently waiting for the water to thaw, things actually got worse. What is worse than not having water flowing? Having the drain freeze. How could a 4 inch drain freeze when water flows downhill? I figured out that the “condensate” from the furnace slowly dripped into the drain, and over a month or two slowly froze all four inches of the drain. Now I am in a real fix. And on top of that I didn’t realize that the drain was frozen until sewage started seeping up into the utility basin in the garage, which is right under the office/barn. Oh great! Exactly how will I deal with this? You don’t want to know. You really don’t want to know. Consider buckets, dipping buckets, carrying buckets, and dumping buckets in the woods. That is about all you want to know. So it is about this time that we decide that we need a clean out in the drain system so that we can somehow unfreeze the drain. This took a lot of work, including digging 4 feet under concrete, sand, gravel, and a lot of stones to get to the drain, and then to the water line. Finally, we got the drain to work. That was April. But still no water.

Awe, certainly the water will simply unfreeze, and we will be back in business. It did unfreeze, but unfortunately, when it unfroze, it broke the pipe. Here is where this last 6 months really relates to the last 15 years. Fifteen years ago I, an unaccomplished plumber, put the pipe underground, along with natural gas, drain, and electric. But I did what I often do: I did it cheaply. I put the water in ¾ inch PVC. A lot of guys would have put the underground pipe in copper, or CPVC, or stronger PVC. Not me. So now we have PVC pipe leaking somewhere four feet underground. I do what I do best: I just do it. I found the (apparent) leak, repaired it, and put new pipe to the break. Then, trusting that the leak was prepared, we covered this 4×6 feet hole with sand, gravel, stones, etc. and covered all that with concrete, replete with Deb’s decorative stones in the concrete. And off to the cabin with the relief that this whole water mess was finally finished.

After our brief respite at the cabin, as we came back home and pulled into the driveway, I noticed what seemed to be a stream of water coming from the office/barn. Surely, this couldn’t be. I had fixed the pipe, right? Wrong. Evidently, the pipe had again broken, and we had been leaking ¾ inch of water for…how many days? We found out when the next water bill came in together with a note that explained why out bill was 5x more than normal. They wondered if we had a leaky faucet. Not exactly. Now we are looking at this concrete leaking water and decide we need to do something more permanent. What could that be?

We start with hiring the son of a basketball player friend of mine, a young man, by the way who worked well beyond the $10/hr. I offered him, so I had to increase his pay to $15/hr. He dug the same hole, now bigger and deeper. And we thought: is it possible that we could somehow avoid digging a 100 foot trench through our yard, 5 or 6 feet down. Well, maybe. Perhaps we could use “Pex” piping that we had put in the barn/office a few years back when we had a different leak (and flood of our entire office). Yes, we could use Pex, but could be actually push it through the ¾ PVC? It just might work. Long story short, we tried it, and it seemed to work; we pushed this Pex pipe through the PVC and it went well until, boom. It stopped. We must have run into some kind of bend, 90 degree or 45 degree, or something about halfway through the yard. OK, we can do this. Let’s just dig a 6 foot by 6 foot hole in the middle of our backyard and find the angle of the PVC. No luck. Nice hole, however. Time to go to bed and sleep on this problem.

Thank goodness for my “analyst” wife. In the middle of the night, she thought (analyzed) that we might somehow shave off some of the end of the Pex pipe and create some kind of loose end that might…just might…get through the PVC angle. So down in the basement again, and we did just that: shaved off a few inches of the Pex, and pushed it through the pipe. It went further. A bit harder to push, but it was moving. Or was it bending. I stopped pushing for a moment, but Deb insisted: just keep on pushing, you! OK, I’ll push. I pushed, and then it stopped. Could it be that it came into the garage 100 feet away? I don’t know, but I hoped. “Deb, why don’t you go to the garage and see if, by some wild chance and by God’s grace, the Pex has found its way to the garage.” I waited. No word. I came upstairs, and I saw Deb standing 100 feet away from me in the 4 foot hole in the garage smiling…and flashing her…reasts at me. I got the message. The Pex was through. I couldn’t believe my eyes…. How wonderful…to have water again…and for other things.

Just to put one more anticlimax to this story, we were able to push the Pex through the final 15 feet of PVC so we didn’t have to tear up another 10 feet of concrete. And in the process I ripped my finger open as I pulled the pipe through. It just didn’t matter. And as I type today, my finger is still recovering two weeks past this last water event. It is a reminder to me that God was, indeed graceful in giving us water, albeit by our work and Deb’s ideas, but Grace nevertheless, which is what I think/feel when I see this damaged finger.

Water. How basic. How necessary. I will never take it for granted again. I wonder how much else I take for granted: electricity, natural gas, gasoline, house, family, friends, peace, and safety. There is something very special, and oddly, very spiritual, about our now having our water problem solved. It is humbling. It is a reminder.

I need a glass of water. How great that I can just turn the faucet on and get a glassful.