Standing around work one day, just before the doors opened, drinking coffee, somebody got on the subject of what they would buy if they won the lottery. My boss figured he’d buy a bigger boat and spend his retirement years floating about the ocean and following the fishing, one of the mechanics thought he might get himself a house…..
‘Yeah….. if I won the lottery? I’d go out and buy me one of them flushin’ toilets and maybe some of them swing-ing doors.’
Most everybody knew we had no running water, no sewer….and had a hard time comprehending it.
Having bought the place for next to nothing, with a small unsecured loan I nearly had paid off, I was not much interested in going into a ton of hock for such a large improvement as a well and a place to flush it to – but trying to imagine lugging a porta pottie out to the outhouse for a lifetime, bucketing water to the house for the wringer washer and the dishes – it no longer seemed nearly as adventurous or as appealing as it once had. We were very very weary of it. I did my best not to look at the ‘want’ for running water and sewer as a failure – an odd way to think of it, but really – it’s how I felt.
As it happens, there are banks willing to lend based on the value of your property should it actually have those particular amenities – providing of course, that you are actually going to use the money in that fashion. We needed to get an appraisal – oh boy.
Truly, the place was worth nothing but the value of the dirt, and as uncultivated land, that wasn’t much at all.
So now the ball is rolling – downhill at a wobble and picking up speed – we got a quote on a lagoon. (For those of you who are wondering – there is no septic system allowed here – we live on clay – no drainage field to be had) We tried to get a quote on a well – I say ‘tried’ because a well is charged by the foot. So many dollars for every foot they have to drill until they find water. Plus the pump, which gets incrementally more expensive the deeper it has to pull water from. Plus the wiring for the pump and so on. Now, with a rather vague ‘worst case scenario’ idea of what we needed to borrow, we made an appointment to get the appraisal done.
Looking around at the place through an appraisers eyes, had us next to falling down laughing – but we did our best to make it at least look as if it were a home and not a condemned crack shack. We nailed up some plywood on the barn board ceilings, tossed some fresh paint on a few other walls, artfully rearranged the throw rugs to detract from the fact that the floor was partly new plywood we had laid down when we tore the rotten portion of the floor up, and partly layers of lino and newspaper. We scrubbed the big cracked window in the front of the house, scrubbed the old cookstove hoping the shiny clean would detract from the rearward list. Still, we were doubtful any of it was going to matter – I mean we were using an old twin set of aluminum laundry tubs for a sink, the five gallon pail underneath was our ‘drain’. The bathroom was a sad state – one tub with a three shower curtain ‘surround’, a cracked sink with no plumbing attached to it, a big galvanized tap just under the window should we need to hook up and pump from the house cistern with a hose for the animals. Recalling we’d scored a brand new fifties era chiffon colored toilet from my grandmothers barn when we’d moved up, Bruce hauled it into the house and set it ceremoniously down on the spot where we would have a toilet should we ever get water and sewer. During a final look around, it occurred to us we might score some points if there was at least an electric stove present – I mean we wanted the man to think we were at least a few years out of the depression…..and as it so happened we’d also scored my grandmothers old but like new fifties electric stove. It’s a behemoth of a unit – worked just fine the day it was taken out of her house – the oven is huge, it could probably swallow up a fifty pound turkey. I don’t recall where we’d been storing it, but we managed to haul it into the kitchen area and jam it up against a wall near an outlet that looked as if it was supposed to power a stove. Come D day, the place was as good as it was going to get – excepting for the pile of dishes we hadn’t managed to get done. Bruce promptly jammed them all into the voluminous oven – with some comment about learning the trick from his ex wife – apparently she used to pull the stunt whenever the inlaws were coming for a visit. I had to admit – if you didn’t look too close at the stove, the dishes were well hidden.
Fortunately for me, I had to work that day. Just as well, the stress of having a stranger poking his nose about the place and trying to put a value on something that looked more like an abandoned project than a work in progress, was more than I figured I could take. Much better to be at work in town and let Bruce talk the man’s ear off. Apparently the fellow came, saw, took many many pictures and left with a promise to have the appraisal done in a week. We hadn’t even got this thing off the ground and already my nerves were shot.
No sooner had I managed to help haul the electric stove back out to it’s regular hiding place and remember to remove the dirty dishes from the oven, I found myself with a day off and not much to do other than keep the wood chucking into the stove chore up to snuff. It was about noon when I heard the dogs start barking and looked through the frost on my cracked front window to see a large dump truck, pulling a long trailer which held a large excavator – nearly jack-knife to a stop across the road from the property. Baffled, I watched as a tall, stout, balding man jumped out and proceeded to back the excavator off the trailer and chink chink chink it towards the gates on the driveway. What the -? Diving into my winter gear I hustle out to meet him before he gets any further – obviously the man was at the wrong house.
‘Hey there!’ he hollers over the noise of the excavator. ‘Just going to take a tour around your field and GPS it for the lagoon!’
Huh? What?? ‘Have you talked to Bruce?’ I finally think to holler back.
‘Yep! No worries – I’ll only be a couple of hours today!’
‘Wait!!’ I yell back. ‘We don’t even have our appraisal back yet! We can’t pay you!’ Truly, I was just this side of alarmed – there was obviously some misunderstanding between the man with the big excavator and Bruce.
Apparently not. The man just waved me off – ‘It’ll come through!’ he grinned. ‘I know you guys will pay – it’s the people with money I can’t never collect from!’
With that, he chink chink chinked his way down my driveway and across to the field to plot out the lagoon. I promptly ran for the house and called Bruce at work to tell him there was some guy with machinery making tracks around our field GPSing the thing. ‘Let him have at it.’ was Bruce’s advice. ‘He’s the only guy that’s bothered to call me back with a quote.’
Fair enough – he had a point. Compounding the issue of the lack of contractor excitement over the lagoon project, was the fact that road restrictions were fast approaching. For those of you who don’t know – when you live in an area such as we do – lots of winter and long spring thaws, the highways department puts weight restrictions on what you can haul down rural roads during the Spring melt.
Excavator man – understood road restrictions. Before we could blink, he had two excavators parked next to our driveway, two large concrete tanks for the underground holding tank portion of the system, all the pipe, all the fence posts for around the lagoon and all the fencing. He then proceeded to excavate the olympic size hole in our field with the big excavator – then hustle it off the property before road restrictions hit – leaving the small excavator which didn’t exceed the fifty percent limit of his trailer, behind for the trenching the tanks into the ground and the pipe out to the lagoon. Excavator man also turned out to be the only lagoon installation inspector guy in the whole area – another bonus as we now didn’t have to wait wait wait between this step and that, for approval of the work. He did the required seepage test,(snicker – there is no seepage in clay) filled out an entire volume of paperwork, drew another entire volume of diagrams. The only glitch wasn’t so much a glitch, as it was a change to the system Bruce wanted him to implement, and required the approval of some big wig engineer beforehand. All lagoons – up until this point, that we know of anyway, are built on a gravity premise – meaning you flush, the water heads for a concrete tank, and that tank overflows into another concrete tank, and when that gets to a certain level it pumps out along several hundred feet of pipe to the lagoon. Downhill. Used to be people simply relied on gravity, but the rules had changed to require a pump. Problem was – as many of our neighbors who cared to stop by and fill us in…..was that come winter, the pipe out to the lagoon often froze up – especially if the level in the lagoon was higher than the exit of the pipe. This meant that come winter, we were to expect at some point, maybe, possibly, having sewer back up into the house. To this day, every couple of years or so, I hear neighbor to the North, fire up his pump in the middle of winter, dig up the line to his lagoon and thaw it out.
Not even remotely interested in that fiasco, and trying very hard to avoid any and all future fiascos, Bruce wanted a siphon break at the lagoon. He drew it out on a piece of paper, Excavator man thought it a brilliant idea, took it off to the engineer to have it approved and voila! We got our siphon break. Basically what it does – once the tank pump has emptied the tank down the long pipe to the lagoon and shut off, the airlock at the top of the break allows anything left in the pipe to drain back to the tank instead of sitting in the pipe and freezing up. It is now the standard here for this style of lagoon to have a siphon break built into it. Kudos to my smart hubby.
Sooo….in the middle of having Excavator Man disturb the clay gods and make the place look like the army had been using it for clay bomb practice, Bruce started phoning around to get somebody – anybody, to commit to drilling us a well. Of course nothing is ever as simple as one would think it would be – anybody and everybody who knew we were going to put in a well, promptly advised us that no driller in the area would drill you anything until you had the property ‘witched’ for water. Seriously?? Are we living in the dark ages???
Now I’m familiar with witching for water – as kids, on a slow farm day, my brother and I would have Dad cut us a forked piece of willow and we would wander around the place looking for water. If Dad didn’t feel like finding the perfect piece of willow, he’d simply bend a couple lengths of welding rod up – that works too. Yes….you can find water this way – how deep? I’m not sure – but if we happened to walk across a water line on the farm, the willow would bend, the welding rod would criss cross and mark the spot. Being of a suspicious nature myself, I would close my eyes and wander willy nilly all over the place not wanting to skew the results by knowing where the water line was in the first place – and I have to say – it does work. Still – witching for a well?
As luck would have it, a fellow who had helped us butcher a couple of our old sows, was the locally known ‘witcher’. Old Ignaus. Been farming here forever, still a reasonably thick German accent, always always in the same beat to death waterproof overalls, jacket and boots – he was absolutely delighted to come over and witch the property. Turned out he had witched neighbor to the North’s property, neighbor to the South East property, and so on…. according to Old Ignaus, he’d been following this particular water seam through the whole district for years – knew where it started, which direction it flowed in, the high spots, the low spots – it was easy to stand there listening to his stories and find yourself getting caught up in the idea of finding water at a reasonably affordable depth. Now he had willow, he had welding rod, he wandered out front, out back, here and there in no particular order, taking his time, back and forth. An hour or so later he stopped, put everything away in his beat up truck and after thinking for a bit – explained that the water was closest to the surface right in our very back yard – between the house and the goat shed – at about sixty feet – and he would be back in a week to double check his findings and ‘pinpoint’ the exact spot.
Now I have never been one of those ‘lucky’ people – water at sixty feet? Not likely in my lifetime. I knew that the community well, about three miles from us at the corner store, is at four hundred feet. Neighbor to the North struck water at three hundred and eighty two feet – and as Old Ignaus had witched their well just the previous year, I asked, very casually so as not to offend – why their well was at three hundred and eighty two feet.
‘Because they didn’t drill where I told them to drill.’
Fair enough I guess, apparently he had pinpointed the exact spot to be right beside their house – and the wife wanted the well to be out of the way and closer to the road because they were also running line to the two houses South of them (one belonging to the Mrs. parents)- a shared well. At the time, they had asked us if we wanted to be on their well also – we had politely turned them down – I didn’t want to be committed to paying for anything and everything that might go wrong with the pump or the system – they are heavy heavy water users, we are not. I thought it best to remain friends with the neighbor as opposed to getting into a squabble over what percentage of responsibility we were expected to commit to, or who was using more water than whom. Wars have been fought over water – I wasn’t intending to start one, or get caught up in the middle of one. Human nature being what it is, it didn’t surprise me at all when North neighbor’s dad wandered over one day – his statement? ‘I sure hope you guys aren’t going to be drilling into ‘my’ seam’. I thought I might kick him in the shin for making such a damn stupid statement – but I didn’t – I smiled and reassured him that we weren’t going to be drilling anywhere near ‘his’ seam, then gave myself a pat on the back for the fact that we had declined the offer of the sharing of the well.
Old Ignaus returned a week later, just around dinner hour, to focus his witching skills on the exact spot for the driller to smack the bit down on the ground. Cooking ribs on the outside cookstove, I kept an eye as he again wandered about with his welding rods, then shortly after, put them back in the truck and return with a wine glass and a crystal dangling on a piece of fishing line. He lay on the ground over by the goat shed, set the glass down and holding the crystal above it, studied the movement – looking for what, I didn’t know, but I wasn’t about to disturb him. A few minutes later, he gets up and moves to a different spot to repeat the procedure. And again. And again. This was no easy task – he’s old, I can tell his bones are complaining from the get up lay down get up thing, and despite the waterproofing, his clothes are getting soaked from the not quite thawed ground.
‘Have you eaten dinner yet Ignaus!’ I finally interrupt, thinking the man might get down one more time and be unable to get back up.
‘No.’ he creaks to his feet and puts the crystal in one pocket and the wine glass in another.
‘Would you like to sit down for some ribs and maybe a beer!’
‘Yeah. Okay. That would be nice.’
I dish him up, myself and Bruce up, pour him a large mug of beer and we sit down outside and dig in. He’s very quiet, I’m not sure if he’s still calculating the exact spot or what, so I stay quiet as well.
‘Me and the wife should have you guys over for dinner one of these weeks’. he finally says.
‘Sure.’ I smile and nod, pleased with the invite.
‘And you can bring these ribs! They’re really good!’ he holds out his plate for another filling.
So much for deep thoughts – Bruce and I have long since learned over the years, that there’s no hurrying old farmers up, farm time is not clock time, tomorrow is another day – it’s not like that cow needs to be dead right this minute, the water seam isn’t going anywhere. Sigh.
Before he leaves, Old Ignaus walks Bruce over to the magic spot, squats down and makes an X in the grass with his finger. Bruce fetches up a can of spray paint, makes a circle around the spot and an X in the middle of it. One step closer to having a well.
Sitting around the table that night, we tossed around our best guesses at how many feet down the water really was – and made a bet and wrote it down. I figured a hundred and twenty six feet. Bruce figured two hundred and fifty. Neither of us had a clue, but somehow having a number in our heads gave us something to hope for. I kept picturing Old Ignaus laying on the ground with his wine glass and his crystal and wondered if in the end he would win out at sixty feet – truly – the whole issue had taken on a surreal Twilight Zone feeling.
Aside from that – what little yard we’d managed to snatch back from mother nature out front of the place, was now a lagoon battlefield/excavator storage field. What little yard we’d managed to create out back – was about to given up for a large water truck and an ancient derelict drill rig.
Enter – Squishy. The raven.
Why things can’t happen to us in an orderly manageable fashion, I’ll never know – but in the middle of the well/lagoon stress (I know – one would think we’d be all excited about this – but no, we were pretty much wrecks), we came to be the owners of a rescued, year and a half old raven named Squishy (kept captive because of nerve damage to one wing – he can’t fly). I suppose I could have said ‘no’, we don’t need a raven thank you – but then that would take all the fun out of things now wouldn’t it? Besides – I don’t think ravens are high on anybody’s ‘must have for a pet’ list – therefore it only made sense (haha) to offer to take him.
He was delivered to us at work, in a pet crate. I transferred the crate to the truck and stood for a few minutes inspecting the newest member of our menagerie. He was large. He was not impressed to be in a crate. I offered him some of his supposedly favorite dog kibble – he promptly drove his hooked beak into the back of my hand. Maybe not a good start – but a start nonetheless. We brought him home and decided he might like to hang out with the goats – it was the largest open area building we had for one – and I figured the goats would be curious enough to deal with him. The pigs, I thought, would probably try to eat him, and the chickens – well I figured they’d all drop dead from heart attacks at the sight of a big black raven in their midst. So the goat shed it was. Now despite the fact that he couldn’t fly, it was still possible for him to escape the shed – all he would have to do is hop/flap his way up to the top of the outside wall at the back and dive over the chicken wire. After giving it some thought, we decided he probably wouldn’t bother – what with all the fascinating company of the goats and all. We were wrong.
The following morning – no raven to be found. We carried on with our chores, looking everywhere we could think to while feeding and watering and generally getting ready for work – thankful we didn’t live so close to the neighbors they could hear us wandering about hollering for ‘Squishy’. No luck. Finally, just on this side of being late for work, we gave up and made for the truck. I was just about to climb in, when I heard voices in the bush to the North of the house – female voices. This brought me up short. With a ‘hair on the back of my neck standing up’ feeling, I walked around the back of the house and slowly headed towards the edge of the trees. There he was – Squishy – perched about eight feet up a poplar – casually repeating a two sided conversation he’d had stored in his memory from some past event.
I kid you not. Now I know there are a lot of birds that can mimic – including ravens and crows. I have a cockatiel that does a passable ‘pretty bird’ and wolf whistles any time women come through the door. This – was something else – Squishy was actually repeating an entire conversation – two different voices, back and forth back and forth. When he realized he had an audience, he suddenly went mute and simply shuffled around on his branch, fixed a few feathers – and showed no inclination to come down and get stuck back in the goat shed. We decided he’d be fine where he was for the day – maybe we could round him up after work, and make a few alterations to the shed. It wasn’t so much we didn’t want him outside – we just didn’t want him outside when we weren’t home to keep an eye out for him. A bird that can’t fly, any bird – is fair game to be terrorized to death in the wild…..we thought it best he be kept safe in the goat shed while we were at work. As he’d survived the night in the bush, and with no time left to figure out how to get him back into the shed, we left him be. Not much trouble for him to get into hanging out in a tree.
Wrong again. When we arrived home from work, we headed straight for the tree he’d been so comfortable in that morning – no Squishy. Another half an hour of calling and looking high and low – no luck. We did the chores, we started dinner. No raven. Finally, about to sit down to dinner, it occurred to me that maybe – just maybe, he’d heard voices coming from neighbor to the North, and decided to head on over. Bruce thought it at least worth a phone call to find out.
Listening to his side of the conversation, and guessing at the other half – I knew the raven had gone next door and no, it had not gone all that well. After hanging up – Bruce explained that indeed Squishy had made his way through the bush and headed for the trailer – and up onto the deck where the Mrs. was sweeping around the hot tub. Now Squishy, not having a clue that not everybody knew he was – well – tame, promptly started hopping up and down and advancing and ‘rah rah rah -ing’ his excitement at meeting somebody new. Truly alarmed at the sight, Mrs. tried to ‘shoo’ him off the deck with her broom. No such luck. He flapped up onto the ledge of the hot tub and continued to hop up and down like a demented (in her mind anyway) bird – she took the only course of action she could think of. She got a good grip on her broom, wound up and nine-ironed Squishy straight upside the head. He promptly keeled over and fell down between the hot tub and the back wall of the deck. Mission accomplished, Mrs. decided that Mr. could deal with fishing the bird out when he got home – no way was she sticking her hand back there to fetch a dead raven.
Bruce and I sat quietly for a bit – we both felt bad, and stupid for not locking up the raven that morning. Here somebody had given us this bird knowing we would look after it, and in under twenty four hours we’d managed to get it killed dead. It had never crossed our minds that we should let the neighbors know we had him to start with.
Dinner getting cold we were making an effort at the food, when the dogs set up a typical dog ruckus – we looked out the window to see the Mr. walking down the road, holding the raven against his chest.
“Oh geez.” Bruce said. “He didn’t have to bring him back….”
We both made our way out the door to meet him and reassure him it wasn’t their fault – we should have said something to them in the first place……
Unbelievably – Squishy was not dead. He took one look at Bruce and with an ear splitting RAH!!!, lunged for his chest and clawed his way onto his shoulder to park himself next to his head – then simply perched there looking for all the world like he’d just managed to make his last move.
I plucked him up and took him into the house – he was next to limp, panting, obviously very dehydrated from his hours of trying to unscramble his brain while hiding behind a hot tub and too afraid to come out and find water. I snatched up a large syringe, a bowl of water, parked him in my lap and began forcing water down his gullet – it was the only thing I could think to do. On closer examination, I saw his left eye was now completely white – apparently getting whacked in the head had damaged his eye sight as well. The fact that he wasn’t inclined to struggle or peck at me, told me he definitely wasn’t a hundred percent. The fact that he was allowing me to syringe water down his throat, told me that he was probably going to make it.
Regardless, there was no putting him back in the goat shed for the time being…..I covered the entire couch with a roll of paper towel, left him near the water, left him a handful of kibble and decided I would get up every couple of hours to see if he had regained the ability to drink on his own. If not, I was prepared to keep at it until he could.
So….it’s Spring, we have part of a lagoon system, we have the well witched, we have a talking raven that can only see out of one eye, living – for the time being, on my couch. Nowhere to go from here but up – right?
Next up? Old Rainey the driller – and the count down to water. 🙂