Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Few Inches High and Rising

I wrote this a couple months ago. Updates to follow.

Last week, west of here about an hour’s drive, a few people died in massive floods brought on by days and days of rain. Ditches became creeks, creeks became rivers, and rivers became angry gods unappeased, taking lives as they saw fit. In a town called Livingston Manor, a young girl was killed when her house collapsed around her as she waited for rescue.

Our cellar got a few inches of water. We’re up above the river valleys – to our west is Moodna Creek and to our east, of course, the Hudson. Not far below our cellar floor there’s a bed of shale – flaky, fractured, non-absorbent – that acts as a subterranean creek bed for the jillions of gallons that fall on the northern slopes of the highlands. I’ve decided to start thinking of our cellar as a beautiful woodland pool in a chattering brook – lower in the dry season, but always a home for a fat trout or two, with a nicely sheltered eddy beneath a rock where the damsel flies might rest for a moment and make for an easy hors d’oeuvre. At the bottom of this pool is a sump pump.

The sump pump is by Rigid Zoeller and I have to give those people credit – it’s a workhorse. The thing could suck an Olympic-sized pool dry before Mark Spitz could swim across it. (Insert your own chrome/trailer hitch suggestion here.) It works fast, and it works reliably, and it works – oh, check this out, apparently it works with electricity.

Interesting thing about our new town. You know how, in Baghdad, the power just…goes out? That’s us! Only the nearest artillery is a few miles away and not, presumably, aimed at our infrastructure. No, here it’s something like a combination of laziness, bureaucratic incompetence, old equipment and stupidity that accounts for – I’m almost embarrassed to say it – six outages since we moved in three weeks ago.

You can see where this is going, right? Here’s a tip for the homeowner: If your cellar floods and requires a sump pump, and the previous owner has the place wired for a generator and tells you to buy one, and you recognize that thunderstorms can knock out electric power, and the town where you’ve moved loses power when, you know, the wind blows, just buy a generator. That’s what I did.

I mean that’s what I did after I bailed the cellar with a bucket for 40 minutes – after the storm left, after the sun came out, while the creek ran merrily into my sump bucket downstairs and slowly filled the woodland pool I mistakenly think is my cellar – until the point of defeated exhaustion. And when you’re exhausted and defeated, there’s no place like Home. Depot.

Trying to keep ahead of a flood doesn’t make sense to me. Johnny Cash singing “how high’s the water, Mama?” is supposed to be coming out of my iPod, on the train, while I’m heading to work in New York City, not coming out of my brain while I’m running up and down through the Bilco doors to toss another paltry two gallons into the yard where it’ll just seep back in and get bailed again later. It’s fairly serious – the hydrology of the cellar is such that it can fill right on up to the sill if given a chance, thus losing the oil burner, the hot water heater and both electric panels, before finding a way out that will involve some serious erosion under the walls.

We bought a generator, connected a hose with an anti-backflow valve to our sump pump outlet and steered the water down the driveway instead of through our downstream neighbor’s sunken living room. I put a fan downstairs to dry out the floor.

The generator’s kind of complex to start, and you have to be home and you have to know the power’s out and you have to have some kind of idea what the water flow situation is like (it’s a crapshoot really – could be running, maybe not).

But no one died here this week.

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