A Plumbing Adventure

Over the past few days I’ve noticed—somewhat subconsciously—water pooling on top of the ground next to the cutoff valve that controls the water to the barn. We’ve had little rain so that’s not the source. Here’s the picture: the PVC line and cutoff are around eighteen inches underground, with the valve accessible via an eight inch by two-foot vertical pipe. I keep a small bucket over the top end of this cylinder to keep out the rain.

Yesterday, it was sunny and warm and my cold was worse if anything. What better time to piddle outside? I donned my khaki Levi’s, tee shirt, hat, and work boots in the mudroom and walked outside. What a beautiful New Year’s Day. I was greeted by Eddie, the lab lookalike, AKA, the Black Tornado, who thanks me every day for rescuing him last May. I estimate he’s now twelve to fourteen months old. The two of us amble around the yard a while and fortuitously wind up staring at the pooling water by the barn. What better day will I have to address the issue and exercise my tenacity? I remove the bucket and notice water covering the valve a good five or six inches. I have a leak.

This wasn’t the first leak I’ve recently discovered. Thankfully, they’ve all been in the barn kitchen and not in the house. I’m confident all of them were caused by the recent cold weather. Several nights a week ago the temperatures plunged below ten degrees, two nights below five degrees.

Eddie strolls off to explore. I grab a shovel and wheelbarrow, and start digging. I’ll need to remove all the dirt and mud and pooling water in a two or three foot square to diagnose the problem. The ground is soft but heavy, saturated with water. After removing the top eight or ten inches the ground turns to a mixture of half-mud and half-slop. The wheelbarrow is almost full and I don’t want to add the messy mixture. I walk inside the barn and find a two-foot by six-foot piece of discarded metal roofing to serve as a holding place for the mud until I remove it in the days ahead.

I use the bucket to scoop the muddy slop and toss onto the metal I’d placed a couple of feet away. Ultimately I have to get down on hands and knees to reach inside the deepening hole. The bucket finally grazed the PVC pipe. I keep scooping and tossing until the water level is below the bottom of the piping. The sound of pressurized water escaping its confined space confirms my suspicions. I have a leak. What surprised me was the location of the leak. It was not from a split in the PVC pipe, but from a small hole in a Tee fitting, in the curve of one of the two sides that form ninety degree angles. It’s like a sixteen penny nail has bored a hole through the PVC creating an unobstructed pathway for water to escape.

By now, my clothes, hands, and arms are wet and slimy. And, I’m an inch taller because of the mud sticking to the bottom of my boots. Since it’s New Year’s Day, I doubt FarmTown or any other local hardware store is open. Thankfully, I have an inch-sized PVC cap I can use as a temporary fix. I walk sixty yards or so to another valve that controls all the incoming water to our place (the water meter is over a quarter-mile away on Cox Gap Road). I close the valve and return to the work-site.

Now is the perfect time to exercise my tenacity. I bucket out the water that’s filled the hole since the last bailing, then go grab a hacksaw. I have to lay horizontal on the ground to make the cuts, three are required to gain the needed access to easily install the cap. The first one is the main, the incoming line. With saw in my right hand I start making the cut but have to use increasing force to lift the PVC line on the left of the cut to provide just enough space for the saw to pass through the inch line and complete the cut. I maneuver my body enough to complete the two other cuts. To be clear, two years ago when we renovated the barnhouse we’d dug up this same area and connected a new line that carried water to a faucet at the carport. Now, both lines intersect prior to the cutoff. The third cut was somewhat optional but in order to remove the section of pipe and glued fittings, thus to make easier access to the to-be capped line, I opted to make it also. By now, I’m a muddy mess.

I bail the water that poured into the hole after the cuts, grab some dry rags and use several to wipe down the pipe. I use some rubbing alcohol to clean the end of the targeted pipe. Thankfully, I’d bought a new can of PVC glue last Thursday at FarmTown so that wasn’t an issue. I again maneuvered myself in position to apply the glue to the cleaned end of the incoming line and twisted on the cap. All this just for a temporary fix. Since I didn’t have the fittings needed to reconnect everything, the ultimate goal still lies in the future.

It’s time to wait. I know ‘they’ say PVC glue drys almost instantly but I always choose to give it a while. Unfortunately, I have other things my mind demands I do. Earlier, when attempting to move the heavy-laden wheelbarrow away from the job site I’d turned it over and half the load spilled onto the ground. True to nature, I had to pour it all out because it was too heavy to set upright half loaded. It wasn’t too difficult, but did take a while to re-shovel the water-laden dirt back into the wheelbarrow. When I finally finished, I carefully rolled the load a couple hundred feet to the edge of the woods along our south gorge and dumped it opting not to reuse it to fill the hole.

I greatly enjoyed the next ten minutes sitting in a lawn chair facing the sun. It was warm and fitting, an elixir for my bad cold, and aggravated sinuses. I closed my eyes and thought about what I’d spent the past hour or so doing, and how much writing is like plumbing. Both are arduous and messy. By messy, I don’t mean I get mud and watery slop all over me when I write. But, maybe there’s an analogy there. To create one we’ll need some figurative mud and watery slop. What could that be? Well, first, what function did the mud and watery slop serve in yesterday’s plumbing adventure? Weren’t they obstacles and barriers that huddled and hovered in the way of fulfilling the goal; they were warriors stationed at multiple lookouts, at every turn of the shovel, at every act of bailing. Their goal? To hinder, inhibit, or halt all progress?

You get the idea. Anything worth doing is difficult. There’s always an audience of excuses ready to be tapped. In my experience, plumbing does often require a high degree of tenacity, but, although it can be physically messy work, in a way it’s easy compared to writing. For me, the latter is something I literally hate doing and love doing at the same time. It is a battle every day I sit down to write. I can so easily be tempted by things pretty and ugly. The easiest thing to do is nothing, or to scroll Twitter, or watch a few YouTubes, maybe read an online newspaper article or two, or three. Writing is both physical and mental, but mostly mental.

I admit, I’m an elementary level writer and likely always will be, but there’s such power in having written. I normally start my daily writing time rereading what I wrote the day before. This does several things for me but one thing stands out. It reminds me that I was living in the moment when I wrote this. I wasn’t daydreaming, I wasn’t thinking of days gone by or days not yet seen. I was in the now, the place I yearn to be more and more every day.

As stated in yesterday’s post, writing, writing most anything, short or long, gives me a feeling of accomplishment, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Here’s something that has never existed before. I suspect it’s a similar feeling any artist gets when she does her own creating whether it’s a piece of music, a painting, or a clay pot. There’s another thing I suspect. No matter the artist, no matter the medium, tenacity is required. What is that? The dictionary says tenacity is “persistent determination.”

Back to my plumbing adventure. When I’d waited what I figured was long enough, I returned to the main cutoff and turned it counterclockwise. I could hear the water surging forward toward the barn. Thankfully, I’d waited long enough. The glue had done its job. The cap was anchored. No more leak.

One final thought before I end this rather long post. Travel with me to January 1st, 2024. What will it feel like to look back on 2023 and smile, smile heartedly at the ‘pile’ of snippets we’ve written over the course of the year? Could there possibly be 365 of these tasty and powerful morsels? But, even if the ‘pile’ isn’t what we’d hoped for, let’s start rereading. After a long while, we sense there’s a connection, currently undefined and mysterious, between the ones we wrote on March the sixth and September the twenty-fourth. Our minds sizzle, something snaps in place. Story? Could it be? Yes it is. We’ve discovered an idea for a story, whether short or long.

Oh well, this blog post is finished. It’s time to work on my novel in progress. Gosh, there’s mud and watery slop everywhere.

Author: Richard L. Fricks

Former CPA, attorney, and lifelong wanderer. I'm now a full-time skeptic and part-time novelist. The rest of my time I spend biking, gardening, meditating, photographing, reading, writing, and encouraging others to adopt The Pencil Driven Life.

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