Friday, June 13, 2014

drainage issues: mike mulligan vs miss bridie

One of the projects for our home improvement work here has been to address the moisture issues in our basement. And by moisture I mean that the basement regularly floods to several inches deep every time it rains. Our sump pump routinely turns on when it sprinkles.  And we have an ice dam in the wall that is created by what our contractor refers to as the best textbook example of the circumstances most likely to create a horrible ice dam that he has ever seen. This perfectly constructed disaster has resulted in some damage to our plaster walls, ceiling, as well as rot to the siding outside.

And also, it turns out one of the reasons our house is difficult to heat is that it is moist.  And poorly sealed.  So much so that our blower door test indicated five times the normal level of heat loss.

So, with the basement now insulated with spray foam, it was time to address drainage.  We live, basically, on a river bank.  And the basement had become a part of the route for rainwater to drain into the river.  Deep gouges in the bank where water runs deep during the spring thaw also show just how much water passes through our property.  You can see dark lines on the basement walls where the water enters high near the street and exits low headed for the river.

I was out in the fruit patch putting in a new bed for rescued strawberries I was transplanting there from the rhubarb patch.  When this arrived.


I leaned my shovel against my wheel barrow and walked over to the landscaping people who were arriving for the day to grade the ground away from our foundation and install a series of drainage pipes and a catchment basin underground to divert rain water runoff away from the foundation, focusing drainage efforts particularly in the area of our textbook ice dam corner.

The young man in charge, strangely not named Mike Mulligan and -- making me feel quite old -- a former student of Jonathan's, used the word swale approximately 27 times in the course of the brief conversation we had together. They were installing several, whatever they were.

After talking to him for a bit, I walked back to the fruit patch, picked up my cell phone and immediately googled swale.

Swale: Originally a term used to describe a shallow pit used for drainage, the word has since gained popularity in the scientific community as a term of approval. As it, "Damn, that journal article you published sure is swale." It is now considered a synonym of cool in the scientific community.

Urban Dictionary 
So as he fired up his backhoe, I fired up my shovel.
She could have picked a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel back in 1856.

And started poking, pulling, lifting and otherwise removing the sod from a marked new bed for the strawberries, between a row of raspberries and a line of highbush blueberries.  

I had a good view over there of the power tool goings on.

Which meant they also had a good view of my silly shovel work, glancing at me and waving from time to time as I pulled out a chunk of sod and shook it, trying to leave behind as much of the soil as possible.  And they, two hands back on their levers, reached down with their enormous scoop and removed an entire shrub out of the ground in two seconds.  I walked over to the laundry line and removed a towel.  To wipe the filth I was covered in from sod wrestling off my face.  I am not used to an audience for the weird things I do back here.

I was familiar with these shrubs they were removing.  Jonathan had taken one on over the weekend, removing its half dead ugliness from an area where we are going to put a picnic table.  He did a very nice job.

It took him three hours to pry this shrub out of the ground.  Since we don't have our own Super-Axe-Hacker.

He used our favorite shovel.

It had a substantial root system that he pried and snipped and sawed and jumped on to get out of the ground.  Because he loves teaching Greek Myth, Jonathan took to calling it Medusa.

Once removed, he was exhausted.  And retreated to other less muscle dependent activities.  

And so, earlier this morning, I had finally taken Medusa to her final resting place.

We call it the Olde Brush Pile.  It is in an area of the river bank that had eroded quite severely from run off, and we decided it would be good to try to reinforce and protect it from further erosion by filling it with our yard waste.  It is now home to all manner of organic materials, branches, raspberry prunings, leaves, 30 million tiger lilies, and weeds from the garden.  And approximately 47 of the tenacious half-dead shrubs we have removed from here and there.  

Given that it is down the bank a bit, you can imagine that getting a heavy and full wheel barrow down there to dump it is no easy task.  I have a rather wild and out of control system of aiming the wheelbarrow toward the rather narrow space between two trees.  The space is approximately 2 inches wider than the wheelbarrow.  So it takes some careful aiming.  Because the hill is so steep that once the wheel barrow is rolling, it is not going to stop until it hits something.  Hopefully not me.

So it had taken me about 30 minutes to get Medusa down there, then out of the wheelbarrow and then to get the wheelbarrow back up the hill again.

I turned my back to the back hoe for a bit.  And wrestled with sod.  That's when my trusty shovel, the one that has removed and turned and dug everything with me here since my last shovel's death by tiger lilies.  Broke.

Interesting.  Just like Miss Bridie's, I would think.

I laid it near the hedge and went to the garden shed for Trusty Shovel Number Two. How quickly I move on.  I can hear Hamlet yelling at me now.  Frailty, thy name is woman!

And went at that sod again.

Meanwhile, over where the engines were roaring, the pesky shrubbery was removed.  And a rather nasty looking hole had been created in our lovely privacy providing lilac hedge.  Hmmm.

Before I knew it, before I could even photograph the gaping hole, we had been swaled.

Feeling a bit shy around the workers, the kids had hung out inside, watching the team's work through the windows.

But as soon as they left, they ran out the door to check it out.  And I could not possibly have anticipated what they discovered.
Then he grunts, "I will call you by Whisper-ma-Phone,
for the secrets I tell are for your ears alone."
Down slupps the Whisper-ma-Phone to your ear
and the old Once-ler's whispers are not very clear,
since they have to come down
through the snergelly hose,
and he sounds
as if he had
smallish bees up his nose.
from The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

Before I realized what was happening, they had gotten out our old and kinked snergelly garden hose, with a sprinkler screwed on so tightly that it is now permanently attached to one end.  And set it up to give this here drainage system a try.

There was a good deal of running about and peeking in the tubes where the water was supposed to drain from the system.  When suddenly, Elliott found what they were looking for.

The hose water was indeed coming out of it.

There was much excitement.  (And here, I have to say it...thank goodness for summer vacations.  When such things can happen.  Collaborative unstructured scientific investigatory silliness and hootenanny).

And then, they heard a sound.  It was the sound of an ambulance siren passing by on the street, but coming through the drainage pipe.  Could, in fact, more than just water come through these pipes?

But how, they wondered, could they get to the drain to try when the hose was spraying cold and pelting water?

I've got this, yelled Julia.

And so, kink installed, she approached...and spoke into...the drain.

I can hear you, shouted Elliott back at her. 

His voice sounding as if he had smallish bees up his nose.

Nicholas investigated other potential sound systems.

Whether trickling water would carry the sound differently was tested.

So it turns out our drainage system was quite a bargain, because we got a two for one special.  We also got a whisper-ma-phone installed.

There was a good deal of swaling done that day.  

And today?  The whole system is getting quite a workout -- of the intended kind -- as it tries to cope with the near constant downpour.

As is the new scuba gear outfit, couture and custom made for our bulkhead door.

And the hole in my hedge doesn't look any better in the rain.

But the basement is dry.  And the system is working.

And therefore, this very old house is a bit drier than it has been in a very long time.  

That new drainage/sound system?  It is totally swale.


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