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Running Water by Benjamin Weinberg
 

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  • When Claire and I were young and, if not foolish, at least blissfully ignorant, we lived year round and often alone on a small remote island off the coast of Maine. The island had and has no ferry service and no power. When our daughter was younger people asked why we didn’t have more kids. I told them that washing cloth diapers in the winter without running water was an effective birth control method. It was a joke but for years one of the classic black and white island post cards was an old gnarled apple tree laden with snow and in the background our log cabin and a long string of frozen diapers hanging on the line.

    Water was a constant chore. The first winter we used an old stone lined dug well. I had a big chunk of iron on a rope that I used to break the ice before I could dip buckets. There is a special flick of the wrist just before the bucket hits the water that will dip the rim of the bucket in first and let the bucket fill smoothly. I watched people who volunteered to fetch water standing on the wellhead throwing the bucket down as if the extra force would take the place of finesse.

    A couple of years later, we upgraded to a hand pump on the top of a drilled well. In the winter I carried a kettle of hot water to thaw out the pump leathers.

    Our next step in the evolution of hydraulic technology was an old ship’s bilge pump and a tank mounted on the roof of a shed. Pump the water up and let gravity bring it to the house. Goodbye buckets, hello running water. The concept was sound but the pump wouldn’t hold a prime and the flow was often not much more than a trickle. I spent hours frigging with the stubborn cast iron beast and in dry summers the level in the well went down so low that the pump’s production went from five gallons for 20 strokes to 5-gallons for 60 strokes. The dream of watering the garden stayed just that, a dream.

    When my daughter, Carly, and I built the new house we put in a solar array to power lights, laptops, the spin cycle of a washing machine, and a well pump. While we slowly worked our way to the interior jobs water now ran to the tank on the shed roof at the turn of a valve.

    Today was the day to hook up the water to the kitchen sink. On demand, running water from a pressure tank fed by an electric pump at the bottom of a drilled well. I had been ashore the day before. I told Carly I had everything I needed. I said it would be just a few minutes. I said I had it under control. I should have known there was trouble ahead.

    I am no plumber. I also tend to read directions and ask advice after I am well into a project. I say I enjoy the independence to solve my own problems. Others probably say I am stubborn. I had brought a lot of parts in two builders/hardware stores. I stood in the plumbing section for hours with my faucet and brought what looked to me a very creative system for connecting part A to part B. I have a basket full of plumbing parts hanging in the shed. Between the new purchases and my vintage stock on the island I was sure I could handle any and all possible scenario.

    The first attempt proved that the swivel fasteners for hot water hook-up hoses are not watertight. The second attempt proved that pipe clamps for a pressurized system are indeed necessary. The third attempt proved that water needs only the smallest spaces to seep through. After we bailed out the kitchen cabinets and mopped the floors I said I’d try one more time.

    Claire went to visit the neighbors.

    Carly went to the little pump house by the well and turned the valve, only half-way this time. I checked under the sink, in the wall where the connections were, turned tap and….

    This afternoon we found a lot of excuses to turn the tap and let the water run for a moment. Off and on and off again.

    Running water.

    It changes everything.
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