Deirdre Kelly

Beware the Tides of March

It’s March and in my province of Ontario that means one thing: The thaw has finally come.

It started just this week, after a couple days of warm weather. Overnight, melting snow produced fast-flowing muddy rivers cascading from the top of the mountain ridge close to my rural property north of Toronto.  It also created deep puddles in my backyard in which I could see last fall’s unraked leaves, their brilliant autumnal colours preserved by the ice, twinkling inside the depths, a reminder of the life that was and the life yet to come. I saw it as a sign that spring is coming, time of rebirth.

All this water got me thinking of faraway Egypt, source of the Nile, how each year when the riverbanks overflow life returns to the surrounding desert.

Where I live is not arid, far from it. But still the winter did starve the land around Georgian Bay, near the Bruce Peninsula, of life forms that only this week started to make themselves known again with the return of flowing water.

These included flocks of Canadian geese suddenly back  at nearby Christie  Beach after wintering south of the border, and deer venturing out of the woods to forage openly for food, tender newborn fawn by their side.

I experienced a kind of rebirth myself just watching it all.  All this week, I slept better, yelled at my kids less, cleaned the kitchen more. I even remembered each to take my vitamins in preparation of the return of summer, the return of me, bare-legged and hat-free.  As the waters around me kept flowing, I was carried away on a fantasy of self-renewal. I would be stronger, more resourceful, better accomplished!

Emboldened, yesterday I strode through the puddles on my lawn to retrieve a stray plastic bag that had blown up against my cedar hedge.  Earlier in the week, I had been stubbornly ignoring it, my spring cleaning  impulse not yet having broken free of the lethargy of the long, cold winter. My kids had noticed small leak in the hose leading from the crawl space where a sump pump this week has been working overtime in redirecting the spring run-off from below my house. I thought I’d use the bag to bandage it up, kill two birds with one stone so to speak: fix a leak, clean the yard all in one semi-lazy go. To find the hole in the hose I positioned myself alongside it and waited for the water to spew as it always does this time of year, every three minutes or so. I’d spot the the geyser and set to tying my tourniquet.

I waited, looking at the lake-sized puddle just beyond the mouth of the hose that had grown since the beginning of the week.  I waited some more. And then some more. That’s when I grew worried.

The water wasn’t spewing. It wasn’t even dripping. Impossible, I thought as I sprinted through the water-logged grass to the rear of the house to access the crawl space.

I threw open the trap doors to the basement and then, whoosh! My own Nile flood! There was water everywhere, rising higher than my ankles. I knew in that instant that the sump pump wasn’t  working. I just didn’t know why.

The water was too deep for me to venture inside. I was wearing winter boots and they’d fill with water and likely pull me under. I ran past my son who, on seeing the panicked look on my face, asked me what was the matter. I was back to my old self. I yelled at him to back off.

Inside the house, I found an old pair of rubberized riding bots in the hall closet and pulled them on. I opened the doors beneath the sink and grabbed my canary yellow dish-washing gloves. I didn’t exactly know what I was going to to do with them. But I knew I needed to be prepared. I then glanced at the clock on the wall oven door: 6pm in a small town on a Friday night.  I was as good as doomed.

I jumped back down the outside stairs and waded through the deep in my  basement toward the flailing sump pump.  I could hear its motor whirring. But water was not flowing out, only in, and higher by the minute.

As luck would have it, I had earlier in the  week re-established contact with a  plumber I had worked with last summer. I meant what I said about wanting to be organized, anew spring 20011 me.  Just that day I had called him in hopes that he’d still be available to work with me when the weather got nicer, as I had plans to install a small bathroom in anew side addition. He had come during the day to pick up some documents I had left in a plastic milk bag tied to the door handle. Too bad I hadn’t know to tell him about the flood. The truth was, I hadn’t at all noticed that the sump pump, which normally clangs like an old train under the floorboards, hadn’t been working. I thought back on it: I think it must have been silent for at least 24 hours. I had obviously been too focused on my self-renewal projects to notice. I felt in that moment quite foolish.

Doug, the plumber, normally doesn’t answer his phone after noon on a Friday. But I dialed his number anyway. I was desperate. I had no one else I could call.

Just as I suspected he didn’t answer the phone. I left a voice message and then again ran downstairs to see if I could figure something out. I plunged a gloved hand into the murk and pulled it right back out again. Who am I kidding?

I ran back up the stairs and into the house and pushed redial, muttering a small prayer. Miraculously,  Doug answered, saying, “Please tell me me you got it going yourself.”

I told him I hadn’t, and apologized for calling him at night. He was having his dinner, he told me.  “But I’ll be over in half an hour,” he said. I thanked him profusely.

True to his word, he soon arrived in his truck on my driveway, carrying a pair of rubber boots under one arm, a tool kit with a blow torch under the other. He said it would be a one-man job, but I was so grateful for his assistance that I followed him down into the subterranean lagoon, offering to hold the flashlight while he wrestled with the black snake of a hose in the basement.

I made idle chatter while he took apart the sump pump, awkwardly linking my little natural disaster with the recent tsunami in Japan, as if the two were linked. After some banging around, Doug discovered that the hose was blocked with silt, stones and other bits of debris likely carried in to the crawl space by the thaw. It took some time, but eventually he unclogged it and soon got the water flowing out again. I was mightily relieved. Without his help, I really did think my house would have floated away. He bade me a good weekend, telling me he’d bill me later.  Nice guy.

That should have been the end of my pre-spring troubles, but after he left I was still so consumed by nerves that I opened a bottle of wine and gulped back two glasses in rapid succession, something I know not to do, and then sliced open my thumb with the vegetable peeler as I tried, belatedly ( it was now after 8pm) to make dinner.

My blood flowed as rapidly as the water outside my door, soaking through the makeshift bandage I had crafted from a sheet of paper towel.  It too was a sign of life, if not a sign that I am only all-too-human. Meaning fallible. Prone to making mistakes. In spite of myself.

And so I went to bed nursing if not the beginnings of a hangover, then the realization that I am flawed and that nature, as wonderful as sometimes can be, could kill me, if I’m not careful.

I guess that’s what’s known as a real spring awakening.

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