Post 74: What’s a Little Hard Labor Among Friends?

This is the second of a two-part story. For part one, see Post 73.

We were, perhaps, close to halfway done digging the trench. At this point it was a little scary. Based on what we’d done so far, I was starting to believe It could happen. But the space we had to dig through now, leading to the water meter, was busy with four decades’ worth of my improvements, and I had to wonder how many of them would have to come undone. I’d built a bricked-in pathway, a storage area for some straw bales, a gutter assemblage off the casita that led underground to my double-rose oleander, and walkways of pea gravel I didn’t want to lose in dirt piles. A tall ironwood tree, and presumably its hefty roots, were very much in the way.

But the pipe used these days for water lines is more flexible than older types. It could hug some fairly tight curves. It could skirt obstacles and wind through space like a snake. The extra amount of pipe we’d use (compared to a straight line) wouldn’t matter much in a small job like this one.

  In addition to my nervousness, though, I was having fun. You never knew what the shovel would hit or bring up. So far we’d unearthed pieces of a small pot I slowly, slowly remembered. And a section of metal downspout running nowhere, horizontally. We also uncovered a length of plastic garden edging, a foot underground, where there was no garden, and roots that seemed to run everywhere except toward a nearby tree or bush. These were mysteries and puzzles. Maybe we’d find an antique glass bottle or toy soldier lost by a kid who grew up and died long ago.

I keep saying “we” in spite of the fact that this was my property, my leaky water line, and my obligation to keep water flowing into the house—because this situation morphed into a little community project, quite on its own.

At the start, my closest people, Anna and Terry, dug in. Sometimes I wasn’t even there with them, and when I’d go back to check on things, I’d see a crazy amount of progress. My mood lightened.

Then my Minnesota friend Mary, now a Tucsonan, came over, and we sat together slowly digging with small spades around big roots. It felt contemplative, scooping the pink dirt and throwing it aside in little puffs and talking—so different from sitting in a padded restaurant booth, our mouths occupied with food. I think what we talked about was different, too. This could be a research topic for someone.

On another afternoon, Shay and Nigel came. Shay and I took positions near the alley where the water meter was. Earlier, the first plumber had pointed out the roots of an oleander there, directing my attention to the way they’d wrapped themselves around the old pipe so thickly you couldn’t see what they were wrapped around. From this I understood they might have been at fault for the rupture.

“Do you think we should cut down this bush?” I asked Shay. She had been my mentor in many ways.

The stumps of a bush next to a ditch with a pipe in it
Clipped bush. We’re looking at the old pipe running into a temporary connector (blue), then out to the meter.

She grabbed the heavy loppers and began to slice away at the cluster of stems that all reached straight up. I winced, but just a little. Oleanders used to be popular here, for their drought tolerance and showy flowers. But they bleed a caustic white milk. One urban legend says that a man died by eating a hotdog he had pierced with an oleander stick—they’re nice and straight—and roasted.

With the bush gone, a space opened up. I felt like I was in that dream where you discover rooms in your house you didn’t know you had.

Nigel was a dynamo. I’d be glancing at a piece of ground and the next minute it would be a dark void I had to avoid falling into. He smiled a lot, his beard whiter than it was the last time I saw him, and seemed to possess a rare, upbeat energy. With his shovel he tapped an X formed by two substantial roots.

Two plant roots crossing inside a ditch

“Look at these sensual roots,” he said. “They’re so tight they’ve almost joined together. Doesn’t that tell us something about human connection?”

I could see the endorphins were lifting his spirits like they lift mine. Like they lift everyone’s.

And so we finished. The plumber came on a day I wasn’t home, but Terry had offered to stand by. When I got back and went to look at the trench I couldn’t even see the pipe because he had shoveled the first six inches of dirt back in to make sure his work was protected. It would be my job now to backfill the rest, shoveling dirt from our piles, hoping I could find, underneath, the features I’d once installed. And yet to the extent I couldn’t, I didn’t care. I could create something new. I could declutter those areas, and create more orderly storage corners. It was a lot more enjoyable than shopping, and I certainly wouldn’t be working with any new stuff. I’d be reconnecting with the rocks I had collected over the years because I found them striking for some reason, and examining potted plants to see what they needed.  I’d be working in the half-nature of my back yard: within a small envelope of boosted oxygen gifted by the plants and trees, in contact with the necessary microbes in the soil and dirt (never mind they’re just beginning to be studied), parts of my skin exposed to the sun for making the vitamin D I needed. I would be the artist here. Maybe I’d set out a comfortable chair and have friends over to watch—just watch, with some a delicious cold drink of my making. Prickly pear juice, mesquite bean chai, or a saguaro syrup margarita.

It seemed like I’d just begun to dig when I realized the “hard labor” part was done—like time had magically warped. It also occurred to me that my body during those days had been pretty much free of my chronic complaints—digestive cramps, back spasms, low energy (I was tired in the evenings, yes), depression, burning mouth, key-in-lock syndrome (look it up), or the tension of stress. I’m not saying this is a medical finding. It’s just what happened.

I did read somewhere that less-than-strenuous exercise over the course of a few hours is healthier than an hour of extreme exertion. I also read about a longevity study finding that most of its oldest participants practiced a kind of exercise they naturally engaged in, like walking, pulling weeds, chasing youngsters. That’s instead of the kind of exercise you get in a gym. Sadly, I never know which research reports are going to stick in my mind over the long term, so I can rarely cite sources. Enlighten me, please, if you can.

Of course, I can’t fail to mention the money I saved by digging my own water-line ditch. The difference between the first estimate of $10,000 (which, I grant you, may have been unusually high) and what we paid in the end was $8,650. That savings isn’t as important as all the other stuff I’ve written about here. Still. It makes me smile.

Rebel Hack

Kay's torso with a purse hanging on the front, belted around the waist

What do you do with your phone when you’re outside for a while? Back-pocket storage can be complicated when you sit down. If it’s in your front pocket, you could drop it into a ditch or pond if you bend over. If you have your phone in your front pocket, I didn’t have a solution, so I made one: a harness that keeps my phone right next to my body.

Blue purse with knotted strap
Some straps can be simply knotted.
Zebra-print purse with extra strap going through a hole cut in the  ends of a decorative knot hanging in the middle
Its hanging tabs were just decorative, until I realized I could make a slit in the leather to hold the belt up.
Metallic gold chainmail purse with a gold strap laid across the center
On something like this, you’ll have to figure out a way to keep the belt in place. Behind these spangles there’s fabric, so you could sew it on, or attach some loops.

Don’t have the right belt? Pick one out at the thrift store when you look for the little bag.

This would make a good gift for almost anyone with a cell phone. Go all out and sew their initials on it, maybe even some decorative dangles. You know what they like!

You can buy these phone harnesses online, but they’re rather dull and suspender-like, not to mention too costly for such a thing. Why would you do that when you can make something colorful and personal for almost nothing, and keep those materials in the Earth? Don’t forget to follow the guidelines for reducing your phone’s radiation. Here’s what the FDA recommends.

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