Some weeks it doesn’t pay to get out of bed. It has been one step forward and two steps back here at the home place. Not all bad but just a lot of aggravation.
I’ve lived here for over a year and a half but my learning curve is still bothersome. There are several “systems” that are new to me — things I never encountered before that are major components of how things work. I had no idea of what an “evaporative cooler” was or how radiant heat worked when I moved here. I never had a well or a septic tank before.
I grew up in a place that got around 40 inches of rain each year and no one had a need for a sprinkler or irrigation system. Here, we get about 8 inches of rain and it is common to have some sort of irrigation system. I’m the fourth owner of the place and the first owner, way back in the late 1990s, installed an expensive sprinkler system. They had horses and were hoping to grow grass out of the sandy soil and sagebrush. Twenty years later I come along and try to figure out what they had installed. My neighbor says the system hasn’t worked in ten years….or at least was not used for that long. The original owners left in a huff when the city told them that they not only could not install lights around their horse corral for night show riding but they were not allowed to keep horses on the property over night in the first place. Seems like they didn’t check the zoning rules before they built the house and brought in the horses….or figured they could bluff their way through. It didn’t work.
So, here I come. I figured out how to turn the sprinkler system on but only one sprinkler worked and it sprayed water on the gas meter. That made no sense to me. I would periodically go and fiddle with the system controls and ponder why it didn’t work. My neighbor said I should have a manifold somewhere. Manifold? I searched the yard and found nothing other than what I figured was the access to the well and pump. Finally I got the system working just by resetting the controls and starting from scratch. This was just dumb luck because there is no manual or instructions to speak of and no map telling me where the sprinklers were. Suddenly I had things popping out of the bare ground and squirting water around the front yard. The little drip spigot by my fig tree started bubbling water. I suddenly saw potential. Maybe I could get the fig tree to do something!!! Maybe I could get the yard to have some living plants other than sage and saltbush!!!
I was happily planning out the future. I bought a few plants. I discovered a second sprinkler system that is a manual sort of thing connected by a hose to the well hydrant. I raked and cleaned up the yard and removed the dead debris. I planted a red osier Dogwood over by the driveway. I planted some blazing star bulbs and planted some native wildflower seeds. I turned on the hose/hydrant system to provide some water for my new plantings.
Nest morning I realized I forgot to turn off the hose/hydrant system. That was not good --- I should be more careful. Live and learn. “Don’t get distracted and always finish what you start” should be my motto.
I noticed that the goldfish pond was low so I turned on the hose and added some water to the pond. It was down about six inches and it’s a big pond so it takes a while to add the water. I went inside to get another cup of coffee. About midnight I remembered that the pond had been filling. YIKES. I ran outside and turned off the water. Happily, the fish were still there. The pond was quite large and the fish were swimming places where they had never been before but that was okay. They were having a great time. My pump and filter system was under water…not good. I pulled out a couple buckets of water but realized I’d be at it all night if I was going to use a bucket. I went to bed.
Next morning I figured out how to drain the water using a large funnel and a hose at the waterfall where the pump returned the water to the pond. It took most of the day to get the water level back down to where it belonged.
Meanwhile, every day I was doing more raking and planting and the sprinkler and drip system seemed to be fine. Then one morning I noticed that two sprinklers were running at 9 AM when they should be off. Why is that? Apparently they had been on all night because there was a lot of wet mud and puddles of water. I tried to turn them off with the controls…nothing happened. I reset the controls back to zero….nothing happened. I unplugged the controls….nothing happened. Hmmm. I have rogue sprinklers. Since I have no manual or instructions, I went to the trusty Internet. There were lots of pictures of sprinkler systems and manifolds. I figured I needed to go out and take things in hand and turn off the water access to the whole system. Inside the manifold box there should be a valve that cuts off the water. I went out and got into the only box I could find and it didn’t look anything like what the pictures showed on the Internet….but there was a valve with a handle that did look like what they were showing in the manifold pictures. With some difficulty and some WD-40, I managed to get the old valve turned and the sprinklers died down to a dribble. Ah…success! Things were looking up. I called the local sprinkler company emergency service number (this was a Sunday) and they said I probably got it fixed temporarily and they could send a repair guy next week. Great.
A couple hours later I realized there was no water coming into the house. The valve turned off the flow of water from the well. So I was back out in the yard and re-opening the valve and the sprinklers came back on but only at a low trickle.
There has to be a sprinkler manifold box somewhere. I got my rake and started scraping away some old brush and — Surprise! – there was another box under an old sage bush. The box hadn’t seen daylight in years. So…I opened it up and recognized what I had seen earlier on the Internet…except there was no shut-off valve. Of course….why would I think that there would be a shut-off valve? There was water inside the box…not good. I took a couple pictures of the box with my phone and jumped in the car and drove to the sprinkler store….which was open by that time.
“Yep…that’s a manifold box and you have water in it.” he said.
“Yeah…where is the shut-off valve?” I asked. “I have sprinklers going and can’t turn them off.”
“Did we install it?”
“I have no idea….it’s twenty years old…probably not.”
So we were not really getting anywhere. He wanted to be sure he wasn’t to blame — CYA. Finally we took the picture on my phone over to the spare parts bin and found something that looked like what was inside the manifold box. He showed me how to turn off each sprinkler valve until I found the right one.
Okidoke. Maybe this will work. When I got home my daughter had arrived so I enlisted her help in my battle against the rogue sprinklers.
“Tell me when they go off” I shouted. I started fiddling with the sprinkler valves inside the box. Almost immediately I heard screaming. She was getting drenched. She didn’t know which way to run. That is probably the last time I’ll get much help from her…
But…we got the sprinklers turned off, eventually.
As a payback for her help I took her for a short hike up in the foothills. She has been wanting to find out how to find the trailheads and parking areas to access the trail system. It was cool and windy but we had a nice short walk. We had a nice dinner and I think she almost forgot about getting wet.
Here are a couple pictures of the foothills trails. It is spring and things are starting to bloom. Maybe next week will be better. The sprinkler guy shows up on Friday.
Yesterday is even prettier than the day before. The day before, the first day after Solstice.
Solstice was low key for my wife and me, with earthy soup, bread and other foods. Rain and steely skies with a chilly wind was perfect for inducing depression. The rain finally stopped. Four thirty in the afternoon, we went to the fire pit outside, lit our Yule log, and made our supplications to the powers of existence about what we wanted out of this next year. Then we watched the fire burn and meditated until the rain returned, dousing the log before it burned down. That seemed like an ambivalent omen.
The day after Solstice found winds had swept the clouds away. Rain still tainted the landscape with puddles, trickles, and sopping surfaces but the temperature had wiggled into the mid 50s and a refreshing breeze, the sort that air freshener companies keep trying to emulate, lifted my spirits. This feels like a good day, I decreed during my walk but wonder what it means for the year.
Yesterday, it’s worse. Prettier. Sunnier. Warmer. More pleasant.
No snow tops the ranges in any direction. Usually I walk and admire the snow topping the low peaks less than a ten miles away, just two or three thousand feet higher than my town. There’s no snow there.
That’s ominous, terribly ominous. Our town has a few reservoirs and cisterns but we’re mostly about capturing and using the snowbanks’ runoff as it melts. No snowbank, no melting, no water. 2014 was a year of voluntary rationing. Short showers. Low baths. Capturing bath water to flush the toilet and water plants. Letting the yard’s grass brown without water. If you had the money or were willing to spend it, you could do those things, as the voluntary rationing was done through monetary penalties. The more you used, the more it cost you. If you’re wealthy, not a problem. Not yet.
This year is already beginning to appear to be worse. The snowbanks that we used last year were mostly leftovers from previous years. They are gone. The snow larder is bare. Enduring this water shortage last year, I told my wife, “We may need to move to somewhere with a more secure water supply.” I’m uncertain where that is. Maybe I’m being rash, premature and negative. I’ve had those genes from birth. Life has heightened their influences.
She’s mentioned to her friends that I was thinking about moving somewhere else. She didn’t completely explain why I’m seeking a move. They apparently think that if I had more friends, a more active social life, that I wouldn’t want to move. It seems my motives are completely misconstrued. Yes, I miss the ocean but I’m more disturbed by the water situation and the government’s response at all levels. Government planning seems to amount to, this, too, shall pass. Droughts have been endured before. There’s no reason for them to think this one won’t end sooner or later. Meanwhile, just hunker down and bear it. Endure.
Enduring is not much of a plan.
Today’s newspaper has a front page shout out about more new development along Lithia Way. Excellent! That’s the kind of can-do spirit needed. Businesses are failing, buildings are empty, and we have water supply problems. Certainly more new buildings are just the solution! Build, build, build, build like there’s no tomorrow.
I have a new neighbor. He (or she) doesn't seem too friendly. For several days I've been seeing evidence of something coming out of my large goldfish pond. There are wet marks on the rocks and little puddles on the sidewalk but no identifiable tracks. I have a squirrel that lives under the sidewalk bridge that crosses the little stream flowing into the pond so I figured that he must be getting clumsy and fell in. The squirrel and I have this ritual -- he decorates the area around his den with twigs at night and I clear them away each morning. The squirrel has learned to insert small chunks of prickly pear cactus in among his twigs thinking that would deter me from my morning clean up task. I admit that I'm more careful but I still manage to overcome his devilish little pranks.
The goldfish have been acting somewhat skittish when I come out in the morning to throw them a handful of food. Usually I am enthusiastically greeted and they gleefully eat what I toss in. Being happily greeted by a bunch of fish each morning offers a small spark of joy to my otherwise sleepy duties. Anyway, they have been hiding each of the last few mornings under the water lilies and don't come out unless I coax them out with some food. I didn't associate their behavior with the wet spots and sidewalk puddles.
My aged cat sometimes comes out with me when I feed the fish but this morning he decided to stay indoors. This is at 7:00 AM and the sun is just peeking over the mountain and it is about 45 degrees. It is getting colder and he likes the warmth of the house. The cat can sit in the window and watch me do my feeding and twig patrol. This morning the fish were hiding again and the water looked exceptionally muddy. It was clear yesterday...what's going on? I also noticed that the usual sound of the waterfall was quiet. It is still fairly dark but I noticed a striped bushy tail with a large raccoon attached lying in the stream at the top of the waterfall. Oh great, I thought, the coyotes attacked a raccoon and he got away only to die in my fish pond stream. As I moved closer the "dead" raccoon became very much alive and was very unhappy that I was moving toward him. Raccoons make a very threatening growl and they can stand up and make themselves look pretty big. This guy was big to begin with...he is well fed...and was not going to tolerate me getting any closer but at the same time he wasn't making any effort to get away. I plunked him with a couple small rocks and he hissed and growled but finally decided to retreat. The pond is in a walled courtyard with only one way out so he was feeling cornered. His retreat was a slow waddle out the gate and over the driveway to the fence. I followed him for a short distance and he headed off toward a dry arroyo behind the back yard.
I suspect he will be back. The fish seem to be OK and I don't think he can catch them anyway. Raccoons need access to water when they eat so he may have been using the stream for that. He waddles so slow that I don't think he could catch anything on land. I have some large snails (escargot?) in the pond and in the stream that he might be going after. I will need to be sure he is gone before my cat wanders out in the morning because the raccoon is twice his size. This is the first raccoon I've seen. The coyotes are back in the neighborhood so I'm surprised to see him roaming around -- although the coyotes don't seem to be interested in the dozen or so rabbits and jackrabbits we have bouncing around the yard.