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Help in a Small Town

July 11, 2013

My pond in quieter times

Credit: Margaret Bolyes
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Among the many benefits of living in a small town like mine: the sense of safety and psychological well-being that come from knowing the folks you can rely on in emergencies or when you need something done you can’t do yourself.

I’m talking about more than that (important) “sense of community” connection, and more than just a list of emergency numbers. I mean the deep sense of security that comes from actually knowing as friends and neighbors the skilled tradespeople with earth-moving, brush-hogging. or haying equipment, the folks skilled at auto mechanics, chimney cleaning, removing hazard trees, doing electrical work, and more.

One example

Last night, we had something of a flood emergency when the standpipe in our pond got clogged with weeds, and a torrential downpour dropped three inches of rain in an hour.

The soil couldn’t hold any more water; it’s rained pretty much every day for the past six weeks.

It was near dusk when the rain stopped. I looked out the kitchen window and saw a deep puddle on the lawn where the pond had overflowed. A couple of large bass flopped around there, and the puddle itself was cascading down a steep pitch onto the front lawn, where an even larger puddle had collected.

That eight-inch-deep puddle now harbored eight large bass washed out of the pond and clearly unhappy in their shallow new surroundings. But even confined to that small space, they evaded our attempts to rescue them with a large kitchen strainer and a plastic bucket.

As water from the lawn seeped under the front door into the cellar, Mark dug a trench to help the puddle drain into the roadside culvert, while I unplugged the standpipe and scooped weed fragments from the pond surface to keep the pipe free of debris.

One arm of the overflow was still roaring down the dirt driveway, leaving long, six-inch deep erosion gullies and depositing piles of gravel at the road’s edge. Slowing traffic and flashing lights a quarter mile up the road signaled what we later learned were signs of the effects of six inches of water pouring across the highway there.

That night I called my neighbor Chris, who’s done various jobs of site preparation and earth moving for us over the years. I’ve known him since he was in elementary school.

I left a message asking when he might have time to clean out the overgrown swale that helps maintain the pond at an appropriate level. I didn’t hear back until this morning, when he told he’d returned home late, only to find that his own freshly graveled driveway had eroded away entirely.

He promised to stop in on his way home from work that evening to take a look, and he did. He made a quick assessment of the work involved, assured us it would be an easy job that he could get to in a few days, and also promised to bring a small load of gravel to patch the gullies in the driveway.

“Digging out the swale will take care of those sudden three-inch downpours,” he said. “But you know nobody can predict what will happen if it drops three-and-a-half inches in that same half-hour.”

I hire guys (or gals) like Chris whenever possible, because they live among the people they work for. Word would get around quickly if someone had a gripe about their quality of their work, or if their charges seemed out of line. I trust them.

These folks work hard. They know their worth, but don’t exaggerate their skills or experience, and often find ingenious solutions to knotty problems that would baffle professional engineers. They talk straight, and generally tell great jokes.

Aftermath

Late that night, after the front-lawn puddle had drained way down, the bass were partially exposed and not very mobile. Mark held two flashlights, while I easily scooped up the fish one by one with a kitchen strainer and tossed them back into the pond. 

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Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.

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