June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Reflecting upon the value of drainage

A man’s life is, more or less, all about drainage.

In the beginning, it’s potty-training. And in later years … well, I don’t really even like to think about that.

In the middle, however, it’s a lot of lonely digging — a man and his shovel, excavating trenches, leaning thoughtfully on his spade to assess the situation. He’s carting gravel, laying tile, cleaning gutters, filling in low spots, grading slopes, all in search of the elusive dry basement.

The showers of April … and May … and June … and July, all pointed to the need for me to do something about the one corner of our sandstone cellar that seeps water when the gutters overflow in a heavy rain. Which, this spring and summer, seemed to occur at least once a week. At last, here in August, the weather is dry enough to dig.

So, I undertook the installation of a French drain, which I had watched a landscaper and homeowner install in about five minutes flat on an episode of “Ask This Old House.”

Our house is closer to its 200th birthday than not. Any time you go digging around a place like that, engineering quickly turns into archeology. Bits of old glass, a piece of china dinner plate, red-orange chunks of ancient brick, lots of sandstone, shards of slate from the roof. I kept hoping to find the prized rare coin or Civil War relic or antique bottle or cache of Depression cash would be worth enough money that I could hire the This Old House crew to dig this trench for me.

Below the treasure line, or where the treasure would be if I ever found any, the soil in southern Medina County turns to a nice, solid layer of orange-brown clay. It makes me think of beloved Cleveland Browns linebacker Clay Matthews and is just as difficult to get through. Digging in stubborn clay gives a guy plenty of time to think.

Two weeks into my evenings-and-weekends project, I began to wonder: What the heck do the French know about drainage, anyway? I would feel a much higher degree of confidence if it was called, say, a Netherlands Drain. Those Dutch know drainage. Maybe a Venice Drain. A French-Canadian Drain, even. Does anyone in France ever dig a ditch? The whole country takes the month of August off for vacation. It didn’t seem right for me to be spending my month of August digging a French drain.

Nobody writes poems about August — memorable ones, anyway. Nothing rhymes with the word “August.” That’s the problem. The best we can do are near-rhymes, which aren’t very good. Sawdust. Nonplussed. Robust. Pie crust. Not much to work with.

One day in August

I made a pie crust

Out of fresh sawdust.

Tho’ I found it robust,

My wife was nonplussed.

See, August just doesn’t soar. It doesn’t inspire like May flowers or October foliage or December snowflakes. Poets wax rhapsodic about all that, but not about August. It’s the month with no holidays.

There’s no National-Something-Month designation. All we know about August is it was named after Augustus Caesar. Isn’t he the guy who taxed the world? Is that really the sort of person you want to name a month of the year after? Those Tea Party people ought to look into this, I think.

By August, Mother Nature is looking a little rough. She walks out the front door in the morning in her rumpled bathrobe to get the paper. She nudges the cat out of the way with one of her frayed pink slippers and none too gently. The blush of summer is gone. Mother Nature looks drained. She brushes her hair away from her face and reads the back-to-school ads. She is nonplussed.

The peaches are ripe, the grass is dying back, the garden is bulging with zucchini, the baby birds have left the nest. August is the new September. What’s left for her to do but put the kids on the bus and call it a summer?

After a few weeks of digging, feeding the mosquitoes, and lots of thoughtful leaning on my shovel handle, the French drain is in, awaiting the autumnal rains, the frost on the punkin, and the poetry of fall. Oui-oui, Mother Nature. Or, as we say in America, “Wee-wee!” Turn on the spigots. I’m ready.

Contact John Gladden at gladden@frontier.com or on Twitter @thatjohngladden.