Tough Day

I wrote this entry ten days ago, but then a tsunami of work for my job swept over me before I could post it.

On Friday I had a parent conference after school so I was late getting to barn chores. With snow in the forecast I was determined to finish removing the final load of bedding from the inner sheep stall, dump it in the back field, and return Larry’s trailer before it was snowed in at my farm for the winter.

At last! Bare floor! Last year I had covered the sheep stall with rubber mats in an effort to make mucking easier. I’m not sure anything makes prying out the heavy, foot-deep bedding easier, but it is satisfying to see the rubber again.

Since the mats trap urine, I cover them with a thick layer of shavings.

Because shavings are problematic for fleeces, I then cover the shavings with mulch hay.

This rich mix of hay, manure, and urine is hard to remove but a tonic for my fields.

Yesterday morning Larry arrived at 7:30 to pick up his trailer. I showed him the pile of gravel on top of my septic tank. “You need to get that moved right away!” he exclaimed. I agreed glumly. He tried the key of my tractor. “Dead!” He scolded me for not having built a garage for it. “Just sittin’ here rustin’ and losin’ value.”

I could feel tears behind my eyes but I nodded and thanked him for the use of his trailer.

After Larry left I called Damon, who did not answer. As I fed the cows I’d had a brainwave. I was trying to remember the last name of Leon, an older gentleman who worked for me briefly years ago when Allen was sick. Maybe if I could get the tractor started, Leon could move the gravel off the septic tank. I called Mike, who was planning to help me drain all my mowers for the season. Mike couldn’t remember Leon’s last name either.

I told Mike about the septic problem and the non-starting tractor. Mike is a small engine man, not a heavy equipment operator, but he’s a friend. “Sis, I’ll do whatever I can.” We agreed to meet at 11. I drove to town for groceries, eating a sandwich for breakfast as I drove. I stopped at the carpet store. A man had been supposed to come to measure our stairs for an estimate on installing a carpet runner, and naturally had never showed. (At this point I am surprised when anyone does arrive.) I made a new appointment, picked up groceries, and brought them home.

Mike came and together we addressed the tractor. It would turn over but would not catch. “She’s tryin’,” Mike observed, mystified, “but she’s not gettin’ fuel!” I looked at the innards of the engine and had no idea what could be wrong.

We abandoned the tractor and moved on to draining all the mowers. Mike left and I called Damon again. Still no answer. I left him a message about the fuel line mystery.

It seemed there was nothing to do but begin moving the gravel with a shovel. Earlier, on hearing of the gravel crisis, my wonderful friends Alison and Tom had volunteered to help, but I had been sure that Mike and I could start the tractor so I had thanked them and declined.

First I had to cover the basement window. The last thing I wanted to do was accidentally break the glass. I found a heavy scrap of 3/4″ plywood at the barn and, fighting a high wind, screwed it in. It immediately blew off. I caught it and screwed it in again all the way around.

Next there was the problem of the stairs. In 2017 the builder had installed a set of temporary porch stairs, cut down from interior construction stairs, to meet code for our inspection. The plan had been that he would build permanent stairs later. (That job has moved to my list.) But now the temporary stairs were not only in my way for moving gravel, but partially buried under the stone.

Even when I unscrewed all the supports, the stairs would not budge. I trudged through the rising wind to get my sledgehammer from the garden shed. After a dozen crashing swings at the stairs, the old sledgehammer broke in half — and still the stairs were stuck. By this time I was so discouraged, I simply picked up the heavy head of the sledgehammer in my gloves and used it like a primitive stone tool. After ten minutes of bashing and pulling and digging, at last the stairs were out of the way.

I was cold and wet and the wind was starting to howl. I went inside for dry boots and gloves. Damon called. No fuel to the tractor? “Did Mike push the fuckin’ throttle forward?” “Oh, dear,” I said, defeated. Could he come out?

No, his back was hurting, the weather was terrible. “Can’t use it anyway. Pushin’ it off, your tractor would be on the tank same time as the stone.”

“Oh, right, OK.” My voice was starting to tremble. “Thanks anyway.”

I hung up and went back to my shovel. Looking at the stone, it occurred to me belatedly that the giant pile completely blocked the expensive drainage I’d paid to have sculpted in 2017. If I did not move it, the basement would flood again.

I rarely cry when I’m alone but I do find my breath coming in strange tearless sobs. I began shoveling. The whipping wind blew stinging snow in my face and flattened my coveralls against my legs. My bad elbow protested with every heavy load. I could not use my bad leg to force the shovel into the pile, so I tried to perfect a skimming technique over the surface of the stones.

In a couple of hours I had the area under the window covered with a scant two inches of stone.

It needed another inch. The other 9/10 of the 20-ton pile had been meant for other projects around the farm. I had planned to have it dumped where Damon could reach it next summer to repair the driveway, line our culvert entries and exits, build up wet spots in the barn paddock, etc. Not sitting on my septic tank, breaking my septic system, blocking my drainage, and flooding my basement!

My nose was running in the cold and I was still shoveling hopelessly when Damon’s truck drove in through the wind and snow. He drove down past the barn and up around the house. He rolled down his window and nodded at the stone.

“Right on the fuckin’ tank! I’m surprised he didn’t fall in, backin’ over it!”

It was such a relief to see his gruff, unshaven face, to know someone smart was going to help me problem-solve, that now the tears came to my eyes. I put down my shovel. “Damon, thank you so much for coming out! I’ve been pretty close to losing it.”

“I noticed.”

“It’s blocking my drainage! The basement will flood again!”

He nodded again. “Yup. Fuckin’ stupid bastard.”

We discussed what to do. It would require an excavator to shift the stone. Damon no longer owned a trailer so we could not use his machine. He had a friend I might be able to hire. But really the excavation company should do it. They had caused the problem. I should call and be tough.

With that settled, “Let’s go start the tractor.” At the barn, Damon limped over to the tractor and pulled himself up. He shifted levers, turned the key, and the tractor coughed to life. He flashed me a sardonic smile. So much for Larry and Mike!

He drove off in the dark. I did barn chores, exhausted and aching in every joint.

I called the excavation company. No answer. I felt defeated, but Alison told me firmly, “Call him again.” This time the owner answered. He was at a hockey game. “What do you expect me to do?” It was almost a whine.

I told him that he needed to bring an excavator and move the stone. Though it wouldn’t be ideal for my purposes, he could park the excavator next to the pile and simply pivot the bucket to drop it on the other side, making a new pile uphill, off the tank. He said he would meet me at 2 PM on Monday to take a look at the problem.

Now I still had to deal with our well issue. After canceling twice, the well man had been supposed to come Friday but had emailed Friday morning to cancel again, saying he would “probably” be at our house Monday. The temperature was due to drop to 15° F. Unless I did something, the faulty switch would freeze again and we would be without water. Meanwhile, as we had talked in the blowing snow near the giant gravel pile, Damon had asked me about the pressure tank the man planned to install in our basement. “Does he know you got three separate water lines? I don’t think that’s gonna work.” What? Really?!? Another insurmountable problem? I felt near hysteria, except that I was too tired to cry. I begged Damon to speak to the well man and explain our underground pipes.

I came inside and called the well company. As it was Saturday night I could only leave messages. I trudged out again in the dark to wrap the well head in a heat tape, covered by a giant trash can. I buried the bottom of the can in snow to keep it from blowing away. I found scraps of boards to cover the lead cord that ran across my tenant’s walk so he wouldn’t trip over it.

By the time I was cooking dinner, I was in a slightly altered state. Though I was physically tired, my real exhaustion was mental. My ability to think seemed entirely gone. The well man called and agreed to talk to Damon. He called back half an hour later to assure me that everything would be fine and he’d be at our house Monday morning.

If the two contractors keep their word and show up, it appears that with the help of my friends, I may have found a solution to both overwhelming house problems. If they show up. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Last night I woke at 1:15 with another episode of atrial fibrillation. Too much anxiety, too little sleep. I’m fine now, just tired, but the school week ahead, ending with parent weekend, promises to be long.

NB: Made it to the finish line. I’ll update soon.

2 Responses to Tough Day

  1. mutheherd says:

    I find it hard to believe a “small engine” guy (even if he is a friend)….didn’t get it started. If it was running when it was parked the last time it was used….”not getting fuel” should not be a problem.

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Mike is not really acquainted with heavy equipment. He repairs lawn mowers and weedwhackers. It was very cold, the wind would soon approach 50 mph, and he thought the diesel might be too sluggish. He tried his best to help me and that’s all one can hope for from a friend.

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