Aug 29, 2010

The Knowledge To Practically Apply Basic Principles of Hydrodynamics In A Real World Situation:

I haz it.

When it rains outside, it's hard to tell from inside my house unless you look out a window or the dogs suddenly demand to be let in and arrive soaked to the skin, grinning and shaking. This house simply doesn't let a lot of noise in. At night storms can come and go and not ever be noted. Last night was not one of those nights, nor was it one of those storms.

Around 5 this morning I lay in bed, warm and safe and dry and deeply asleep until outside it began to sound like Katrina had decided to make her five year anniversary reappearance a day late. Lightning struck two pecan trees in the back yard and violently crashed and boomed every few minutes. A peek out the window revealed a sky that stayed lit with what I think was heat lighting because it was as rapid and jittery as a poor B-movie special effect, sans thunder. The rain? The rain was coming down with such ferocity that it seemed like we had built our house under a waterfall. I could see the silver sheen from each lightning flash reflected in the yard, quickly becoming a near solid sheet of water, and the constant impact of the rain turned it into a constantly-dancing sheet of tiny mountain peaks and valleys.

I could have gone into the garage and watched it for hours, truth be told.  And after it had passed I could have stayed even longer.  There's something about running water that enthralls me. Be it the ocean and its ceaseless tides, the roar of clear mountain water over rocks in a river, the meandering flow of icy cold spring water down a pebbled creek bed or the ponderously slow movement of a muddy bayou, running water draws me like iron fragments to a lodestone.

When I was a little kid, a yard-filling quantity of rain would mean that I would be spending the entire next day knee-deep in the ditches with a semi-straight stick used as a gondolier's pole and a piece of interestingly decayed post used as a boat. I'd be most of the day wading around in the currents and eddies of the ditches around the house, directing my imaginary sailors on their way into every bay, inlet and white water I could get it fit into. Some part of me would be watching the water run brown from the fields, mixing with the clear runoff from the yard, and all tumbling excitedly down the various bends until it ran off our property and into the neighbor's ditch. When my craft reached that point I'd turn my ponderous wooden ship about, fire up the engines and push our way back upriver, the water breaking excitingly over the bow until I could find a spot where my deep draft ship could turn again, and point her nose back into the rills that would pull her inexorably downriver.

This morning though, a boat wasn't primary on my mind. Dealing with the inevitable mess after a huge rain storm was. The culverts were clogged with detritus--pine needles, bits of bark, squirrel-gnawed cones, dead leaves, branches and a vast Sargasso Sea of grass clippings thanks to yours truly working so hard to mow Saturday. A quick glance down to the other end of our little country lane showed me just how much rain had fallen in a very short time--the road was sheeted over with water in the two lowest places, which means the people foolish enough to buy the brand new crackerjack-box houses that were built in a low-lying ex-cotton field had, if wise, already stacked sandbags in front of their doors and were ready with pumps and buckets and towels inside. Trucks and cars were stopped in the street door to door; homeowners who were not smart enough to ask anyone who'd lived here more than two years if this was a flood-prone area, and surly husbands living the country life were patrolling up and down the lane on four-wheelers, as though burning up some gas and making a useless racket would help the water evacuate their home theaters and their now-sunken living rooms.

But, that wasn't important either. Damage done, and honestly, not my problem. My own house doesn't flood, wisely being situated a number of feet above the low fields and having wide ditches. What was important to me was clearing my wide ditches out so the water could move...well, to be quite frank, could move down there to those flooded houses and that massive slue of a former field, where it has always gone. Water as we all know is going to seek out the lowest place to be, and I had every intent to make sure what amount was standing in my yard would be allowed to join its hydrous kith and kin down at the low end of Schoolhouse Rd.
So, out came the rake and the shovel, and I got to work pulling sodden piles of organic waste out of culverts and the ditch across the frontage of my house and my uncle's house next door. The water had just receded from the level of my driveway, and pulling out forty cubic yards of drowned pine tree waste started the water flowing rapidly and I could see that it had dropped off a bit even as I worked. I waded into the ditch knees-deep with the shovel and started digging out soaking wet mulch, rotten leaves the colour of peat, all sitting in the bottom of the ditch slowly composting into the soil. Piling it on the ditch banks the water sped up more and more until the water started to surpass my knees and threaten my shorts, and the miniature river between my ditch banks began to gurgle and rill in earnest, passing over exposed pine tree roots and tiny crescent-shaped bays where my shovel had bit deeper than I intended.

The once-clear water was running rich brown as well, looking for all the world like a child's 1/48th scale model of the Red River, all clay and rich sediment. I'm sure my neighbor, his own low-lying trailer situated in, of all places, a corner of his father's low-lying cotton field will appreciate the rich brown stain of clay that will no doubt be left after the water finally leaves his yard in a day or so. I'm certain he'll love the acre-wide, solid sheet of pine cones, bits of branches, grass clippings and sodden leaves that were disturbed and washed downriver from my own ditch, as chained to the natural power of running water as any antediluvian patriarch.

Hey, not my fault. If the lazy, drug-abusing wife-beating piece of shite had gotten up this morning he easily could have cleared his own (underwater) driveway and culvert of the filth that was already there, thereby allowing the water to leave his own yard much faster. Heck, I slept in VERY late this morning, until almost 9am, so he had plenty of time, and I know full well he slept a lot less easy than I did in his single-wide.

Regardless, the water has subsided now. The fiercely dry ground drank up the flood as fast as it could, and now my yard holds just a few isolated pockets of clear, shimmering water, rather than being a sheet of shimmering water holding a few pockets of green grass as it was this morning. The ditches are nearly empty, the fields having finally dispersed and hungrily sucked down the remainder of the flood. Too late to go find an interestingly rotted piece of post and a long, semi-straight pole.


Nancy Dancehall said...

Ah, my favorite river. *s*

I love the idea of the Sargasso Sea in your back yard.

Irrelephant said...

Thought you'd like the videos, Nancy. :) My back yard is not hilly but has distinct low spots that you can't see until it rains heavy, and suddenly I've got very distinct bodies of water with little springs of green sticking up. Not quite sea weed but you got the idea. lol

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that we can't indulge in the same spontaneous adventures we had as children, isn't it? Sometimes, I think that today's children have no idea how it's done, anyway. No imagination whatsoever—Anne Shirley's most damning pronouncement in the Green Gables books. You have a good eye for the beauty of nature's excess despite having to occupy yourself with the adult task of clearing the muck. Nicely written and observed, Paul.

Gordo said...

We took the boys to Toronto on Saturday to visit the Ontario Science Centre. It's one of those cool hands-on science-type places and one area has this great water thing: multi-levels, with great rushing inclines and sections that can be opened and closed. It also has a big Archimedes' screw to move the water back up to the top again. Anyway, as Cameron was having a grand old time putting up and taking down barriers to modify the flow to his liking, I said to Bridget: "Remember the old days when we could do that in a creek?"

I'm taking him down to the stream in the park on Saturday to mess about. I've neglected a vital part of his education. We'll definitely find a semi-straight stick. :-)

Irrelephant said...

Anne, you're very right. I know it's the often-lamented same story, but yes, kids have lost a lot. I'm sure our parents thought the same about us for only spending 90% of our time outside, with things like a bicycle each and real toys. lol I guess our kids will survive, somehow. Thank you for the kind words, as well. If nothing else I've always striven to see the little things, tho I'm not always so good at finding the joy in tasks.

Gordo, one of the most interesting things I learned in Developmental Psychology in college was that children playing is one of the most important parts of learning for kids--they're learning physics and natural laws and how the universe works, all in the guise of, oh, pushing a stick with another stick in a ditch. What a funny place our minds are.

And good on you for bringing the offspring out into nature--you know as well as I that there's no better classroom anywhere.

meno said...

When i am at the beach, i still stop by the engineering projects that kids are working on (sandcastles, dams) and make ohh and ahh comments and sometimes take picture of the proud and happy engineers.

Also, drug addled fools get their own rewards. You give 'sunken living room' a new and amusing meaning.