December 17, 2008
I was still in my bathrobe, working on my column for the Portland Tribune, when a big bang interrupted my writer’s trance. I figured it was the UPS guy who loves to run up the porch, drop a package and then rap on the door like there’s a fire. But then, I heard more banging. I ran to the door and there was my neighbor Denise, pointing to a large geyser shooting up in my front yard. Oh my god, it looked like someone had installed a huge jet fountain right beside the driveway.
I knew the shutoff was right there beside the geyser, but by now a small lake had covered it up. I ran for the phone and in my panic asked information for the Portland Water Bureau and was speaking with them before I realized I needed the West Slope Water Bureau. Dialed again, got lovely Heidi, who stays calm through all emergencies, and within minutes Bart and his crew were on the scene.
But even before Bart arrived, a young man knocked on the door and offered to help. A contractor, working in the neighborhood, he had the right tool to shut off the water, but didn’t have high boots. Soon the real experts arrived and began fishing through the lake to find the shutoff valve.
Once they turned the water main off, the actual catastrophe seemed less dramatic. Water pooled away from the lake and everything calmed down, including my racing heart. Turned out the hose big connection had burst, not a pipe, thank goodness, and I’d just have to replace it. The men went to lunch and returned later, shut off the irrigation valve (which delivers water to the garden) and turned the main back on, so I’d have water to the house.
While I waited for them, I surveyed the damage. The water had washed away the soil around the roots of a newly planted ‘Coppertina’ ninebark and uprooted some recently planted spurges and hyacinth bulbs. Even in the cold I was able to dig out some frozen wood chips from the big pile on the shoulder of the road—mulch the garden paths—and cover the roots for now. I poked the bulbs and spurges back into the ground and hoped for the best.
I tried to give the water bureau guys a tip, but they refused it over and over, so I handed them a shopping bag of goodies that I was going to take to a party next week—little boxes of cookies, candy, popcorn, truffles, from a Harry and David gift package that my dad sent for Chanukah. I was relieved that they let me give them at least that. Those poor guys! One had his arm a foot down in the icy water trying to find the shutoff valve. They were so kind, too, said I just needed to buy a new hose bib top and to remember to shut off the water next year, without any lecturing or hectoring.
Ironically, I’d shut off all the water to the front and back yards and to the greenhouse, weeks before this cold front hit, but didn't think I needed to shut off this particular box as it's always been sound. Until now.
It's been a while since I had such an adrenaline rush. It took about half an hour to get back to normal. I think I've had my excitement for the week. I'm staying in now, with a cup of hot tea and the cats for company. Napping as usual, they took it all in stride, that is, if they noticed anything at all.