LEVELING THE LINE
My dad called me on the VHF handheld this morning to deliver the bad news. The snow was low on the mountains and a freeze was predicted. This meant that it was time to level and drain the waterline.
Leveling the line is one of the most important chores we have to do here. Deer knock it down, or tree limbs fall on it. If there are any low spots because of these depredations, the water will collect in them and freeze. Then when we go to pump water, the rushing water will hit the ice blockage and either damage the line or, worse, blow up the pump.
So. Leveling the line wasn't optional, it had to be done.
I remember one late winter afternoon, it was already getting dark, when it started to snow heavily and a freeze was forecasted. And the line hadn't been drained. The tide was in and the skiff, for some reason, wasn't available, so I found myself balancing across a snow covered log that floated at a slant to get to shore while what little light there was departed quickly, and the snow fell more heavily. I inched across the edge of the log, holding my arms out for balance with a flashlight in my teeth, trying not to notice how easy it would be to fall in the icy black water licking at my boots.
Another time it was blowing a gale and very late at night when I got the call that the line needed to be drained. It was a beautiful, moonlit night, but it was scary being in the woods with the trees thrashing each other, creaking and cracking in the high wind. I was tensed, ready to run or dive if a limb or entire tree came crashing down.
Today, however, it was a beautiful sunny morning, if cold, and my dad said he'd accompany me to pump the water, since I'd be too tired to do that after leveling the line.
The first thing we had to do was climb over and around the pile of logs on the beach that had blocked our access to the waterline trail in the woods. My dad had two canes to help him to maneuver, and it's really something to see how much he can do despite the sciatica and problems caused by a major accident while working on a float out here.
The first section of waterline looked okay--unfortunately. It was the easiest part of the line to fix. I let my dad get ahead of me and take the turn-off to the dam. I continued following the waterline off-trail. This was the part I disliked. It was a case of constant climbing over mossy deadfalls, raised roots, up hill and down dale, switching from one side of the line to the other. All the while propping up the line to make it level.
I used whatever came to hand when the boards we'd orginally used proved too rotten to do their job. Sometimes I just stacked up fallen limbs under the line, or found a limb with a crotch in it to support the line. The problem was that once I'd leveled one section, sometimes the next section fell. Then I'd prop it up and the one I'd just done fell. Or it was no longer level, causing a high or low spot.
Back and forth, up and over and down, back and forth. I had to take rests since I have problems with low blood pressure and all the bending down made me lightheaded. But at least it wasn't snowing--or blowing. It was a good day to be outdoors in the woods.
I kept an eye out for our deer neighbor, but he was a no-show.
Toward the dam I found that the top of a dead spruce tree, limbs sticking out all over it like a porcupine, had fallen directly on the line. Fortunately it was a fairly low spot so it didn't do any damage.
I managed to lift one end--the heavy end, as it turned out, because I couldn't get to the light end--and pushed it up onto the rootward of a large, fallen cedar. I propped it up with more, thick, fallen limbs to hopefully keep it from sliding down onto the line again. It was far too long and heavy for me to actually remove from the scene of the crime. I took a picture, but unfortunately it didn't turn out. Probably because I was breathing hard from the exertion.
I heard my dad having trouble starting the pump, just as I had the last time, and hoped it was just the cold.
Back to leveling the line. When I'd lifted the tree top off, the equal and opposite reaction of that part of the line lifting knocked down some of the sections I'd just leveled. Newton and his Laws of Physics have a lot to answer for.
After my dad pumped the water for twelve minutes and turned off the pump, he drained it and the dam-end of the waterline. As he did that I backtracked through the woods and pulled the plugs--large screws--on the line in strategic low spots, back toward the tank. As I backtracked I found, to my disgust, that the line that had been perfectly level, had fallen down from the vibration of the water rushing through it.
So, I leveled it, of course.
I hung the plugs on the nearby trees so they'd be easy to get at the next time the tank needed to be filled, and squatted down to watch the water run out of the line, and stretch my calves and lower back.
It was nice to take a break.
It was such a beautiful day that after I was done and my dad was on his way home, I stepped out on the beach to soak in the sun and look at the straight-edge line of the snow on the mountains.
A white troller (commercial fishing boat with trolling poles) crossed the bay as I watched, a skiff pounded up the strait, probably on a hunting trip, and then a bright orange floatplane circled overhead, flying toward the village several miles away.
Everyone was out, taking advantage of this rare lull between November gales.
After relaxing in the precious sun for a while, I headed home to help my dad manipulate and adjust some of the large blocks of foam in my parents' float before the tide came in, and the next big storm messed them up.
The work is never done--but at least it's a nice day!
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Tara Neilson (ADOW)