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The Underground

Sun, Dec 10th, 2000
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Monday, November 27, 2000

Day after day
Wave after wave
Where are you going? Where are you going?
Earth wounded by so many wandering men!
Earth fertilized by the bodies of so many.
But the earth is us,
We're not on it,
We're in it for all time -
- Robert Desnos

Saturday afternoon: I have gathered a big pile of clothes, put them in my washing machine, added soap and turned on the water. Ignoring the fact that the machine sounds different than usual, I go outside to scrub the birdbath. I ignore the fact that the pump sounds different, that is, until the water stops running. I check the electric box and find the circuit breaker off. I switch the breaker on repeatedly and each time it kicks out.

When my husband arrives home, he can tell by my face that something is wrong. He knows he will have two jobs, one to deal with my anxiety and the other to fix what caused it. He first checks for obvious problems, but finds nothing. He says he will have to wait until morning to check it out thoroughly. I pull my soap-soaked clothes out of the washing machine and hang them up to dry.

My four pop bottles of standby water probably won't see us through the night, so we look around for good water containers, but don't find any. Our neighbors, the Erikson's, loan us their containers and give us water. And now it's back to the old days, some twenty years ago before we had a well, except today we haul water from the neighbors instead of from our spring along the Big Woods road. Another difference now is that we're a quarter century older and water feels heavier than it used to.

Without the convenience of running water, it takes me two hours to wash dishes. Towards the end, I become more efficient as I begin to recall how I did it in the past. Of course, we don't have the use of our toilet now either. It's been a long time since we've had to pee in a jar.

On Sunday morning, Art determines that the trouble is not above ground. Our twenty-four year old pump has probably pumped for the last time. It's a relief to know the worst.

We call Larson Well Drilling of Mabel, the company that drilled our well twenty-four years ago. They still remember us and say someone will be here Monday morning at eight o'clock with a new pump.

I pour our remaining water into old ice cream pails, pop bottles and jars and return to Erikson's with the empty jugs, saying to myself, I will never be without water again.

Now I keep expecting other things to go wrong and am surprised that our car, electricity, gas heat, computers and telephone still work.

On Monday morning at eight o'clock, two young men arrive in a large truck with a hoist and go to work. They pull heavy-duty wiring and eleven twenty-one-foot pipes out of the wellhead. I see now that the term pulling a pump has a literal meaning.

The old pump is attached to the last pipe, which was 238 feet below ground poking through the limestone bedrock and into the Jordan sandstone formation. The well is cased and grouted to this point. Beyond this point is an open hole going into the Franconia formation 280 feet below ground, or nearly as deep as the length of a football field. According to the 1995 "Geologic Atlas of Fillmore County," analyses show water in these aquifers could be as old as 35,000 years, which means that their recharge from above ground sources occurred so long ago they are not likely to be contaminated. However, over a long period of time, they could become contaminated, as polluted water closer to the surface will eventually recharge them.

The workers attach the new pump and the wiring to the last pipe and begin the reverse procedure of lowering the pump 238 feet. By 10:30 a.m., the job is done. Our first water comes out gritty and brown; it begins to run clear a couple hours later.

It's interesting that our access to this age-old water wouldn't exist without modern technology, without modern drills, hoists or electricity. Art smiles as I begin to wax philosophical about our physical and spiritual connection to this ancient place and time.

Nancy Overcott

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