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Rising Waters and Reality

by Robert P. Barsanti

Inch or so of water rose amid all of the detritus of our lives.  Not the things we want: the things we don’t want to throw out.  Legos; wrong-sized clothes; beach chairs, towels, and kadima paddles.  We had tucked out of sight our parents’ favorite pictures, still in frames and still waiting.  We have pots. We have pans. We have cast iron muffin tins.  And, of course, books and books and books… A whole undergraduate education in books. 

We weren’t particularly prepared for this.  When the waters rose, we had more than a few things on the floor in the tidal zone.  Nor had we bought many of the necessities of homeownership.  We have a snowblower. We have a lawnmower.  We didn’t have a wet/dry vac.  Now we have two. 

When I discovered our rising water, we finally used our snow shovels.  In a snowless winter, they could be put to use pushing the water towards the sump pump.  The two of us cursed at our inability as homeowners, we remembered out grand parents who were better prepared, more aware, or perhaps just more stoic about wet ankles.

The clues were there.  The water had formed a lake in the backyard and frozen in a north-south geological body of ice.  In the basement, a close examination of the racks and shelves showed a high water mark similar to the water now in there. 

The basement water washed away pride, ego, and the excuses.  We have owned the house for five years.  In that time, the basement had never so much as become damp.  Our complacency left us storing record albums and old clothes and things we would rather not put in a dumpster or a take-it-or-leave-it.  I had a bag of pants four inches narrower than my waist.  Seemed a waste to throw them out, I “might” get that thin again. 

But once we had removed all of those things we didn’t remember but didn’t want to forget, we were left with the spreading stain of water.  It started in a hole next to the washing machine, and then it insinuated itself under the dryer, along the wall, under the tables holding Lego City.  At our worst, we were doing penance every three hours.  Our new wet/dry vac would roar into sin-eater mode and fill itself on beautiful clear water before we would sluice it into the sump pump hole and watch it go shooting out into the grass.  When we went to sleep, we would wake up to an accusatory pool of incompetence, guilt, and self-loathing. 

Nature didn’t help.  The initial flood came at the end of five inches of rain and sixty degrees in January.  A snow melt and ground melt and a tropical storm brought the water table into our attention.  But it didn’t go away once we had said our penance and bought the second wet/dry vacuum.  When the waters eventually slid back into the hold and remained, like a wishing well, we hoped the weather would solve this for us. 

More rain came. 

This time, I invited the wise men in work boots and wide belts to come into the house.  They offered a series of reasonable solutions, included building a gutter system in the basement, building a system of gravel filled ditches (French drains) in the back yard, and dynamiting the bedrock.  One wise man noted that sump pumps were pretty small and, if we used the washing machine drain, we could just pump the water out.  Look, the old owner left these hoses here for probably that reason.


Every man has one expectation of himself.  He wants to be competent or, at least, appear competent.  He wants to be able to throw a curveball, clean a bluefish, and fix a flat tire.  A man wants to be able to look around the house and see solutions to the problems, even if he is not going to get off the sofa to do anything about it right now. 

Every three hours, the wet basement hit me in that sweet spot.  My incompetence had waves that crossed and recrossed themselves.  Much of my self-regard had washed away and got dumped into the sump pump.  Luckily, humiliation is a coat that fits me snugly, as does my knit hat of ineptitude; I was able to keep asking smarter people until the obvious emerged.  When I can’t ignore the problem anymore, I can find someone to help solve it for me. 

Which is much the same problem we all face.  It’s not an accident that five inches of rain fell over a day in January, nor is it an accident that everything melted on that weekend or that the water table rose.  Climate change doesn’t just wash away the Sankaty Bluff and Cisco Beach.  It rises up out of the drains, floods the streets, and becomes a problem that we can’t just drive through. 

This will not be the only winter that my basement will flood.  I suspect that the scientists will be proven right, again, and I will use the Wet/Dry vacuum more often than I will use my downhill skis next winter.  My ability to pretend that yesterday will be tomorrow has been impeded.  Reality has a way of rising up from the floor.  The pants won’t ever fit again; we don’t need all of those card board boxes; and my world is warmer and wetter than I thought it would be. 

We can no longer be competent with the skills our fathers should have taught us.  Competence now has a learning curve: you can no longer do what Poppy always did.  Now, competence means keeping up with the changes of a warming world, where the sewer plant is perched on the edge of the Atlantic, the aquifer is getting salty, and the creek is rising. 

Articles by Date from 2012