I call my friend Charlie to tell him I can't get the reviews of the eight books in on time, maybe not at all. I tell him this time it's because I've been cleaning up water since Friday night when it rained. I had noticed my cat licking something up off the floor in my second-floor study and realized it was an inch of water that had first traveled over my books and unsorted papers, enough water to make writer and paper collector quietly hysterical.
Think of the water, my friend Charlie said to me over the phone, which is why he is my friend. Try to think of the water and not of your house or yourself. Suddenly I saw it: Water as my friend, as something which had a life of its own but was reasonable all the same. In some very ancient and beautiful cities, Charlie went on, there are beautiful responses to water, not merely a matter of ridding oneself of the problem but of doing so with grace, with style, he said, or words to that effect.
Now this isn't Florence and I'm not Michelangelo so I listened very carefully. I pictured small gullies lined with beautiful bricks, various colored stones of assorted textures and sizes shaping and terracing what I could see from my window was a swollen lake seeping directly into my house. I imagined myself saying to my boss, I won't be back to work for a while, I'm building ancient gullies. I saw myself bravely carrying the stones and concrete, shoveling the soggy clay and all the while thinking of my friend the water.
As if to prove that Charlie's words were correct, when I went outside to inspect the rain coming down again, I saw a fine turtle searching for worms near the foundation of the house. A good time for worming, during a hard rain. He was orange and brown and fairly young. I thought of taking him into the house. He would, after all, feel at home there -- hard to tell outside from inside at the moment.
Instead, I went for the shovel. I noticed that the new gutters installed five minutes before were carrying the rain precisely as they were meant to, to the larger opening in the downspout and out to the ground below, but two factors were working against this. The downspout didn't extend far enough beyond the house. At four or five feet out the water made a turn and headed back for the house, as though it were singlemindedly determined to come in. In addition, the water collecting on the roof was nothing, I tell you, nothing at all compared with the river that seemed to be gathering around the back of the house and heading toward me. It hurled its angry, muddy currents around the corner and headed straight for the foundation wall and sunk ever so slowly against the house.
A moment later when I went to inspect, I found the water rising inside, up above the carpet, above the first shelf of the bookcase, and the sound of water rose like a Greek chorus as it poured through the cracks in the window wells and down along the shelves of books, through the seam in the cabinet below it to the boxes of cherished papers and photographs culled and saved after a lengthy summer sorting of 20 years' accumulation.
Ah, the music of water, how it visited us. The carpet still wet from the past few days of water fell to under the newest onslaught. The mildew had taken on the appearance of oriental paper flowers that open underwater, the appearance of old-fashioned chemical gardens grown in a glass bowl.
My son and I set to digging trenches a foot wide to lead the water off from the house. That failing, he took to scooping water away as fast as he could with the shovel and finally with his hands. Lightning and thunder sent me scrambling inside, calling for my son to end what seemed a hopeless task, two hands against that torrent. But he persevered and likely what seemed bad enough could have been far worse had he not. Though all the work so far had been for nothing, we were getting better at it. What does my friend from Michigan say? That there are two kinds of people in the world, those who bail out one cup at a time and those who put their fingers in the dike. I might add a third: the kind who build dikes.
Meanwhile I am trying to think of water as my friend, as something which can be led calmly according to my needs for it. I am trying to be grateful for all the water in the world. And I am trying to ignore the recurring image of bricks and beautiful stones of ancient cities running amok in the rivers water is making, the very earth washing from its foundations, nothing safe, orderly or dry.
The diagnosis is not in yet. Maybe it never will be. The specialists are holding their meetings: One says a basement drain; another tells me that's been outlawed in the county; a third says fill dirt, but not a little -- truckloads tamped down until it's hard as stone; still another says dig up along the foundation, repair the crack (what crack?) in the foundation wall; another tells me this time it's a big job (meaning more than I can afford).
Resolutions are imperfect. The cure will surely throw something else out of balance. Ecology. The trenches leading from the house, newly dug, are full of huge, light-colored tree roots, everything holding up everything else. In the far corner of my vision I see a man putting board to board, I see creatures in pairs. I am told it will rain again.