I had to call the guy who pumps out our septic tank this morning. He was supposed to do it at the end of October, but early November would have been fine. Apparently, he forgot. He has been coming here annually to take care of our personal ecological system since we moved here, so there’s nothing unusual about this request. In fact, he sent me a card to remind me it was “that time of the year” again.

Some time between the changing of the leaves and the falling of the snow, it’s time to pump the septic. It has gotten a bit crispy outside, so it is definitely that time of year. Humorously, today’s word is “sludge” and if what lays at the bottom of that tank isn’t sludge, I don’t know what you would call it. In the course of living here, we have had to replace the well pump twice, once because it got old. The second time because it was hit by lightning.

“What? How does a well-pump that is located 500 feet underground, get hit by lightning?” I asked the insurance guy. That was when we had insurance. Unfortunately, after they replaced the well pump, three computers and the hot water heater — all following one very special electrical storm — they didn’t want to insure us anymore and strangely, neither does anyone else. Pity.

It turns out that the well pump is a magical combination of electricity, iron, and water. It has an almost gravitational effect on the fire from the sky. It isn’t even unusual and the insurance adjuster instantly recognized the problem, though I certainly though it was kind of strange.

We are an artesian well that goes down more than 500 feet. And no matter what anyone says, you need a pump because you have to get the water from the well to your pipes

“Lightning,” he said, nodding. I knew about the lightning, of course because when lightning hits your home or even near your home, it is VERY LOUD. If it sounds like anything in this world, it sounds like your house has been hit by lightning. Not like a gun, a bomb, or an oncoming freight train. Lightning. House shakes. Curls of black smoke rise from your electrical and expensive technological wonders. I don’t care what kind of electrical surge protection you’ve got — a bolt of lightning beats it all to hell and back.

These days, what without insurance, I get palpitations if we have a bad electrical storm. Replacing a destroyed well pump is not a job for amateurs. Pumps are huge, heavy … and living, as they do, deep in the water of your well, they get even heavier. Because water is heavy.

But I digress. The well is part one of the ecosystem. The septic is (pardon the pun), part two and that is the part with which we need to deal today.

Green septic cover is the first sign of spring in a frozen backyard

The Darlings who pump our septic are also the people who service our well. One big family and they live just up the street, which is locally convenient, but makes it hard to figure out the number to call since they all live in one big rambling house on a farm. I have them labeled as Jeff (DON’T CALL JEFF, HE RETIRED) and John (THIS IS THE RIGHT ONE, CALL THIS NUMBER) and David (THE WELL GUY).

If you need a hole dug, they are your guys. The fixers of all home ecosystem management. The ones to call.

So today is indeed sludge and home ecological maintenance day.

The thing is, when we moved here, we were city folk. I never imagined living a life with a well and a backyard sewage system. I thought that somehow, the town took care of all of that. Considering the terrible condition of the water of the town, we are incredibly lucky we have our own water and septic system. Not only would we be paying a ton of money to let the city make a mess of it, but we’d have disgusting fluoridated water! Yuck.

The city’s wells are not in great condition and since they have been digging things up all over town, the water situation has deteriorated and everyone is complaining. We are not complaining. I love our water. Although it is a bit rich in iron ore and makes my white hair turn a little bit orange, it is delicious and my dogs will testify it is the best water ever. Comes from deep underground and it is always icy cold.

Unlike so much of the world, we have great water. And by the end of the day, a clean system, too. Ready to go for another year, barring lightning.


It always happens around the holidays. We become an illustration of Murphy’s Law in action. What can go wrong, goes wrong. At the same time.

On Saturday, we ran out of oil. Why? Because our provider forgot to deliver oil since August. Just … forgot. Saturday afternoon, no hot water. It wasn’t terribly cold and we got hold of The Guy. He put 50 gallons in the tank and restarted the boiler. Today I called them and as soon as I identified myself, she started to apologize, told me the truck was on the way, no idea how or why this happened.

Diagram of an automated water well system powe...

One crisis settled. I took a deep breath. With Thanksgiving just a few days from now. I need to shop, clean, cook. I put supper in the oven. Garry and I were sitting, watching a rerun of Law and Order when the Granddaughter popped upstairs. It was bit late to be asking to borrow the car so it had to be an actual visit … nah … something had happened.

No water. She had tried to take a shower and there was no water. Not hot. Not cold. Not any. We had water in the morning. We had water an hour ago. Less than an hour ago. We replaced the well pump three years ago. June 2010. I knew when because it occurred before the cancer. My son was sure we changed the pump just last year, but I knew it was BC (before cancer) which had to be 2010. Time flies when you are having fun. It meant the warranty has run out on the pump. Still, three years is not much mileage on a well pump.


My son came home from work, quickly determined the outside pipe which feeds the garden hose had burst and drained the well. The pump got hot and turned itself off. We closed down the broken pipe, restarted the pump and voilà, water.

If you think that’s the end of the story, you don’t have a well.

A well is just a big hole in the ground that taps into an aquifer. A pump hangs on an electric cable and a pipe through which the water is pushed to the surface and into the house. Ours well is artesian. Deep, almost 500 feet. Normally, that’s a good thing. This is not an arid region and although we have occasional droughts, it’s not like living in the southwest. Mostly, we have plenty of water and don’t think about the well. We have a filter to keep the water clear of particulates. Our natural well water is icy cold and delicious.

wellThrice before the well has run dry. First time, we tried to fill a hot tub in one day. Second time, the old well pump up and died. At 30-years old, it didn’t owe us anything. Last time, lightning hit the pump and killed it. That’s how I know lightning can strike underground. It’s the yummy combination of metal, electricity and water. Really attracts lightning.

Since then we haven’t had to think about the well. Plenty of water, even during periods of drought. So after the pump was back on, we went back to acting normally. Not a good idea — not much water in the well.

I didn’t think about how empty the well was until after Garry had taken a shower and I started to wash the dishes and a little bell went off. Ding, ding, ding: “Whoa, water … damn.” An hour later, there was no water. Again.

We are on the ultimate Water Diet. For the next few days, we have to use as little water as possible. Flush only when we must. Shower only if really dirty (ugh). Wash dishes quickly using minimal water. By Thanksgiving, the well should be full. Or so we fondly believe.

The fun never stops around here.