Culture, Family, Farming, Rural Living

The Gift–2023 Edition

My last post on the wonderful Merlin Bird ID app, and how much fun I had with it the first time I really gave it a go, reminded me of circumstances a few years ago, here on the farm. I wrote about them on Ricochet for the first time in 2017, and reprised the post here with a new introduction, in 2020.  By that time, my property had been undermined by the coal company, and I had a new set of worries beyond the usual “I hope my well holds up and doesn’t go bad” that all rural dwellers in my situation have as an ongoing concern.  My well is still going strong (thank you, Harry Lindley), I’ve updated it (again) and here we go:

One of my favorite childhood stories was that of The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse.  There’s never been any doubt in my mind  which side of the marker fence I fall on; as one of the little friends says to the other at the end of the Aesop’s lesson:

“You may have luxuries and dainties that I have not, but I prefer my plain food and simple life in the country with the peace and security that go with it.”

I’ve been blessed, for the last 38 years, to live in the country.  Oh, not so far out that I can’t get to civilization when I want to or need to.  I have all the modern conveniences, although the ‘country’ implementation of a few of them (satellite TV, satellite Internet, for example), are hella expensive and don’t always work as well as their wired counterparts.  And the cellular phone service isn’t great, or even especially reliable, either.  But, aside from the fact that my physical location puts me, comms-wise, somewhere between ‘smack in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle,’ and ‘over there on the dark side of the moon’,** I have everything I could possibly need, ready to hand.  I have excellent neighbors, and I try to be one myself.  And I’m well within reach of excellent healthcare, schools, and other necessary services.  Between what strikes me as an ideal location, and the ability to procure almost anything online and have it delivered right to my front door (bought my first ‘mattress-in-a-box’ online the other day–incredible!), I’m blooming right where I planted myself, and have no intentions of up-staking and going anywhere else, any time soon.

A couple of days ago, a strong band of thunderstorms passed through my area and took my electricity out.  That happens more often than it should, and the problem is always in the same place on the line.  I don’t know why the utility company just doesn’t fix it.  (Unfortunately, there are some problems and puzzles of modern life that living in the country doesn’t protect you from.  The fecklessness of utility companies is one of them.)  But this outage wasn’t bad, mainly for two reasons:  First, it only lasted about eighteen hours (sometimes they last for days, because we’re pretty much at the end of the line, and they get to us only when everything else is fixed).  Second, I now have a generator that comes on automatically and runs a few circuits in my home!

So the contents of my fridge and freezer no longer spoil when the mains power goes off.  That’s a real money, resource, and food-saver, and the second best reason for having the generator.

The most important reason?  I have a well.  With an electric pump.  So–no electricity, no water.  That’s why the generator is so important.

I have a dear friend who’s the very definition of a town mouse, and who’s never been able to get her head around the fact that people who live in the country dig a hole on their property somewhere, and water comes out.  She’s also deeply uncomfortable with the fact that the roads (many of which aren’t even two cars wide, and some of which are still gravel), don’t have sidewalks.  For those reasons alone, and although she visits often and enjoys the quiet, the birds, the bees and the butterflies, I don’t anticipate her moving in anytime soon.

I wrote the following post on Ricochet a little over three years ago.  It tells the story of our move to the country, and how our well came to be.  I still think of Harry Lindley often, always with thanks, and even more so ever since our farm was undermined by the coal company, two years ago now.  Many of my neighbors lost their wells, as is evidenced by the sprouting up of that (hopefully temporary) country solution to the “no-water” problem, the 1,500 gallon water tank prominently on view next to the house, and the regular visits via from the water delivery company with tanker trucks, and something resembling a fire hose, to fill them up (I don’t think you can buy water in that quantity online, at least, not yet.)

We didn’t lose our well.  And for that I credit Harry Lindley.  Here we go, from April of 2017:

Those of you who’ve been kind enough to read a few of my posts probably know that I cherish the many eccentrics in both my birth family and the family I chose through marriage.

Occasionally, I like to think I have my own place in this august pantheon, although it is hard to measure up to people like Great-Uncle Harold who died from a hernia after trying to lift his horse over a padlocked gate that the beast refused to jump, or Mr. Right’s Aunt Mary, the hermaphrodite dwarf. Or my dad. Always my dad.

One of the more memorable moments in my continuing, but often frustrating, efforts to prove myself worthy of my forebears occurred a little over thirty years ago, when Mr. Right and I suddenly found ourselves living in a tent in the corner of a Southwestern Pennsylvania field.

We’d sold the house in Pittsburgh, where we’d lived in for six years, for less than we paid for it ($7,000), to people we knew, because we wanted to make sure the new owners would fit into the neighborhood.

Truth be told, it wasn’t much of a house. I’m sure it started out as a miner’s shack on what used to be known as “Coal Hill,” and at some point it had a kitchen downstairs and a bathroom upstairs tacked on, one above the other. It had a very nice double lot, and I made a pretty garden, and it was tastefully and scenically situated right on top of the exhaust fans for the mile-long Liberty Tunnels going under and through, Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington.

It was on a dead-end street in all senses of the phrase, and as our kind and friendly elderly neighbors died off, or sold homes they and their families had lived in most of their lives and moved to retirement communities, the neighborhood, like the street itself, went downhill fast.

During the few years we lived there, we quickly found ourselves on a first-name basis with the many Pittsburgh police officers we called regularly so that they could round up or disperse the drinking parties, drug deals, domestic disputes and sundry joys of life on the other side of the tracks. We learned that they didn’t really like coming down our way, and hadn’t, ever since they answered a call to a “domestic” across the road from us and arrived to find that the husband had locked himself in the bathroom, and that the wife was standing across the landing from it with a dozen or so knives, throwing them at the door with the verve, and accuracy, of a highly-trained circus performer.

And then there was the day I came home from work to find a gaggle of my neighbors and their friends, drunk as lords and high as kites, standing in the road around the bed of a large pickup truck into which they’d thrown two emaciated pit bulls, which they were betting on in a fight to the death.

That day, I parked my car diagonally in the middle of the street above them (so they couldn’t leave, because dead-end), marched down the hill past them and into the house, and called the police yet again. That was the day that quite a few of our neighbors went away for some time, and, even more usefully, Animal Control, and the local Humane Society became involved in patrolling the area.

Things improved somewhat after that.

But, I digress.

Back to the field. There we were, a considerable distance from the nearest utility pole or pipeline, with only a tent to our name, about to embark on a huge adventure: building our own house in the country.

One of the first problems to be solved, when you’re so foolhardy as to do what we did, is to find, capture, and deliver, a convenient and reliable supply of that life-sustaining liquid without which none of us could survive very long.



So we thought about that, and how we might do that. Then, completely out of ideas, we did what we should have done in the first place, and what any sane and rational people in similar circumstances would do. We drove up the hill to see our new neighbors (very different from our old ones), and we sought advice.

And that is how Mr. Right came to find himself standing in the field, a few days later, with Harry Lindley, the local water witch.

Water witches, diviners, or dowsers practice the ancient art of finding water underground with the assistance of a ‘dowsing rod’ which, in Harry Lindley’s case, was an ancient wand originally from a peach tree, lavishly and lovingly repaired and held together with exorbitant amounts of duct tape. The gentleman himself was slight, elderly, and taciturn, dressed in tattered overalls, and with a face like a carved apple doll.

Once the preliminaries were out of the way (they didn’t take long), he walked the hillside for several minutes, muttering intently. Then, suddenly, it happened, just up the hill from the recently excavated hole in the ground where, we hoped, our house was soon going to be. The tip of the peach wand swung sharply towards the ground, and Harry Lindley stopped.

“Here,” he said. “Dig here. There’s two rivers underground here that cross each other. There’s good water. Dig here.”

So, we did.

Our magician left us, and men with large and noisy late nineteenth-century technology moved in. Eighty feet down, they found it. A marvelous, clean, plentiful, supply of pure, sweet water which has never abandoned us, even in the driest of summers, and which has hydrated, kept clean, and refreshed our family and livestock for over three decades now, apparently with no end in sight (pace, frackers and the coal company).

This was Harry Lindley’s gift to us.

Because dowsers believe their special ability is, itself, a “gift,” those who practice it will accept no monetary reward for their services. Harry Lindley did enjoy a cigar with Mr. Right, though, and the two of them sat for quite a while on the soon-to-be porch steps, exchanging stories of the old days, the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. They had a marvelous time.

I’ve always believed in the importance of, and the beneficial effects of, saying “Thank You” to those who’ve done me a good turn. In general, I don’t think we I do it nearly enough. I’m trying to do better.

And, with that in mind, it’s well overdue, at this late date, that I should say, in a very public way:

Thank you, Harry Lindley, for your long-lasting gift to us. Mr. Right and I still raise a toast to you every so often with the other water of life. We don’t forget.

Thank you.

**I always say that I live in the little hamlet of “Limited Service, Pennsylvania.”  Because if you look at the all those maps showing the extent of the nation-wide cellular coverage from the various cellular providers (orange, red, green, etc.), I am in one of the gray areas that is specified in the key as “Limited Service.”  On all of them.

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