06 August 2010

Rock Duty

The garden taps sputtered dry. That meant the village reservoir had filled with sand again. Once more all of Wang Tong went into water hibernation, everyone waiting for somebody else to dig it out. Almost every household taps into the mountain water for their garden hoses. Some pipe it in for their toilets and several old folks in the foothills rely on it for all their water needs, bypassing the chlorinated--and not free--government water supply. But when the little reservoir fills with sand, as it inevitably does, especially this time of year when frequent rainstorms wash grit and pebbles down the hillside, we all wait for somebody other than ourselves to feel desperate or guilty enough to clear it out. Just like last year at this time, the denizens of Wang Tong hunkered down and waited.

One day.

Two days.

On the third day of blistering hot sun, Maribel, our gardener, reported some flowers beginning to wilt and our long beans shriveling up. My wife was one of the "wait for someone else to dig" faction, but I knew that I would never hear the end of it if her Zinnias turned to dust. Urgent action was necessary.

I recruited Maribel and Gaby, a guy who works for one of the neighbors, to join me in liberating the water. Armed with shovels and a bicycle basket (to scoop out rotten leaves), we cycled a narrow path up into the mountains behind the village, past abandoned banana plantations, beyond a derelict house and a couple isolated homes, into an overgrown meadow. From there we hiked the last distance up a muddy footpath through dripping, tangly forest. I was worried about snakes, until suddenly I felt my entire head wrapped in gauze. I'd walked straight into the web of a giant tree spider. Shrieking and dancing around to make sure the spider--larger than an outstretched hand--wasn't on me, I scraped what I could off my face.

A few meters later another tree spider web, two meters high and at least a meter wide, blocked the path, with the red and black owner doing sentry duty in the center. A few swipes with a shovel ripped a hole large enough for us to pass through.

Gaby and Maribel dig in
Six or seven spiderweb gates later, we finally reached the reservoir. It's a rock pool sealed off with a concrete dam, fed by two little streams which converge at that spot. We leapt in and got to work. To give you some idea how much sand and pebbles were in there, the water was knee-deep when we first went in, and shoulder-deep by the time we finished.

As we cleared out rough sand, pebbles, fist-sized rocks, and a few golf balls (the Discovery Bay golf course is way on top of the ridge), the water got deeper and as a result, shoveling ten or twelve pounds at a time up to and over the surface became an increasing strain. Yet it was strangely difficult to stop.

After fifteen minutes we uncovered the intake filter, a stainless steel box with holes like a pasta strainer. I suggested we just do another five minutes to clear more space around it and then quit. Twenty minutes later the three of us were still digging, digging, digging, no one saying a word, each entranced by the rhythmic motion. Dig, lift, toss. Dig, lift, toss.

I said, okay, no need to clear out the whole reservoir. Let's go in five minutes.

Another twenty minutes or so passed. Dig, lift, toss. Dig, lift, toss.

Finally I realized that the amount of sand and rocks per shovel load had decreased to the point of diminshing returns. We had reached bottom rock in most parts. I said, "Really, let's go now." The others nodded and agreed. Oh, just a couple more shovel loads, I thought. Dig, lift, toss. Dig, lift, toss. I was nearly neck-deep in my end of the pool.

The others climbed out. I got in two more shovels full before forcing myself up. Then the soreness hit me. Back, shoulders, biceps and triceps bulged like like He-Man, the Hulk and Captain America combined. I felt rather macho, posing in my clingy wet shirt. All for the sake of some pretty peonies.

I spat out bits of spiderweb all the way home.