It was 1996, and it was a hot summer that year. It was also the year the Olympics were held in Atlanta. We had just moved to north Georgia from south Florida only a few weeks earlier. With plans to build a new house, we rented a cabin in a neighboring town to live there during construction.
To my delight, the cabin was situated in a meadow of grass. Having arrived fresh out of the moving truck from the city, the sight of all that green was nothing short of heaven to me. The yard came complete with a clothesline and a big old oak tree. “Picture perfect,” was the thought that came to mind. I could not wait to get the first sheet washed and hung out to dry. I had always wanted to smell sun dried sheets!
There were few houses around us with the exception of an old farmhouse across the street. It was hidden from view by trees and the fact that it sat inside the dip of a small hill. Occasionally, I would catch a glimpse of its occupant. He was an older man who seemed to enjoy keeping to himself. I would see him when he made the walk to the mailbox every afternoon. I would wave to him. He would wave back, and that was the extent of our interaction for many weeks.
As the summer progressed, the days grew hotter. We missed our Florida swimming pool. I had the bright idea to drive over to Walmart and picked out a snap-together pool that was no more than 2 feet tall and 10 feet across. I knew our young sons would love it.
That afternoon, the boys and I busied ourselves with putting the pool together. I brought out the garden hose and hung it over the edge of the pool and allowed the water to flow. Judging by the size of the pool, I knew it was going to be a couple of hours until it was filled enough to swim. So, I went back into the house to prepare lunch and checked on the water level every so often.
The boys were antsy to get into the pool, so when it was about half full, I told them to jump in. I sat outside to supervise and noticed our neighbor friend making his usual trek to the mailbox. I threw my hand in the air to wave, but this time, he behaved a little differently. He stood at his mailbox across the street and turned to stare at the pool. He stood, and he stood, and he stared. Then, he put his hand to his chin as though he wanted to say something. Instead, he turned slowly toward home and walked away. Considering what happened next, I wish the man had spoken. I believe he knew something important and was debating whether or not to tell me.
In south Florida, I tended to take water usage for granted. That’s because we had “city” water that was provided to us through the utility company. Because of that, the supply seemed endless. Yes, we had to pay for any water we used, but even so, water seemed abundant. We watered our grass with it, filled our swimming pools with it, washed the cars and even played in the sprinklers. We never gave any consideration to how much we were using unless we were under a drought restriction of some kind. Because of this, I had no experience with wells. I had heard of “well water,” but I truly did not understand what a well was or how it functioned. Our landlord mentioned something about the cabin having a “shallow well,” but those words fell to the ground the moment she spoke them. Shallow well, deep well, it was all the same mystery to me.
The boys had climbed into the pool and were happily splashing around when I heard one of them say, “Hey, Mom, the pool has dirty water.” Sure enough. I lifted up the hose and saw mud chugging out of it. “What is this about,” I wondered aloud. I didn’t know it until later that day, but it would be another week before we saw another drop of clear water coming out of a faucet. The mud that was spewing out of the hose was the silt being sucked from the bottom of the well. The water in the swimming pool represented ALL of the water that our well could hold. What water was in it was completely brown by this time. Ironically, there was no saving it or using it for anything. It certainly was not good for swimming or bathing with all of the mud that was now in it. We ended up dumping it out into the yard.
I learned a really tough lesson that day about the nature of wells — shallow wells in particular. I also learned the value of conserving water and maintaining good water quality — and certainly never taking the availability of clean water for granted. But, there was one little surprise in all of this that I didn’t expect.
I had gone 3 or 4 days without a shower in the midst of our well water crisis. Finally, I couldn’t take it a day longer. The well was slowly filling up, and there was finally enough water for a quick shower. The water coming out of the shower head was still a bit on the murky side, but it was more water than mud, by this time. When you need a shower that badly, you close your eyes and try to ignore the fact that the water pouring down on your head and puddling around your feet has a brown tint to it. This was one of those very rare times in life when I actually appreciated being near-sighted.
The surprise came after the shower when I began to dry and style my hair. At that time, my hair fell down the middle of my back. Because it was fine, it tended to tangle and brushing it was never fun. This morning, however, the comb went through my long hair like a hot knife through butter. I immediately noticed that it was super silky soft to the touch. Once my hair was styled and dried, it had never looked so shiny and pretty. I was in complete shock and awe. Whatever was at the bottom of that well had worked wonders!
I am happy to say that was the first and last time that I’ve had the experience of a dry well. I hope never to experience it again. But if it should happen, I will pull out all of my empty Mason jars and start filling them up with any brown water that trickles out of the faucet. A girl could make a fortune selling that stuff!
Until next time! ~ Susan
Photo credit: BigStockPhoto/selezenj17