Monday, January 12, 2015

Digging Holes with a Red Van - Part #1

In the Green Mountains of Vermont, a beautiful clear-blue sky calls one to take on a grand task, and to see it through to the end. On just such a morning, a co-worker and I decided it was time to go and dig the ice house deeper. Teaching and learning homestead skills at the Farm and Wilderness Foundation in Plymouth, Vermont [in 1980] was a wonderful experience for me, and my favorite time was the deep winter when the staff, volunteers, and participants in the program would cut ice on a small pond and store it for use during the summer camps that ran mid-June through late August. 

Since it was late September and the icehouse was empty, it was the perfect time for us to dig it five-to-seven feet deeper. My friend and I loaded our picks, shovels, and pry-bars into an old red van. Grabbing a rope, a pulley, and a bucket, plus our lunches we slipped out the door, we hopped into the van and drove up into the woods. This particular icehouse was small, and it sat beside a picturesque pond feed by a mountain stream.

When we arrived, the water was still and quiet. The fall Vermont woods were at their full heights of colors. We quietly dug out the last of the sawdust which surrounds the ice when it is placed in the icehouse. Hitting bottom, we both began to dig in earnest. It was hard work because we already seven feet below grade when we started. We also were entering what I like to call “terminal glacial droppings” - pure rocks and sand with little dirt.

During the first hour we made good progress; we heaved the soil, which was mostly rocks with a little dirt, up out of the hole with the pulley, bucket and rope. We had gone down about two feet when I hit something very hard. I stopped and thought to myself, “Not another big rock!” Slowly, I began digging around it so I could get a pry-bar under one corner and pop it out. After ten minutes of digging, my partner and I realized we had unearthed not just another big rock, but a boulder. A good three feet across and, as we estimated, about three to six feet down, this rock was rough and smack dab in the middle of our project.

Because it was one of those beautiful, clear-blue-sky days that call people to want to do grand things and see them through to the end, and because we were young in heart and mind, we decided to move “that puppy right out of there.” Skipping lunch, we shoveled and pried until we had completely exposed the whole rock. It was large, heavy and ugly. We were tough, smart (or at least we thought so at the time), and resourceful. We tied our rope as best we could around the rock. We climbed out of the icehouse and both of us pulled. Nothing happened. It felt like we were trying to lift a small elephant. 

I do not know who suggested it first, but I suspect I was the one. We decided to back the van down to the icehouse, tie the rope around the canoe-trailer hitch, and pull the rock up out of the seven-foot-deep ice house. We thought we were going to be heroes. The icehouse was going to be so much deeper. Bravo for the great diggers.

So with imaginary trumpets blaring, I backed the van down to the icehouse. This was no small feat, given the fact that there really was not a road down to the icehouse and I was attempting to place the van between the icehouse and the pond; I had about a five-and-one-half foot path and no room to spare because on one side was the muddy edge of the pond, and on the other side was a large stump.

Finally, we were ready. The rope was hooked up to the van; I was in the driver’s seat, and my partner was watching the rock to make sure it was still attached to the rope. With the drop of his hand, I slowly put my foot on the accelerator. Since the rock was large and the rope was long, the van slowly crept forward until the rope was taut. When I felt the resistance of the rock, I pushed down a little harder on the accelerator and looked out the rear-view mirror to see what was happening.

Then everything happened very fast. Of course, the rock did not move at all. The rope finally sought the path of least resistance and came away from the rock. My foot was pushing harder on the accelerator when the rope came loose; suddenly the van lurched forward, free of its restraints. Like a mighty horse free from the training harness, the van roared up the hill away from the pond and the icehouse. I was looking backwards and not forwards when this happened, and as the van rocketed forward, the back wheels hit a patch of mud by the edge of the pond and slid sideways toward the pond. In the process of this sideways motion the muffler was punctured by a small tree stump. The van titled for a very brief moment (not brief enough by my standards) on two wheels, and then landed on all four. By then my foot was on the brake and my heart was in my throat. Breathing like a long-distance runner after a big race, I turned off the motor and got out. I was shaking like a leaf in the wind when my partner caught up with me beside the van. “Holy cow, are we lucky,” he said. “Look at the back tire.”

I walked around the van and nearly fainted. The back tire was six inches from the edge of the pond. It is important to note that we were “way up in the woods” at the moment. Specifically, we were a good three-quarters of a day’s walk back to the nearest phone. [Note: this was before cell phones]. Second, I do not think the foundation we were working for would have appreciated paying for a tow truck to hoist a semi-sunken van out of a mountain pond.

Now the the big problem was how to get the van off the stump, which was sticking into the muffler, and away from the pond without losing the van or destroying its underside. At this point in the afternoon, we decide it was time for lunch. We relaxed and talked about our options. After much crawling under the van and poking with shovels, (“Why didn’t we bring an axe?” - “I don’t know. I guess I never used one to dig a hole with.”) we got the stump out of the muffler. With smaller rocks from the bottom of the icehouse, we managed to create enough traction under the wheels so we could extract the back tires out of the mud and up onto solid ground.

Then we faced the question of the bounder at the bottom of the icehouse..... 

To be continued next Monday.

From Listen to the Heart The Transformational Pathway to Health and Wellness by Geery Howe published back in 1991. For more information about the book, please click on the following link:

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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