mysterious gas and water in the shale
Tuesday, September 23 2014
First thing this morning (well, first thing after getting out of bed and feeding the cats), I went down to the greenhouse for some reason (perhaps just to marvel at the excavation) and the bluestone path was blocked by the crossing of a large (nearly three foot long) garter snake, followed immediately by another. And another. And another. They'd evidently been sunning themselves among the stones just north of the path near the base of the steps up to the greenhouse upstairs. As I returned from the greenhouse, I saw fifth garter snake crossing the path, though of course there might have been others. I have a feeling there will be at least one garter snake hibernaculum somewhere in the rubble of broken stone I've been piling into a broad terrace of increasing elevation just west of the greenhouse.
For logistical reasons, it was my job to walk the dogs this morning for the first time in maybe more than a month. I took them down the Farm Road and then walked home via the entire length of the Stick Trail, nervous occasionally as Ramona would run off in pursuit of some unknown prey. Technically, it's not usually Ramona that gives the first indication of a bear (she's just the one who causes me grief when there is a bear). It's usually Eleanor and the indication is a huge uptick in her level of excitement. She's 12 years old now and there are indications that she doesn't hear as well as she used to, but her nose (perhaps benefiting from the nearby brain and its years of wisdom) still seems to function better than Ramona's, and she usually smells a nearby bear even if she never actually sees it. She gave me a bit of a scare near the south end of the Stick Trail with a wave of excitement suggesting a bear was nearby, though happily no bear materialized.
Along the walk, I noticed that the hickory trees, particularly in the drier southern part of the main leg of the trail, had already shed a lot of their leaves. The leaves looked like they'd shriveled up on the tree without having ever changed color and then fallen. Perhaps this was a response to drought; I'd seen other unusual drought-related plant behavior some weeks ago, particularly among the Striped Maples (whose shallow root systems make them particularly vulnerable). Similarly, their leaves had simply shriveled up.
When I returned to the house, it had the alarming smell of gas. I went to the stove and saw one of the gas burners had been turned about 75% of the way to full throttle without any flame. The gas was simply going into the kitchen. I turned it off and opened some windows and doors (the gas would have been much more concentrated had the front door not been wide open). Not wanting to spend any time in a house that any spark (say, from the refrigerator's compressor motor) could turn into a fireball, I went down to the greenhouse and did about a half hour's worth of jackhammering down in the basement excavation. As for how the stove came to be turned on but not lit, initially I suspected Celeste the Kitten, but then when I realized that the knobs have to be pushed in before they can be turned, and that's not something that can happen accidentally. Perhaps Gretchen had gone to cook something and been distracted, but later when I talked to her, she said she hadn't tried to cook anything this morning. So it's a mystery. If the house was older and I were more superstitious, perhaps I'd attribute this incident to a ghost.
Most of what I did today was jackhammer shale from the excavation in the greenhouse basement. I took occasional breaks to do such things as consider the possibilities of using cardboard for temporary carpentry projects or, later, to begin the process of relubricating the jackhammer. It's been through hell for the past month and subjected to a lot of abrasive bluestone dust, but now that I'm in the shale, it seems fitting to clean out all the old grease and start anew. Once I had the cylinder apart, though, I realized that this was a bigger job than I expected. Getting the old grease out was not easy and required improvised tools involving sticks with wads of toilet paper wrapped around their tips. But then that toilet paper would fray and chunks would get stuck in the cylinder. By late this afternoon, I had the main cylinder upside down so the degreaser could hopefully drain out or dry. I'd yet to get the piston out of the hammer, something it drives, I discovered, via a cushion of air.
Today I extracted eleven five gallon buckets of shale from the greenhouse excavation, and four of those buckets were filled with rock that I'd broken up without the use of a jackhammer. While it was disassembled, I'd had to fall back on the old technique of using a hammer, a cold chisel, and a crow bar to exploit natural cracks in the rock. By this evening, the excavation had hit the top of the water table approximate 160 inches below the ceiling of the greenhouse downstairs (or 80 inches below the top surface of the wooden decking). It wasn't coming out of the rock quickly, but when I scooped it up as part of rock removal, it would gradually be replenished. Mind you, we're currently in a drought, so it's likely that the normal water table is somewhat higher.
Back when I was a kid, I'd occasionally get minor infections from cuts on my hands or feet, and the treatment advocated by my father was always the same: soak it in hot salt water. He'd grown up in a pre-penicillin world and so antibiotics were never even considered. Amazingly, I didn't begin to routinely use antibiotic ointments to treat injuries until I started living with Gretchen. This is not to say hot salt water is not a useful treatment for infection. In fact, I had to resort to it today. Some days ago, I noticed a small lump in the dorsal surface of my right forearm about halfway between my wrist and elbow. Over the next few days it gradually turned red and became painful, indicating that it was an infection and not a tumor. A couple days ago it seemed to be coming to a head, so I stabbed it with a sharp implement and managed to squeeze out a small amount of very hard pus. The squeezing was premature, though, and made the nascent boil much bigger and angrier (bigger than any conventional pimple of even an ass carbuncle), making my whole lower arm ache (something it did all last night). Today I soaked it several times with hot salt water and managed to squeeze out a pea-sized glob of liquidy pus. It felt a little better after that, but I'm concerned that the infection keeps backing up and creating more pus. Why can't it just conclusively drain and then heal?
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