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There are people who believe in home improvement, I am not one of them. To my mind, the best home improvement project is the one that doesn't happen. It could be argued that this stems from sheer laziness. Not so. This is historic preservation. Any lack of action is guaranteed to preserve one's humble abode in such a state years from now someone will be thrilled to lovingly restore it. In other words, do all those projects you so neatly avoided.

So when a portion of our slate patio started to settle, I hardly viewed it as a cause for alarm. After all, the porch has been settling since it was put in. Every once in a while I pick up a shed stone or two and jam it back into the retaining wall. The puppy digs heroic holes between the slates, we sweep the dirt back in the hole and jump up and down on the slate to settle it. So what if a slate is starting to sink at a forty five degree angle?

A small hole appeared next to the slate. Call it four inches in diameter. Big enough for a dog to drop a tennis ball into. Which is probably what aroused Peter's curiosity. Lost tennis balls are a problem around here, when you have multiple golden retrievers all in hot pursuit of the green orb. He looked down the hole. The hole looked bottomless.

This, as we all know, is ridiculous. There is no such thing as a bottomless hole with a four inch opening, four feet from the side of one's house. Peter bellowed for The Light.

The Light is a half million candlepower hand-held spot we use to light up the woods when the coyotes are howling. Peter fired the beam down the hole.

Impossibly far below he could dimly see the light bouncing off of water.

In my opinion at this point beer is called for. There is a hole of unquantifiable depth four feet from the house, with water at the bottom of it. We have no idea how wide the opening is at the top, but it is quite obvious it is much bigger than a mere four inches. A problem like this is best contemplated from behind a beer, possibly even several beers. Even if it is ten in the morning.

Peter is made of that stuff which keeps Morrisville Hardware, Stowe Hardware, and Home Depot, in business. Peter pries out the slate which is listing at a forty five degree angle and our four inch hole expands dramatically. So dramatically we round up the curious dogs and lock them in the house before going any further.

We've discovered the original hand dug, hand rocked well. It is a work of art. Twelve feet down, at a minimum, we can see some old timbers, which I suspect were used to cover the top before the slates were laid down. I marvel at the naivete which allowed my grandfather to throw boards over the well, top it with six inches of soil, add a few slates, and walk across it without a thought.

But it is a thing of beauty. Round and deeper than imagination, lined with fieldstone, it is a triumph of both engineering and determination.

Its appearance also explains why there was a little stream running through the basement this spring. The well is deeper than the house foundation. The water must have risen to the level of the foundation, overflowing into the basement.

In solving one puzzle we've been saddled with a much bigger one. What do we do now? Peter, peering down the hole, remarked that filling it in would be akin to knocking down the pyramids. And I can't help but wonder if the old well might be useful. We decide to test the waters, so to speak, and lower a bucket down.

It sinks until fully immersed. We pull it up brimming; ice cold clear water, with a little debris we ourselves have knocked in. The well, perhaps built as early as 1797, is sweet. In a plastic bucket we hold the hope, imagination, and courage of perhaps as many as nine generations gone past.

We haul a thick piece of plywood out of the shed and throw it over the hole. Drop a big flat piece of slate on top, and, less confident than my grandfather in the stability of our solution, give our little construction a wide berth.


at the bottom of the well

But there is a part of me that wants to open up the well and simply stare down it. I am awed by the depth, the straight walls so deliberately rocked in such a small space. In our uncertain soil, where stones are as likely to be the size of a calf as a chicken, how did they do it? Our explorations knocked dirt into the well and muddied the water, we can't make out the bottom of the well. How much further down does it go? It would be foolhardy in the extreme to climb down the stones, yet I want to know what lies below the murky water. I want to touch the walls in the middle of the well.

This morning we found a piece of yesterday where it has lain for more than 200 years. Four feet from the edge of our house we can lift a piece of plywood, and stare straight down into the past. I don't think I'll ever tire of the view.


the understanding husband, looking down the well.

postscript: we spent part of the next day uncovering the top of the well, then my patient and understanding husband lowered a hose down and using his shop vac flushed fresh air down into the well in case the air was too thin. We lowered a ladder down, and I went twelve feet down, and two centuries back in time. Widening the hole knocked considerable debris into the well, so I fished out what I could from the absolutely icy water, snapped a few pictures (with a digital camera) and came back up to the twenty first century. In retrospect, while the headlamp was useful, a helmet would have been prudent. Debris, including a rock the size of a softball, came down while I tried to flatten myself against the walls. The pictures don't show it clearly, but there is no mortar, no dirt, between the stones. The rocking is absolutely dry.

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Stories From a Vermont Life:

Camilla Blue
Frozen Gifts
Making Wreaths
Shearing
Hobblewood
Flush
The Fourth of July
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The Farm at Morrison Corner raises Icelandic Sheep on the last hill farm in Mansfield, VT.  Learn about Raising Icelandic Sheep, Raising Chickens, Moving to Vermont and Living in Vermont on this and our other sites.

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