The Kingfisher

Posted by Deborah on April 25, 2012

One of the most challenging puzzles of this property is its water system.  The deed came with a water right to Chevoit Creek, signed in 1934 by Dr. E.R. Huckleberry, the Tillamook county physician who built the house in 1922.  The original document, with its ink pen signature, is a precious commodity in a rural area especially one with the geological characteristics that our coastal area possesses.  Despite the heavy rain the soil around here is granular and slippery, holding the water like a sponge and wells are nigh impossible to drill.  There are few potable aquifers beneath this jelly-like substance to tap into.  Springs are a common source but if you don’t have one on your property, creek water is the next best thing.  The land is carved with creeks but many of them run dry around July or August.  You need a year-round creek to have a reliable water source and then you better hope that no one upstream is logging or building a development.   In the city we take water for granted.  It’s clean and it comes hot and cold reliably out of a tap.  There, we never think about it. 

When we bought this place the pvc pipe that ran a quarter of a mile up into the untrailed woods to the point of diversion in the creek, the specific position of our water right, had completely failed.  During our “inspection” of the property, in a hike fueled by idealistic enthusiasm, Carl and I and our real estate agent, Darcy, tramped up muddy elk trails and over fallen trees in search of the PVC pipe, hoping to spot its unnatural whiteness in the dim forest. 

It turned up here and there, broken, buried, slid and then disappeared before we could find the end point.  We were soaked by the steady rain that fell, Carl was injured by inserting his foot into a hole, and slightly disoriented we found our way back by walking down the center of the creek.  Undaunted, that October, we purchased the house without it having running water.

By February of the next year and after much research Carl had designed a water system that pulled water from a spot in the creek 300 feet from the house.  It required a pump, housed in a small shelter on the edge of the bank above the creek, 200 feet of pex pipe and electrical wire in conduit to run underground from there to a pressure tank, housed in a 8’ x 12’ shed, and then another 100 feet of pex and electrical wire to connect to the house, also laid three feet underground.  Thus began a six month long quest to having water come out of the tap at the kitchen sink.   

While sighting the path of all that pipe we explored the property more intimately than we had before we purchased it and in the process we grudgingly discovered three significant dump sites buried beneath the blurring but ever increasing vegetation.  As the reality of their depressing existence slowly dawned on us we realized before we did anything else, we had to get rid of the depressions filled with historic debris.  It took us a while to accept that we had to hire an excavator to help us out, but through a bungled attempt at ditch digging (another story) we acquired the phone number of Norm Hartwell.  Norm soon became our savior. 

When Norm came up to check out the potential job, he thought oh, maybe four hours, maybe a little longer and he could have the job done. 

Four days later the dumps were cleared and masses of vegetation were hauled away. A backhoe is not a precise tool.  It was February, wet, dark and slippery. We were left with a lot of mud strewn with broken jars, rusted can lids and decaying batteries.

Norm was heroic in his efforts to help us, but in moving the trash up the hill from its low spot (aren’t all dumps in a low spot?), a lot of small bits of junk slipped out of his grasp.  We will be finding shards of broken television tubes for years to come. Nonetheless, the overall effect was stupendously cleansing and a 27 cubic yard dumpster full of muddy garbage left the property. 

During this four day process our friends, Carol and Mike Riley visited for the first time.  Mike is a landscaper and poet.  As Norm rumbled over the land, and Mike scanned the property with his sensitive and knowledgeable eyes he suggested that while Norm was there he dig a pond just above the greater of the three dumps and carve a course to release the water from a sodden and trapped area around the big Black Walnut.  Clearly a winter creek was trying to make its way to the bay. 

 Norm did this and when he opened the channel and the water came rushing down through what was the dump area it was like healing a wound, swabbing it clean.   

So what about the kingfisher?  A few months later I was in the kitchen which overlooks the south field, the black walnut and beneath it the small, dark pond dug by Norm.  I heard a kingfisher’s distinctive caw.  I hadn’t heard that call since my walks along the Tualatin River in the Willamette Valley.  I knew it well, but there was no reason for a kingfisher to come up our little valley.  We didn’t offer what kingfishers love– fish and frogs.  I looked out the window to the black walnut and there, perched on one of its lacy lower branches overhanging the little pond was the Kingfisher.  He sat and then he swooped down to the water, dove in, rose out, landed on the branch he descended from, bobbed his head and gulped down a tidbit.  I had no inkling that when we started down the path to a water system we would make a place for kingfishers to dine. It’s a lesson in consequences. It turned out well but it’s something to remember.

detail from “The Pond and the Kingfisher” –oil painting in Waterstone show, May 2012