Like everyone else, I am eager for spring to come to town and bring its warm, fertile promise. But there is one concern that curbs my enthusiasm: Where will all this snow go? Yes, downhill, of course. As it melts, streams and rivers will swell and gush. Bodies of water, both still and moving, will threaten to flood, causing other sorts of inconvenience to us humans. Our roads could be covered with impassable puddles, our lawns could be too squishy with moisture to walk on and our gardens too muddy to work, and our basements could be filled.
It’s that last item that has me worried. The foundation of this old house is stone—very picturesque, but highly permeable. A previous owner, the one who pounded nails every five inches into the floor joists, just in case he was working in the basement and needed to hang something right above his head, attempted to fill the crevices between the irregular stones with wads of concrete. The basement walls are polka-dotted with spots where he might have noticed water streaming in every spring. This didn’t work well. Concrete, coaxed between damp rocks, does not adhere. It does not prevent the walls from becoming a slow waterfall, we learned.
So, the year after we moved in, my handy husband dug a 150-foot-long French drain across the yard on the uphill side of the house. This ditch diverts much of the groundwater making its way downhill to our foundation. Now it takes a prolonged deluge to saturate the earth enough to leak into our basement. Or a hurricane—and then fuhgeddabowdit. Get out the portable pump and attach the hoses to drain water toward the neighbor’s yard below us. (And hope they have impermeable walls underneath them.)
The thing is: spring storms announce themselves. They’re noisy and dramatic. We know that, when it rains like hell, we need to check the basement. We’ve often dragged ourselves down there in the middle of the night when the weather gets wet and rowdy. But this slow melting of literally tons of snow now covering our lawn could sneak up on us. I might go downstairs one morning to do laundry and hear the delicate tinkling of water over behind the shelves in my storage room. And then I’ll look down at the floor—and hope there isn’t already a two-inch-deep pool accumulating along the lower edges of the concrete slab.
If there is, it’ll be a panicky fuhgeddabowdit and the pump and the hoses once again. Get everything up off the floor! Save the soggy boxes of old stuff you haven’t looked through in ten years! Man the lifeboats!