FROM THE VALLEY: This is Almost the Whole Story
BY TOM VALLEY
I took a couple weeks off from writing this column to go to our modest
cottage, the Labor Camp, on the St. Lawrence River.
A relaxing break? Not me, pal. I took the four-plus hour trip just to put on a blue-striped prison
uniform, the matching brimless cap, strap a 50 pound ball to my ankle and mindlessy sledgehammer big rocks into smaller ones?
Well, okay, maybe not seriously, but sometimes it feels that way.
Even though I'm known as Dr. Doolittle for several reasons (one being, my
wife does about a 110% of the work), the first day I was there I crawled under
the camp to address a reoccurring
problem. A corner of the building needed to
be jacked up at least five inches. A wonderfulLy fun job, right up there with
volunteering as a clinical guinea pig to eat rat poison and see what its side-
The job-at-hand info: Only the back side of the building sits on the
shoreline, the remaining part rests on twenty wooden cribs/piers which extend
out and across the river. And they (the 4' x 5' cribs) have a tendency to shift or
sink unpredictably into the ground over the winter and spring months. When
that happens, it's time to call in someone stupid enough to crawl underneath the
building and do stuff that makes walking a tight rope over hell, ten times more
Luckily, the river had receded somewhat – as it usually does this time of
the year – so I didn't have to worry too much about the water. The rusty nails
protruding from the floor above me, the spiders, the crabs the size of Rhode
Island and minks who have taken up residency underneath were another thing.
Referencing back to that Dr. Doolittle thing, I also talk to the animals ...
and insects and all sorts of critters. And I truly believe they talk back to me. (If
you know anything about this column, you're familiar with the times my dog,
Maggie, and I have had conversations about everything from A to fleas.)
Anyhow, as I prepared to drag two 20 pound bottle-jacks with me in the
cramped three-foot high space, I announced my entrance to who and whatever
was under there ... just to be on the safe side.
“Hey, everybody. No need to worry. I'm not going to disturb you or
anything like that.” But truth be told, I wasn't going to let any living creature
get near me, no matter what I had to do. But naturally, I didn't have the courage
to tell them the whole story.
After a thirty-minute crawl - and traveling a whopping eight feet - I picked
out two of the five box-beams I was going to use to place the jacks under; two
beams that I thought would give me the best opportunity to accomplish my
goal of raising the corner of the camp a full 5 inches or more. The literal
“pressure” of what could happen if everything came crashing down played
heavily (no pun intended) on my mind. Again, I didn't have the courage to even
think about the whole story.
As I set up the jacks and started working the handles up and down, I noticed
that even though I had placed large plates underneath them to prevent what was
happening, it didn't work. The jacks were being driven into the ground. There
was zero lift on the building; things were going in the wrong direction. And as
surreal as it may seem, I was pretty sure I was inadvertently pushing the earth
away from the camp and just, possibly, shoving our beloved planet out of its
normal orbit. It was time to go back to the drawing board.
So I did just that. And, long story very short, I succeeded.
I can semi-proudly say the camp is now a sixteenth of an inch
higher than it was before I started. Okay, almost a sixteenth. Close enough.
It was time to celebrate and strut around like “yeah, I'm pretty damn good at
fixing stuff, yessiree, Bob.” Time to move on.
I decided to crack open a Coke, enjoy my manly accomplishment and figure out what to do with the rest of the day. When I reached into the refrigerator for my beverage, I noticed two plastic containers of worms hiding behind some Tupperware. I'd put them in there the
last time I was north over a month ago. I forgot all about them.
Assuming they'd be all dead, I cautiously pried the lid open. To my surprise
they were alive. And, boy-oh-boy, were they relieved to see me. “Woo-hoo,
we're saved!” they screamed. (In case you forgot ... the Dr. Doolittle thing ....)
“Wow,” I said, “I can't believe you guys aren't all dead, rotting to crap and
all smelly, stinky bad. Awesome!”
“Thanks, dude. Hey,” one of them suggested, “let's celebrate. Let's do
“Sounds good,” I said, “what'cha say we all go fishing?”
I didn't have the courage to tell them the whole story.
That's the way it looks from the Valley.