Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Northwest Living Taste Essay Now & Then


Steady Rain
You can depend on water, for better or worse

Anyone who lives in the Northwest should understand that rain is inevitable here. So it puzzles me whenever I meet people who describe wet weather as being "harsh" or "nasty" or "miserable." TV news loves to show pictures of backed-up street drains and overflowing creeks. My feeling is that we must be careful not to complain excessively about abundant precipitation because, as you probably know, water is one of those important substances upon which all life on this planet depends.

This isn't brain surgery. It's simple hydrology. Water always flows downhill, and if there's a lot of it, huge puddles can form in low-lying areas. When these pools get big enough, they are referred to as "localized flooding."

By keeping these basic principles in mind when looking for suitable real estate, I have never bought a home at the bottom of a hill, or along the banks of a babbling brook. Whenever I've been house-hunting and spotted a nice prospect, my first thought has always been, "OK, if a typhoon hits tomorrow, where's the storm runoff going to end up?"

Yet even with these precautions, I confess that unexpected water buildup has often plagued my domestic life. I've lived in three dwellings that had basements, and every one of the subterranean chambers leaked during wet weather. I sometimes think basements are part of a conspiracy, a useless architectural feature dreamed up by mop makers and the magazine industry.

Surely you have a neighbor or relative whose basement is lined with old copies of National Geographic, Holiday, or Dog World? I know the feeling well. And when the basement begins taking on water, the standard procedure is to run downstairs and begin moving the old magazines to safety. But then you start looking through the pages and think, "Gee, I really should subscribe to this again!" That's why basements are good for the magazine business. As for the mop industry, well, that point should be obvious.

I've also lived in two brand new houses that fell victim to freak pipe accidents, which caused tremendous emotional trauma and reinforced my belief that water can never be fully controlled, and modern plumbing is fraught with potential catastrophes waiting to erupt like Old Faithful.

I'm intrigued by the idea of requiring all new homes to be mounted on stilts. Even if the neighborhood terrain is flat, the buildings could be elevated about two or three feet above the ground, so any traveling mass of liquid would simply flow underneath unimpeded and not drain into a cold, damp basement.

Equally important, no plumbing would extend very far inside such dwellings. Bathrooms, kitchen sink and all water-related appliances would be located against outside walls, so the necessary liquid can enter and then leave immediately after being used. Water pipes running through the living room ceiling are conduits for trouble. Trust me, I've been there.

If I ever win the lottery, I would certainly consider building a water-resistant house, just to prove it can be done. In the meantime, I'm staying in my present home, basement and all. We try to keep the important items stored on wooden blocks. And someday I'm going to sit down and read all those issues of Life Magazine from World War II.

Trouble is, the best time to read old magazines is on cold, rainy nights, which are seldom good for me because I'm often busy mopping the basement floor.

As I said, it's all a conspiracy.

Jeffrey Shaffer is a Portland writer and radio commentator for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Paul Schmid is a Seattle Times news artist.

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