Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Along with the huge tracts of land, the fresh, manure-scented air and the neighbors way-off-over there that comes with rural living, there is also the septic tank.

Now if you are a city girl, like li'l-ole-me, you will find that the prospect of having all your waste go, not into large rat and alligator infested pipes, but into a large buried tank or two under your back pasture both reassuring and unsettling. Reassuring, as there is no chance that a large sewer rat or flushed former pet alligator will crawl up your pipes and bite you in the butt as you are taking care of the necessities of life at 2am, (with the bathroom light off so you don't fully wake and can go right back to sleep). Unsettling, as, well, what the hell do you do with a septic system?

I mean, really!

You poo. You flush. It goes... but it stays.

Our contractor friend, who shepherded us through the basement finishing and such that we had done before we moved in 3 years ago, told me that there were a few things to do:

  • Don't flush tampons down, because hoooeeee! they'll never degrade and you really don't want that backing up your system.
  • Don't forget to have the septic guy out from time to time to empty the tank or hoooeee! that'll be a mess if it backs up your system.
  • Take this (hands me a large plastic bag of brown grainy stuff) and flush the whole thing down your toilet tonight because those are enzymes and stuff to keep you septic system happy and chowing on all that you flush down there. If your system (basically a teeming soup of bacteria) goes belly-up, hooooeeee! you're screwed.

"Good luck to you!"

"That's it?" I asked.

"Basically!" he said and went off yet again to try to call Brad, the damned tile and carpet guy who was supposed to have not only the tile but the basement carpet in 2 weeks ago and was no where to be found.

Caught up as we were, in all the renovations and moving and all and then it was spring (and you know what spring does to me) and then summer and then fall and then it was the holidays and then everything was covered with snow and it was spring again and so on and so on and so stupidly on.

Occasionally, I'd dump more instant enzyme-and-bacteria brown stuff down the crapper.

Last summer, though, as the bugs ravaged my garden and the deer nibbled on the baby trees, I decided it was time to turn my thoughts to poop. I did what I always do, pulled up Dr google and looked up septic maintenance. Turns out that you should have the damned thing sucked out every 3 years or so, more if you use your facilities more than the average bear. (Do we? Don't we? I don't know. We have a good amount of fiber in our diet. Our stools are not anemic, little things but stools of substance.)

So, I dumped more brown stuff down the crapper and pondered calling someone out to attend to that.

The next month, September, I called a local septic maintenance (sucker-outer) company. They didn't return my call. A week later, I called another. They didn't return my call. A week after that, I called a third and set up for them to come out sometime, by the end of October at the latest.

November, they called and said that they'd had some problems of a family nature (I think there was death or something. Anyway, something that I'd have felt guilty in saying anything but "Oh, no! That's fine! Come when you can.") and said they'd be there when they could.

December was full of holidays.

January, they called and noted that, as it had finally snowed, it would be hard to get the truck down to access the tanks. I agreed. A few days later, I was surprised when a large (and by large, I mean huge) truck with a tank on the back pulled into the driveway and a guy, who looked like one of those guys from ZZ Top, knocked on my door. He was the owner of the septic company and was in the neighborhood and wanted to just check on our tank, to make sure we could wait.

Lovely. How kind.

We were reassured that we were "fine" and in no eminent danger of any regurgitating toilets. I slept well that night.

February, late one afternoon, as things were all melting for the first time, the huge tanker pulled up into our drive. Mr ZZ Top and son were in the neighborhood and decided to tackle our tank.

I looked at the behemoth tanker with assorted hoses and 6 massive tires to 'git 'er there', and voiced my concern that, as the ground was wet and soggy with all the melting snow, wasn't getting stuck a concern?

"Nah," was the opinion of Mr Top and son. It's still frozen good. Will be no problem.

I bowed to experience, hair and those large rubber boots best used for mucking out barns and such and went back in the house to watch the proceedings through the window.

Then things went down hill.

Of course.

We have two septic tanks, both active (who knew?) , one about 100' from the house, the other about 200' from the first, downhill, by the path. They drove the truck down our yard, maneuvered it so it was in place, and drained the lower one. Then, they drove it around a bit and ended up by the top tank and began siphoning off the nasty.

It was at this point that Mr Top came up, puffing on his ever-present unfiltered Camel, and explained that it was a very good thing that they were doing this today. Seems that either no one had ever emptied the lower tank, EVER, or no one had ever emptied either of the tanks EVER and the top had flowed over to the bottom one. In any case, we'd not have lasted until summer, probably not even until spring without a seriously smelly and soberingly spendy situation requiring new carpets and back-hoes. He wasn't sure how he missed the direness of the situation when he came by the first time, but guessed that probably it was that the lower tank was covered with snow and he didn't know it was there.


I explained that there was no way to know which it was, as we didn't know the previous owners or the septic tank's history of maintenance. His look was one of a mixture of exasperation and disbelief that we'd not know such an important piece of information. Information that was akin to, well, really there's nothing that comes close to the importance of knowing one's septic tank maintenance history.

I guess I get it. I mean, I'm a little bit like this when a patient comes in ill with several different medications (of which they have no idea what they are or are for) and allergies to 'some of those antibiotics; one almost killed me'.

At least I can usually call the pharmacy for some of the information.

So, Mr Top and son (who looked nothing like his dad, being short haired, clean-shaven and skinny) finished up and prepared to depart.

And then they didn't.


Gee. Soft ground. Huge truck, now carrying the extra weight of 2 full septic tanks which may not have been emptied in 10 years, the last 3 years at least being filled by high-fiber folks.

Yar. Their wheels could find no purchase. So, they backed up and took another run at the slope to the driveway. And another. And then went down farther back to get a longer run. And then went down and around the east pasture. And then back around and finally up to the drive.

Mr Top came out and looked at all the long, large ruts in the grass, made by those 6 huge tires and guessed that the ground was softer than he thought. Had he come out when it was dry (like in October) or frozen (like in November or December), it wouldn't have been a problem.

Hard to say with things like that.

At that point I bit my tongue in half in my effort not to say those 4 little words:


But, as they had come out (6 months after the original call, admittedly) unlike the other companies I'd called, and, landscaping issues aside, he had done a good job and no harm had come to the septic systems, which would have happened had much more time gone by, I felt that muteness had its virtues and smiled and waved as they drove away, leaving huge ruts in the gravel-and-mud morass that was the driveway.

But I want to say it again, now that they are out of earshot: I FUCKING TOLD YOU SO!!!!!

Boy, does that feel better. Plus, I'm guessing that, along with all the grass they euthanized, they also took out a thistle or two and hundreds of dandelions.

Money well spent.

Grass seed, anyone?



Anonymous amy said...

I would so be sending them the bill for sod or seed, whatever you choose. what kind of business makes you wait 6 months before they come out for an appointment. ridiculous!

at least nothing exploded or overflowed into your yard.

have a lovely day!

6:16 PM  
Blogger Rozanne said...

Great story! Highly entertaining, but only because it had a happy ending--well semi-happy anyway.

I can't imagine how horrific it would have been if the tanks had overflowed, with not only your own shit but 10 years' worth of strangers' shit. YUCKO!

I love the fact that the guy looked like ZZ Top.

One question: Did they, with their huge-ass truck, take out Beaker as they made their getaway?

7:19 PM  
Blogger Teri said...

At least they came... and now you have a lovely fire break trench in your yard, should the damp, moist new grass away from the house catch fire, or some other such tragedy...

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Colleen said...

Well hoooeee! What a tale! Thankful that the story did NOT end with you "requiring new carpets and back-hoes"....also thankful that I don't have to know anything about septic tanks. At least ZZ-Top was there to save you from your own shit! tee hee hee

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's really cool is when Charles gets to high center the lawn tractor this spring trying to mow the ruts!

I think the best approach is to get some dirt, like a big dump truck full, and use a wheelbarrow to fill in the ruts, and then sprinkle some grass seed over the now level mess. At least it's all downhill from the driveway to the ruts.

Well, you weren't going to have the dump truck go down there too, now were you? (Cursing is only allowed while actually operating the wheelbarrow to fill in the ruts.)


2:11 AM  
Blogger Babs said...

Ha!! You can bet your sweet bippie I won't ever be moving to the country NOW. There are just some things that are meant to be well, er, god that's just gross, dammit.

And, oh yes, I'll take my chances with the rats and the alligators, too.

2:36 AM  
Blogger Lioness said...

What, he took a look at you and did not sing "Legs"?? I'd have set his beard on fire

[Really, that is the one song I know of. Had to make it work. Well, try to.]

My uncle also has a septic tank. They're lovely, and all the wildlife in them? Smashing! I once went to a trip to Morocco and our van got stuck at the very beginning of the Sahara. Lucky for us, there were still natives around. I wasn't much help bcs I was on the floor laughing and taking pics, thinking of how all the jokes about white men and how in touch with nature they are are created. Much like this, I reckon.

Also, sleeping outside under the starts in a windy, sandy desert? Not such a brill idea, it's bloody cold and one needs to dug oneself out of the small mound created overnight over one's sleeping form. Not that I'd know anything abt it, i'd be too wise to try. But that Tuareg bloke was certainly sexy, there was that.

From septic tank to lust, here's me.

4:14 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

Amy- Well, at least they returned my calls, unlike the other ones I called. And it's not like the pasture was like a putting green.

Rozanne- It was funny at the time, too, except when it looked like we just might be stuck with a septic truck until the ground either froze again or dried out. Didn't fancy putting ZZ Top and son up in our basement for the duration. Beaker escaped unscathed, at least by them.

Teri- Yes, indeedy! Those fire breaks may well come in handy with all the field burning that happens out here! What a blessing!

Colleen- I shudder to think of what the consequences would have been.

Morris- Actually, I think if we head out with shovels and rakes and stomping boots (hey! kids! c'mere!) we can level things out. We can toss grass seed at it. Not like it isn't 90% dandelions, anyway.

Babs- (snap! snap-snap!) No lingering over the potty, there! The whole 'well water, septic tank, liquid propane' set up rather made us think long and hard before we took the place, I tell you.

Johnny- Actually I was rather thinking "Sharp Dressed Man" (the only other ZZ Top song I know). See, this is why I do not camp. I require a separation between myself and nature when I'm unconscious. That and hot showers and a toilet at the ready, not down the road or behind that tree. I take my hat off to you and Tuareg.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Great story, Diana.

Us, we currently have to have our septic system pumped every year or so for safety's sake. Why? Because although anyone and everyone seems willing to come out and pump the tank, no one will return my calls re: replacing the ancient corroded pipe that leads *to* the system, which clogs up over time. Gah.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Sanjay said...

Loved reading this and the gaps in my knowledge about septic tanks hav been now filled.
I bow to thee lady. :-)

11:19 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

Jamie- Gah!, indeed. I thought of you in this. I guess I'd rather have ZZ Top and son out each year than have someone up to dig up and replace the ancient pipe. Nightmare.

Sanjay- I live to serve :-P .

11:34 AM  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

I am never ever living in the country. Ever. You have murderous snow plows, rogue deer, thistles from hell and now this? Yeah. I'll take my chances with the rats/alligators (although I think those are all in New York (why they're not in Florida, I've never been able to figure out)).

I now have Legs stuck in my head. Alternating with Sharp Dressed Man. I'm going to hurt both you and Johnny now.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Karen said...


Septic tank fun.... I can relate. :)

Do you not have a weeping bed? You know, the tanks don't just keep filling up, the stuff breaks down and goes out the weeping pipes and into the soil as nutrients.

I've never heard of a two tank system.


1:59 PM  
Anonymous Ole RF=er said...

I recall my folks/grandma having the pumper out to tend to business. Also, the house with the right-angle curve in the sewer pipe that made things back up for not reason. This is why I went with 2-45 deg angles in the present house.

Happy mucking to you all.

The Ole RF-er

2:57 PM  
Blogger brooksba said...

See, when you wrote ZZ Top, I thought of "La Grange."

Septic tank. Not so sure I could deal with one. Your story is great though.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Well, you could have used it to enrich your garden soil! Hope everything comes up roses!!!

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Christie said...

Only you could make poo so interesting.....

9:46 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Dana- You could come and visit and use the toilet. I think in Florida, they have sense enough not to try to make pets out of things that might eat you.

Karen- I'm pretty sure that once it's digested by the microbes, it just seeps out through the drain field. (Is that what it's called? It's been a while since I read up on it.) After a good rain, you can sometimes smell it. Ew. At least we are not facing a total yard re-do, unlike you and your trials.

Dad- Backups are never a good thing.

Beth- Looks like I nearly couldn't deal with one, either. This rural living has a lot of ins and outs.

Ruth- The soil is definitely nicer down by the tank, unfortunately, you shouldn't plant much of anything there as the roots will grow in and crack the tank or something. Luckily I learned this before planting a stand of weeping willows around it.

Christie- Oh, poo! (Extra congrats on the committee hearing!!! You rock.)

10:09 AM  
Blogger Lioness said...

Oh. See, this is the problem of digressing while commenting, I was recollecting that time and of course, you were not inside my head, so - no no no, the Tuareg was both sexy and admired from afar. He slept somewhere else - they know better than to sleep on the desert, under the sky, in the cold, under the sand. Sad, but there it is.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Kate W. said...

Sorry, but all I have time to say is...

Holy Shit!!

and I hope one of the Deer-thugs doesn't snap a leg in one of your ruts...

7:37 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn said...

First, I very much enjoyed your analysis of your family's bowel movements. Good to know.

Second, I enjoyed this poo and stuck-in-the-mud story more than I had a right to. You're a great writer.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Johnny-Ooooooooooh. Pity, that. Probably would have made the sleeping in the cold sand bit not quite so miserable.

Kate!- I'm beyond honored that you spent the energy commenting with all you've gone through. Many kisses and hugs. I'd say something about hoping the thug deer would have more sense, but that's really a hope in vain. They've as much sense as a 15-year-old.

Jocelyn- High praise, indeed, coming from you; wish I could accept it. This stuff writes itself. That enormous run on sentence/paragraph and each and every poorly placed comma I give to you.

8:43 AM  
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