by Dennis Ernst • November 13, 2018
Earlier this fall, I rented a trencher from our local rental center. I knew winter was coming and didn't have much time left before the ground would freeze and make trenching impossible until spring. My project was to dig a shallow trench about 100 feet long to help drain water in our yard, which slopes precipitously from the house to the pond. Without it, heavy rains would continue to wash the sandy beach into the pond. The ground was already wet from heavy fall rains, but time was running out. If I couldn't do it before winter, the spring snow melt would erode the beach I had just created at great expense of time and treasure.
It's not the first time I've rented a trencher, but I hope it's the last. It never seems to go well.
The last time I trenched was at a previous home when I needed to run a water line 300 yards through the woods to an elevated storage tank. The home was very remote and at a place where power outages were frequent, so a backup solar-powered system was necessary. Tree roots are no problem for a trencher, especially the size I rent, but bedrock is another matter. The first 100 feet went smoothly, then I hit rock about six inches down. I tried another route that would take the line around the buried boulder, thinking it was small in diameter. That was not the case. So I started from the other end of the trench line and worked towards the obstinate obstacle to see how close I could get. Just like before, I hit rock after the first 100 yards. That meant the middle 100 yards was bedrock that I had to cut through somehow.
The next weekend I rented a power saw with a diamond-tip blade for cutting through concrete. All I accomplished was ruining an expensive blade and a perfectly good weekend. This meant war.
Next, I hired a local excavator to bring in a backhoe and a jack hammer. To clear a path for his heavy equipment, I cut a wide swath through the woods with my chain saw, taking down about 12 trees. They died in vain. The rock was so hard and thick that after three days he waived his white flag, took his weapons and went home. We were both defeated. Humiliated, actually.
I still managed to bury the water line, though, but not by carving through rock. My only option short of dynamite was to pile enough dirt on top of the line so that it wouldn't freeze in the winter. That required six dump-truck loads of dirt, wheeled into the woods one scoop at a time in the bed of a four-wheeler. It took about 50 trips. The home is now supplied with some of the most expensive water on the planet, but it worked.
I no longer live there, but the lesson learned lingers: there's always a way, but it may not always be worth it.
A dear friend of mine always told me to """"go through the open doors."""" The point being that if it takes a herculean effort to get something done, you ought to reconsider if it's really something you ought to be doing. Sometimes obstacles are thrown in our paths for a reason. If it requires kicking a door down, maybe you're not supposed to go through it. Maybe there's an unlocked door just to the left or right or across the room that will take you to a better place.
Had I known then what I know now, I never would have installed the backup water source. At the time I thought we'd be living in that home forever, so it was going to be a good investment in time and money. Forever turned out to be three years. I should have listened to the rock; it was trying to tell me something.
On the other hand, some struggles are necessary and bear great fruit when perseverance is applied. What if Edison gave up on inventing a bulb that cast continuous light after his first hundred filaments failed? What if the Wright brothers thought it was too hard to sustain flight? This list of """"what-ifs"""" is endless, but we all know great effort doesn't always bear fruit. History is littered with epic failures. So the question we all have to ask ourselves when we find ourselves up against what seems to be insurmountable obstacles is does my vision require persistence or reconsideration?
When irresistible force (your vision) meets immovable object (your obstacles),It's a tough call whether you should trench, saw and jack-hammer your way through or find a path with less resistance. Knowing the difference between your will and your fate---where you want to go and where you should go---isn't easy. I can tell you this, though: once you accept that some doors are closed for your own good and well being, things start working out for the better.
So when I got the 500-pound trencher stuck in the mud this time before I could even get to the area I wanted to work, I was again presented with two choices: persist or reconsider. I assessed the situation for about two seconds, then promptly hooked chains up to my SUV, pulled out the trencher and returned it to the rental center. The trench could wait until spring.
Had I persisted, I envision my trenching idea once again descending into Dante's 7th level of hell, making an unholy mess of our entire back yard, getting the trencher hopelessly stuck in the sandy mud near the water's edge where no vehicle could possible reach it until next summer, and still never getting the stupid trench dug. I wasn't trying to invent the light bulb here or seeing if man could fly. I was only trying to dig a trench in the mud before winter. Reconsidering it felt like the right if not fateful thing to do.
As it turns out, the trench will not be something I have to contend with after all. We've since decided to put the house on the market and will probably be into our next home by spring. New doors have opened before us, and we're walking through them. Bulling our way through the closed ones (like trenching in the mud) have little appeal.
I only have one requirement of our next home: it cannot require any trenching.
Dennis J. Ernst, editor
overall rating: my rating: log in to rate