Monday, April 4 2005
The rains of yesterday had been replaced with overcast skies and seasonally cool temperatures. It was perfect weather for operating heavy machinery while sober.
I called the local tool rental place and learned that they rent electric jackhammers for $65/day. So I climbed in my truck and headed off to pick one up. I figured the flooding would have been long gone and all the roads would be open, but I figured wrong. At the Wynkoop Road intersection I saw a woman directing traffic. She was only letting local traffic continue north on Hurley Mountain Road and she wasn't letting anyone onto Wynkoop. She was a youngish plump woman with a faint mustache and an unexpectedly nasty attitude, as if she was deriving sadistic pleasure out of telling the locals where they could and could not go. Perhaps the attitude was a necessary tool in getting people to obey her. Regardless, it turned out that the bridge on Wynkoop across the Esopus was now suspect and engineers were going to have to look at it before traffic across it could resume. As for the second best option for crossing the Esopus, State Route 28 was still closed. So I had to drive five miles south down Hurley Mountain Road and take Tongore over to US 299.
Tongore showed plenty of evidence of inundation. Mud was everywhere, and some of the houses on the adjacent floodplain were surrounded by big puddles and driftwood. The Esopus itself (which I crossed at the end of Hurley Mountain Road) was still a raging torrent and now that it had dropped a bit I could see all the debris it had left in the trees. Among the items visible from the bridge was what looked like a completely intact dog house.
There was a place along 209 where the flooding waters of the Esopus were still free of the main creekbed and raged through a patch of lowland forest, coming nearly to the edge of the highway.
On my way home after I'd picked up the jackhammer, I stopped in the heart of Old Hurley, where I'd normally turn off 209, and went on foot to look at the bridge. There were a dozen or so firemen standing around and a few emergency vehicles with flashing lights had been parked in a way that blocked the road. Closer to the bridge, an RNN cameraman was recording an interview with someone whom I had to assume knew something about the flood damage. As for the bridge and roadway, they looked like they'd survived the flood intact.
The jackhammering of the asphalt took not much more than an hour, if that. A jackahammer is like a heavy self-jumping pogo stick that you position over whatever needs to be obliterated and your job is to just steady it while it does its thing. Operating a jackhammer becomes work when you have to keep positioning it over new things needing obliteration; the one I was using weighed sixty pounds and all that lifting and positioning took its toll on my body, which is somewhat atrophied from the lazy lifestyle of modern winter living.
Later in the afternoon, after I'd pealed up the asphalt and started digging, I found that there wasn't much gravel or soil beneath it. Much of the asphalt seemed instead to have been laid directly over a reef of bedrock! I could tell it was bedrock, because it was that gnarly "fossil talus slope" stuff I recognized from one of the rock layers in the woods behind the house. I tried pounding at it with a cold chisel and sledgehammer but it didn't go easily, so I brought the jackhammer out again and went crazy with it for a few hours. Rock is a lot harder to jackhammer apart than asphalt, but when it starts breaking up sometimes it goes quickly and occasionally I'd have the satisfaction of reducing a ledge of rock to a pile of gravel in a matter of seconds.
As I worked, I kept having a problem with, of all things, faith. The trench I was digging, you see, was so long that there was no way I could explore its entire length for ledges shallow bedrock. So I tended to have faith that places I hadn't explored with the pick of my mattock were devoid of bedrock. To uncover any other reality would have demonstrated that the universe (or, if you prefer, God) is a lot more cruel than I wanted to believe. The problem, though, is that while people can get away with faith-based warmongering and tax policy for years, faith-based home improvement is much less forgiving. If you don't believe me, feel free to have your wiring and plumbing done by faith-based tradesmen and reap the rewards of your faith in faith-based foolishness.
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