Historically, we have depended on wells for survival. A good well can provide us with water through periods of drought when other sources of water might dry up.
Back in my hippie days, I hand-dug a couple of wells, and have long appreciated the work that went into digging one. The deepest one I dug was 26 feet deep and there is no experience like being 26 feet in the ground at the bottom of a 6′ diameter hole. The quietness exaggerated the chopping sounds of the pick that had a sawed off handle. One’s sweat could make you hypothermic if you dawdled to reflect on where you were for too long. In time your eyes would grow accustomed to the darkness, and you would need sunglasses to look above to the bright disk of light–clouds shooting by like a movie that included an occasional bird. As you got your back into the work at hand, you would get used to the moments of blackness–working in the dark–when the sun would block out the clouds. Any deeper and you would certainly need a light.
A neighbor up the street had a stone lined well that had been hand-dug over 100 years ago. It was 60 feet deep. The disk of light visible from the bottom of that well must have been like looking at the full moon. These really deep stone lined wells were supposedly laid from the top down with each stone being carefully placed after excavating under the ones above. In this manner the well liner prevented collapse of the earthen walls and provided somewhat of a ladder for climbing out. This is a MONUMENTAL task building a well in this manner, but it also allowed for digging the well deeper in years where the water table dropped below where it had been previously satisfactory. I can envision a kerosene lamp hanging from a stick wedged between the stones.
I built mine from the bottom up–twenty six feet I could deal with. It must have taken some serious cojones to dig under tons of stones to place the next one–and the next one–and the next one. And it would have been a real good idea to stay friends with whoever was lowering the rocks to you–one rock at a time. I have to think there must have been some nasty accidents digging wells in this manner. Few people remain either capable or willing to do this kind of work. Most of us would die of thirst first. The Man Who Fell to Earth knows what I am talking about.
When I first moved to Seattle, one of my earliest and dearest clients and now friend, back when I was still building, wanted a water feature in her back yard. Years earlier the cobblestone street that ran by her house had been torn up and the stones were not to be reused. There was a time when most of the streets of Seattle were paved with cobblestones. These stones came from many far off places including Europe. They provided ballast for the ships coming here empty–to return with cargoes of timber and other items from the NW. My client asked the foreman of the work crew what was going to happen to the stones and he informed her that if they were still there in the morning they would be hauled away. These nice granite blocks would be perfect for “something” my client thought–but had no idea that years later I would suggest that we make a fake well/water feature out of them. Her teenage boys put to the task of hauling the stones probably had no idea about it either.
And that was how Leo’s Well came into being–because, afterall, what is a water feature without a lion spouting water.
After about 16 years, Leo’s pump gave up the ghost after faithfully allowing Leo to water the well for all of those years.
The well now looks–and has for some time–like the old abandoned well I pictured in my head all those years ago–more like 20 years by now. The pump was replaced and Leo is back to doing his job.
By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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