Two years ago, during one of our first forays into urban homesteading, my Father’s Day present from Aimee was permission to install our first rain-barrel. It was a romantic thought to me. “Let’s not waste the water-from-heaven gift (even though we receive it some 300 plus days a year), let’s harvest it.”
So, I climbed on craigslist and found a bohemian craftsperson in our area that converted wine-barrels for rain collection. My romanticism grew. Seasoned oak barrels that once brimmed with local wine would now collect über-local heaven-water. No less than Jesus’ miracle at Cana reenacted in my front yard (all be it in reverse, but don’t bother me with details, I was in the romantic groove). This first barrel was anchored next to our heavy-set front porch, nestled in a nook along our front walk.
Then last spring we added two more barrels, taking our rain storage to near 150 gallons. One was saddled to our century-old chimney. From it an overflow trough carried water to the third barrel amongst our garden beds, across the front-walk from its older sister. One barrel out of sight and two perched in the front yard for all to see. We had created an oak welcoming committee.
One hundred and fifty gallons.
This spring we decided not to add any more barrels. These three were sufficient for our hundred plus square feet of garden beds. But when I gave the barrels their annual check-up, I was surprised by the diagnosis. The original barrel’s foundation was in significant disrepair. The chimney-barrel had a thick layer of green-something the consistency of a fried egg and the feeder-trough was, well, less than reliable. It took half a day to get it all back to working order.
Preserving rain can be hard work.
Upon reflection, it seems a bit pious to horde water in what must be one of the rainiest places on the planet. And while I like the way those beautiful oak-sisters welcome everyone who comes to our home, are they really a better metaphor than say… a couple of impressive rhododendrons?
In my final assessment, I am not sure those rain barrels are there primarily for our gardens. I don’t think they are even there for our neighbors and friends. I think they are there for me. They represent a different sort of life. A life where I slow down. They represent a life where I honor the earth and don’t see her as an unlimited check-card to be thoughtlessly and continuously swiped.
Each morning I walk out my front door. And as I descend our steps, my mind streaming though the needs of the day, I am greeted by the sisters. There is something really magnificent and beautiful about an oak wine barrel in the morning light, weathered and true. And as I dart between them, often my right hand is already fidgeting for my car keys, it is then that they whisper to me, “Have you thought about walking today… riding your bike… or taking public? Why don’t you preserve today… instead of consume? Have you considered ways to slow down? Will you dare to taste the unforced rhythms of grace?”