01 December 2009

Septics and Solids

Today we experiened the joy of looking inside our septic tank.

We woke completely committed to our septic. At least, Stu did. I was committed to any other task. Oops! I mean I was commited to another critical task. Okay, so gardening can't really be defined as a critical task when your drains are blocked. But gardening was the best I could offer. I just couldn't be exposed to anything distasteful that might cause me to have nightmares for a week.
I positioned myself and my spade within 10 metres of Stu and the septic so that I could monitor his expression and evaluate the horror of his discovery.

After half an hour of digging, everything at the septic went quiet. I looked over. Stu was preparing to lift the lid. Seconds later, I watched him lean forward to look down the hole.

I'd imagined a stench that would hover around for a week. I'd imagined rats that would bound out of the stinking mire, wet and slippery and dark. I'd imagined worms and other life forms that would ooze and squelch as they sucked at the sludge on the sides of the tank.
'It doesn't smell!', he cried.

Believing that the situation was tolerable, I walked over to the hole. It was true. It didn't smell.

Confident in the purity of our septic system, Stu decided to see how deep it was. He carefully poked a crowbar into the water. About 10 centimetres down he felt resistance. He prepared to add some force to the poke. I stepped back, just before the crowbar burst through.

'There's a crust!' Stu exclaimed (I'm sorry, there's no other word for it)

I gagged. Visions of a mass of hard excrement came to mind.

He kept poking and stirring, exploring the thick viscosity of the liquid under the crust like a witch with her cauldron.

'I've hit the bottom!' he cried.

Seconds later, several large bubbles popped lethargically on the surface.

The witch keeled backwards.

'Phaw!' he sounded, unable to formulate words.

Once he recovered, he dragged the crowbar out of the mire, up through the soup, the crust and the water.

I felt a weird compulsion to watch. Whatever was lurking on the bottom of the tank would be speared on the end of the crowbar. Perhaps one of those rats? Or perhaps some other organic matter?

The end of the crowbar was wet with what looked like, well, mud.

I proposed to Stu that he should smell it. Now you're probably thinking we're a bit strange and morbid in our obsession with our septic. But really it's quite critical that we understand how things work around here and what better way to do this than to get your hands dirty? (well, Stu's hands, anyway...please pardon the pun...)

He looked at me like he was about to chase me around the yard with the the gooey crowbar.

I fled to the refuge of my garden. When I looked back, I saw him lean over to smell the wet end of the crowbar.

I gagged. Visions of a soft excrement mixture came to mind.

'No smell!' he yelled.

Both confused, we went inside to read our 'restoring old houses with septic tanks in Italy' book.

Apparently, our septic system ('biologica') is a fascinating balance of nature. 'Foul water' goes into an initial tank which is filled with water, 'solids' dissolve or fall to the bottom, then as more 'foul water' is introduced to the tank, the cleanest water (at the top) seeps into a filtration unit which consists of gravel and sand, then into a 'soakaway' which diffuses it into the land.

So all we have to worry about is having the undissolved 'solids' sucked out every few years!

Despite the beauty of this system, we are unfortunately at the point in the cycle where we have a tank full of undissolved 'solids'. And worse, since we've only been here 2 months, these undissolved 'solids' are other people's undissolved 'solids'!

Regardless, our new wisdom tells us that noone else will fix the problem except us so tomorrow we will phone the 'pit emptier' and invite him to view our 'solids' and perhaps even supersuck them.

Of course, I will record this momentous event by taking photos a safe distance from the supersucker...

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