Life Lessons Redux: A Sprinkler Saga


You might think that at 56 years of age I had learned most life lessons and could repeat them in my sleep.   Every once and a while the world sends you a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder of things we have learned along the way, yet forget to apply.   I offer this as a reminder it’s never too late to re-learn… and with an appreciation of the sprinkler system that acted as my coach!

Lesson#1:  If it ain’t broke…… don’t fix it!  

My story starts with a sunny Sunday in which I thought it would be so ‘water wise’ if I were to “optimize” my sprinklers and minimize my water bill.   In the middle of this process I discovered a sprinkler that was not turned on!   AHA!  Here I had been living at a home for over a decade and I had sprinklers that were not in use!    I was actually excited to see where they were going to pop up as I really hated hand watering.

So switching it to 10-minute run time, I patted myself on the back and felt quite smug that I had fixed my sprinklers!

As I strutted across my patio I noticed a massive flooding of my deck area – water pouring out of the ground in a flower bed that never had a sprinkler in it.   I rushed to turn off the system…. Kicking myself for having created a problem where one had not existed.  A quick call out to my fiancé came with a reassuring reply – Mark’s comment was “it’s probably just a broken lin.  No problem we’ll just dig it up and fix it!”    WHEW!!!   Crisis averted, and only a small amount of time wasted

Yes, many of us love to tweak, adjust or otherwise “optimize” our lives, sometimes at the detriment to what we were messing with in the first place.  

 Lesson #2:  Always validate your assumptions with facts

On our next free afternoon, we dug up (OK, HE dug up) that broken line, only to find it wasn’t a line broken but a water line that dead-ended into the flowerbed.  When I Optimized the sprinkler, turning on the line that was not in use, I trigger a flood through this open line.   I thought “how nutty were these folks who put this line in and then didn’t cap it!   Who would put in a water line and then not cap it off or put in a sprinkler?   Mark and I chuckled laughed about the crazy guy who put in a sprinkler and then didn’t cap it off before burying it… coming up with all sorts of motives for this activity.    I felt almost superior that I had discovered this ‘mistake’ and could put it to rest.

Off we run to Home Depot to get a sprinkler head…… after all – now we could have a sprinkler where there wasn’t one before!    Ninety minutes later, we have installing the head, filled in the hole, congratulated each other and turned on the water to test our new sprinkler.    It worked great!  In fact, so great we almost didn’t notice the new flood of water two flower beds down……

OK, smiles gone from our faces, we start digging where the new waterfall has appeared…… Another open water line….  Back to Home Depot to get another sprinkler head.   Drive back, install sprinkler, fill hole, turn on water and….  notice a NEW waterfall running out of the flowerbed 5 feet away……

At this point I’m questioning why I turned on a water line that I had never needed in the past, without at least questioning why it was turned off in the first place…. I was feeling less smug and a lot more silly to be messing with something that had not been an issue for the last 15 years.   I started to realize that maybe the guys who put I in were not so crazy… maybe the owner planned to put in sprinklers at a later date and that is why he deactivated the water line.

Isn’t it ironic that when faced with the “obvious problem” we are confident in what needs to be fixed.   The funny thing is…. No matter how “obvious” it seems, sometimes what lies below the surface is very different than we assumed up front.    Sometimes when you hear hoof beats, you should assume horses, but take the time to look out the window to ensure it isn’t zebras.

Lesson #3:   Don’t be penny wise and pound (or dollar) foolish….

So when we made our second run to Home Depot, do you think we bought more than one sprinkler head, or any pipe end caps?   Of course not!!!  We only had one issue…. And the fact that the caps were less than a dollar a piece,  never dawned on us.   We didn’t need back up, or spares, or well, anything other than what was right in front of us:  an open sprinkler line.

So back to Home Depot (in case you have lost count we are now on trip three, a 30-minute drive each way) and this time we DO get additional caps in case we have new lines exposed.   However, by now we have put >60 miles on the car, taken about 3 hours driving back and forth through traffic, but NOW we know we can put this issue to bed, and maybe since it’s now dark out, we can get to bed before midnight as well.

We capped the sprinkler line, filled in the hole, dusted off our pants, and looked around for the next break.   WE DON’T SEE ANY!  Smiles, hugs and high-fives all around.   We are the sprinkler gods.

That is, until we walk around the other side of the house in which there is now a geyser flooding the side yard.   It appears that having capped the other lines with sprinkler heads, the pressure has blown open another line, and as we peer down the hole (after turning off the water) to see 4th pipe that is open, this one buried at least 3 feet below ground.   At least this time we have what we need to cap it off, even if we don’t have the energy to dig it out until the next day.

In many peoples desire to save money and minimize waste, it can be a habit to keep things to a minimum or assess the cost in terms of dollars in your wallet… without weighing in time and energy.  What I was reminded here is that frequently it’s my time that is my most valuable commodity, even though I find I’m often wasting it to save what I perceive as real currency.     Real currency should actually be the things / parts of your life in which you have a scarcity….  

Lesson #4:  When you ignore life lessons, you get to do them again

At this point, hopefully you are thinking I have learned my lessons, but no…. having gotten close and personal with my waterlines, I was curious why I had a front sprinkler that were anemic.   This time I was skeptical when Mark said “broken water line”.   We cranked on the sprinklers, and noticed a huge puddle of water forming and also a new doggie water fountain rising out of the middle of the lawn.  We DID have a broken line!

To cut the story shorter, that finding led to no less than five actual sprinkler breaks, each needing new fittings or couplings and three evenings of digging through mud and muck and learning just how many sizes of PVC piping can be utilized in a single sprinkler run.

It doesn’t always seem to matter how often, or how recently,  a lesson presents itself,  we often assume that lightning cannot strike twice – only to get a jolt when not paying attention.   Taking the time to consider what I have learned – in the recent and far past – is a lesson I must carry with me every day.

After 4 days of being up front and personal with sprinkler systems as well as being ever so gently reminded of life lessons I thought I would share a few more I’m not sure I ever appreciated before:

Lesson #5:   You bring your own weather to any party

At any point either Mark or I could have thrown the proverbial ‘Hissy Fit’…. Blamed each other for being short sighted in not buying more replacement parts, not buying a greater selection, or even for starting this mess in the first place.  After all, the sprinkler wasn’t “broken” when this started.

Instead, the whole thing became a bit of adventure in “what would happen next”, what would we misjudge, make the wrong assumptions about, or discover / uncover in our garden.    We stayed positive, working together on the problem and on the solution.  We ended up having fun in the midst of the mud, we laughed a lot, hugged in the light of the moon, sharing a wine cooler or two as we had our own modified version of date-night while we fixed each pipe.   We chose to bring the ‘sunshine’ to this party…when we had every excuse to bring “rain”.

Lesson #6:   Make the most of any situation (If life gives you lemons, make lemonade)

There were a whole series of unexpected benefits and new knowledge we can associate with this escapade…

  1. We found there is new PVC piping technology that is SO much better than manage and repair than our old pipes
  2. We now have working sprinklers in ALL our flowerbeds
  3. We should  have a lower water bill
  4. I learned how to splice PVC piping – no more waiting for help
  5. I dug up the Iris that needed moving years ago –as part of the excavation of the leaks.   I will quit beating myself up for not having done this chore!
  6. Our dogs got a couple of hours of “Home Depot” training, hugely important to our 10-month old puppy. Training AND dog treats!
  7. Mark and I got lots of car time to catch up with each other while driving back and forth for supplies
  8. We discovered that mole holes make great waterways, allowing us to locate a leak in record time.
  9. We discovered that a 20 lb. concrete angel, set on top of a broken sprinkler head acts as a fairly effective short term stoppage to what could have been a major geyser!

Lesson #7:   Chose well, and then cherish your traveling companions

Life is never going to give us what we expect, and one of the biggest lessons I’m learning is how important it is to travel life’s pathways with the people who make you better, stronger, more capable, and who love you even when you make a mess of things.   When I pulled Mark into my “optimization” project, he could have walked out, gone on strike, or turned the whole thing over to a contractor.   Watching him, and his reaction to each new twist and turn made me realize how incredibly lucky I am to have, as my closest companion, a man with such positive energy, such a sense of fun and adventure, and such a tolerance for the twists and turns in life.    He made my sprinklers a better system and he makes me a better person.

I wonder what happened to you last weekend……  and what did you learn? 

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