The smell of damp towels is distinctive, and I’ve nearly had enough.
It is Spring, and we live in an old house, so things can get damp in our basement. Basements are damp, I suppose, but this is where my office is. This is where the magic happens, on days when magic happens!
Because it is a cold Spring, we are still using the woodstove. Otherwise we would already be relying on dehumidifiers to keep the moisture down until about mid-Summer, when humid heat turns to dry heat. We knew what it meant to buy an old house—an old house just a half block off of “Spring Park Road”—in the rich, moisture-filled environment of Prince Edward Island.
Still, it is tiresome to think about.
It is perhaps more tiresome this year because of some other reasons. There’s a towel on the floor behind the toilet upstairs. There is a little drip-drip-drip leak, what we first thought was condensation but we now know is the tick-tick-tick of time: time until we have to buy a new toilet. When you sit down, as one does from time to time on a toilet, it adds a little water to the tank. That day is coming soon.
And I have a double anxiety about it. It is money that I don’t have. I feel okay about replacing an older 14L toilet with a new 6L one. I’m glad to help reduce the environmental costs of our clean water systems. I just don’t have the money. So I’m scanning Youtube videos to see how hard replacing a toilet is. And that’s my second anxiety: finding the time to do the job, and then figuring out if I can pull it off.
Which also makes my wife anxious.
After all, it isn’t the only problematic plumbing we’ve got. In the basement shower room, I just pulled out a couple of damp towels from the linen closet, which is nestled right up against the hot and cold water pipes. Now this might really be condensation, but I don’t think so. I think it is water transfer from the shower.
That’s okay, though, because the entire shower plumbing is messed up. The taps have worn enough that the little cartridges cannot seal properly. So we either have a drip-drip-drip in the stand-up shower, or we have to over-torque them closed. The cartridges are wearing out super quickly—I can replace them, but it is time and money—so now the cold water tap has a tendency to “slip,” to turn the cold water off from time to time. There’s not much space for a human to flee in a stand-up shower when hot water shoots down upon them.
One more job for the plumber.
There’s more. The washing machine is already half-filled with damp towels. One of us overflowed the kitchen sink this week, turning on the water and forgetting about it. And another of us showered with the little corner of the shower curtain hanging outside the shower, so that a thick pool of water was waiting for them after their shower—the shower where they are always vigilant against a sudden stream of hot water.
So the smell of damp towels is tiresome. As I fill the washing machine up to full, I remember I don’t have hot water. Something’s wrong with the washing machine so that only the cold water works, another thing I have to fix that I don’t know how.
Our water woes are diverse.
And all along the rain pounds against the windows, against the roof. I can hear the cold, hard tink-tink-tink of rain sleeting sideways into our chimney. The two sump pumps sing out ever few seconds, often taking turns like dueling banjoes or foxes answering one another in the night. They pump the water out into the rain-soaked ground. This is the very ground that has only just been relieved of most of the 17 feet of snow we received this winter. It wasn’t a record, but it was only a couple of inches shy of the most snow we’ve ever received. After a green Christmas the snow came in waves, shutting schools and closing roads. It felt like the snow would never stop, mountains and mountains of snow all around, all the time. And now that it has stopped snowing, we are just praying it will melt slowly.
Because last year, on the third biggest snowfall ever, the quick melt caused the City’s storm drain pushed back against our sewer system, blocking the backflow valve. The result was that our shower water had nowhere to go, besides the floor. More damp towels, but industrial fans and wet vacs too. No damage, but time and towels.
It’s true, the accidents have just made all the normal stuff feel worse. And the normal stuff isn’t totally normal: record snowfalls chased by record rainfalls. There is also the added worry of a 35-year-old hot water heater, galvanized water pipes, a weak seal on one of the car windows….
All of this would be fine if we had the money to fix it. But the maintenance of poverty is expensive, isn’t it?
Really, it feels as if Sister Nature is conspiring against me. It isn’t true, but it is close to true.
Today is Earth Day. It is a little artificial as a holiday, but it serves to remind us of our relationship with nature. After Hiroshima, we woke up to a nuclear age when we realized that humans had the ability to shape the ecological destiny of our planet. For those of us who grew up on farms, we realized early what the modern world meant for our environment. Before conversations about extreme weather—really, the droughts of the 30s felt like some sort of curse rather than a weather pattern—we saw the results of pollution, urbanization, and changing make-up of ground water. Now farmers find themselves constantly adjusting to a weather system far beyond their abilities to predict.
Climate change scientists and political prognosticators—with not a few activists thrown in—have reminded us again and again that the way we live could go badly. This is not news, or a conspiracy. It is the basic human predicament.
We see the story in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve, living in a Garden of complete ecological, economic, and relational equilibrium, choose to disregard God’s warning about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They partake of the forbidden fruit; they break compact with God and the Garden and each other. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames creation, and creation winces.
It is perhaps this generation that reminds us most poignantly about the truth of the Garden of Eden story. As the curses come, they reflect the three broken relationships. From that point on, there is a break between humanity and God, humanity and humanity, and humanity and creation.
Earth Day is a poignant reminder of that break between humanity and its Garden. It feels like Sister Earth is out for revenge. It feels like the Earth is fighting back against abuse. Extreme weather, shifting ecosystems, and changing seasons reminds us of the consequences of massive urbanization, fossil fuel dependency, and the sheer comfort in which we life.
Like the comfort of a nice, long, hot shower in a warm, dry house in the beautiful garden province that is Prince Edward Island.
I don’t think that Nature is fighting back. This is just part of that primeval brokenness that Genesis tells us about. Wet towels and water woes are the thorns we were promised when we broke faith with God, our neighbour, and the Garden all those generations ago—and how we break faith still.
For Christians, Earth Day reminds us that we are meant to fight against the brokenness of the curses in the Garden of Eden. We do not allow the thorns to conquer our gardens. We pull the thorns, and lick the wounds. We do not allow the relational chaos of human difference to separate us. No, we cling together, trusting against human reason that we can form beautiful relationships in this difficult world. We wipe the sweat off of our brow and keep working. We fight against hunger, anesthetize against pain, and hold out against evil. We do not bow to the curses: we conquer them.
Likewise, we tend creation—the Earth—fighting against the antipathy inherent in our global Garden since the Fall. No, we may not win. We may lose against global warming. The Al Gore religion may be right and we may be able to do nothing about it. The seas may rise, and humans descend into a global clan battle for resources.
It doesn’t matter. We are called to resist the curse anyway. As Christians we are always asking ourselves if what we are doing is aiding the curse in its destruction of the Garden, or if we are resisting the curse. Are we living in simplicity or contributing to chaos? Are we trying to make up for humanity’s destruction of creation, or are we shrugging our shoulders and fitting in with the pattern of our world system?
It is all true, but I still have my water woes.
What Earth Day does is give me some perspective. The water woes hit our household and I am reminded of the curse, of how we are in rebellion against the Garden. I resist with damp towels and Youtube tutorials.
But these curses don’t exist in isolation. When the sweat of my brow become too much, when the thorns become too prevalent, I yell at my family. When I am defeated by the break between humanity and creation, I end up affirming the break between human and human. In fact, I make it worse. And it all shows me the depth of the break between humanity and God.
So I think that Earth Day, as lame as it is as another day on a crowded special interest calendar, has value as a holiday in the older sense. It is a holy day, not quite a fast, but a reminder of the implications of our feasts.
Now please excuse me. My sump pump is calling.