Tag Archives: catchment tank

Gutter Talk

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I’m baking cookies, it’s a gorgeous Saturday morning, the sun is charging the solar batteries, and the Bearded One and Tom – the Boss and the Expert respectively – work to channel our annual 140 inches of rain from the roof into the new 1550 gallon catchment tank. They’re trying to beat a fast-approaching rainstorm.

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Tom calls the shots; the Bearded One approves them, or respectfully questions them. Mostly they work independently and are silent. The conversation is frequently tool-oriented. Tools were overwhelmingly the main items selected by the Bearded One for shipping over in our 4 foot cube packing box from the mainland.

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“That’s a great pair of tin snips,” Tom says, as the Bearded One cuts the pieces of gutter. The Bearded One recently told me of a drill bit extender of Tom’s that has saved the day countless times. He’s got to have one. They share each other’s ladders and saws freely, and know exactly who owns what.

They come in for a cookie break and Tom asks for a piece of paper to sketch the plan.

They’ve already got the new brown gutter installed, which will carry the rain in a Rube Goldbergesque route from the metal roof to the downspout, then flow down through PVC pipe leading across about 10 feet to the big plastic green tank just off the south corner of the house.

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At the actual catchment tank opening,

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the first drops (including leaves and other roof debris) bypass the catchment tank and shoot straight down into a First Flow Diverter which is a pipe that goes about 20 feet and then ends.

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The first flow debris goes there and the pipe keeps filling and backing up that 20 feet so that it’s relatively litter-free water that heads into the elbow pipe and down into the catchment tank. A threaded cap screws off and the debris is easily removed. Tiny holes are drilled into the pipe to let the water slowly drain out.

Plumbing isn’t the mystery that electricity is. Electricity is magic, completely indistinguishable from voodoo. Plumbing is machinery – simple tinker-toys – but the ingenuity of this system feels magical.

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Clouds move in and the guys don’t break for sandwiches until 2:30. Their minds hover over the project as they chew. The Bearded One tells how our solar read-out lost its memory when the generator ran out of propane. As it coughs and sputters, the electrical power it is sending to the inverter starts looking somehow “wrong.”

Tom explains about the automatic shut off, how the inverter is wired to protect itself. “I don’t deal with this,” he says in a little inverter voice, “it could hurt me!” The Bearded One cracks up laughing. Tom laughs, too.

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Two hours later and it’s starting to rain. The men rush to get the last pipe blue-glued into place and we watch as the first flow drips out the elbow. Both men whoop and cheer. I love being around happy men.

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Boddah You?

He’s Hawaiian and in his twenties and has been working hard all day squirting orange oil into the wood in our house to kill the termites.  For the last hour he’s been up on the roof.

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Now he is taking a break, munching on a juicy red fruit the size of a cherry tomato from the enormous bush beside the barbecue.

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“Ono,” he says to me, smiling. His long-sleeved blue tee shirt says Akamai Pest Control.

“Yes,” I say, “ono!” I’m drinking a glass of water on the hot lanai, after sweeping termite poops into corners all day.

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“Strawberry guava,” I add, thrilled that I not only know that “ono” means delicious, but also what these recently ripening lovelies are called. “I just learned their name.”

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Akamai (Ah-kah-MY) means “smart” in Hawaiian. I am trying to learn some Pidgin, the language that evolved here so the immigrating Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Filipinos, Americans and the Hawaiians could do business.

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It’s rarely appropriate for a white person, a haole (HOW-lee), to try and speak Pidgin, but frequently helpful to understand at least a little bit of it. It’s beautiful and melodic and I’ve loved listening to the workers speak it to each other all day.

“I heard that they’re considered an invasive species,” I say.

Akamai shrugs. “Boddah you?”

I shrug back. “I don’t know,” I say. “It’s hard not to like them.” He grins and nods his approval.

These remote islands have very few native species. Everything migrated here at one time or another. Still, some species are just more invasive than others – like these strawberry guavas which threaten other plant species with shade-casting thickets and dense mats of surface feeder roots. Mongooses, mosquitoes, coqui frogs and gigantic albizia trees are all non-native invaders.

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Akamai laughs, his smile charming, and eats another of the sweet treats without a bit of guilt.

Our friend Tom says that to see the highest impact invasive species, just look in the mirror.

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Humans are the main invasive species in Hawaii by far. I’m particularly aware of this, of my whiteness and newness, and I want to join in, not invade. So I am honored that Akamai hangs out with me during his work break.

This week we’ve had lots of deliveries, and I try to be a good haole.

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The catchment tank guy, a huge Hawaiian man who helped the Bearded One and His Majesty roll the 1550 gallon tank around the side of the house, wouldn’t accept a tip.

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Two guys, one white, one Hawaiian, delivered the big generator that goes with the solar system. They accepted a handful of Hershey’s kisses.

All were kind and interested in what we are doing, being off-grid. HELCO power connections can be had even here. It costs $7500 just to tie in, we tell them. By the time we put in cables and trenches and conduit and paid official electricians, we’d easily be in the $20,000’s. Plus years of the highest electricity rates in the nation. Hawaii’s average rate is around 38 cents per kilowatt hour. More than triple the national average. So it’s not surprising that there are so many people open to solar here.

We show them the system we are designing, the 9 panels on the dining room floor, the boxes with the inverter and other components, and the 4 expensive batteries.

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The Bearded One built a plywood and recycled shutter box to protect them from the elements. It’s tucked neatly under the house. Now we have the final piece, the propane generator backup. All this, for about $7500.

Tom and our son hope to help install the system this week, and maybe even Akamai, since he is so good working on roofs. Presuming, that is, that the roof is dry.

Akamai looks up from under the towering strawberry guava bush as the Bearded One walks toward us from around the side of the house. “Brah,” the young man calls out as he waves to my haole husband.

The Bearded One smiles. Brother.

Later, I jokingly congratulate him on getting his first brah.