old postcard of Suez CanalIn my free-associating mind, whenever I hear the word Egypt, I think of the Suez Canal. And as, with recent events, I’m hearing the word Egypt a lot lately, I’m constantly thinking about that great feat of engineering. Which is appropriate, because we just happen to have a Suez Canal of our own here at Two Terrier Vineyards.

Let me first explain that John the Baptist, as does anyone involved with agriculture and habitat restoration in Northern California, has a love-hate relationship with water. Well, let’s not call it love-hate. Think of it more like an old married couple who seem to bicker constantly but really love each other dearly. Since our water comes at us all at once in one or two monsoon-like months, we are all keenly aware of water. We never have enough. Until we get too much. We obsessively check rain charts and weather services. We fret when the Jet Stream shifts, as it has this winter, and we get our rain storms from Alaska (colder and not packing as much moisture) rather than the usual Pineapple Express that delivers rain from Hawaii.

water fall in woods

There are plenty of places around here where water flows naturally. With just a few suggestions from John the Baptist.

John is constantly worrying about water. On his drive here, he waves his fist out the window and curses the greedy fools who grab more than their fair share of water by planting lush lawns and other heavily irrigated landscaping in a semi-arid environment. He’ll pounce on a thirsty non-native plant and rip it out if he thinks it’s hogging water from his precious natives. But most of his time is spent plotting and scheming to get water, when it falls, to go where it’s going to do the most good. His plotting is complicated by John’s longstanding realization that you can’t really make water go where it doesn’t want to go. It will always foil you in the end. So he’s consumed with convincing water around here that it really wants to go in the directions he’d like to send it.

drainage ditch

So it all started with a trench down the side of the hill that would utilize the natural rock bed. (Terriers shown for scale.)

Fast forward to our latest on-going project to prepare the lower meadow as the eventual home of horses and burros. Unfortunately, for the wet months of the year, the meadow, which is at the lowest point in the property, becomes a swampland of sorts. Water sits on the grass but never quite makes it to the seasonal creek along the edge of the property which should be able to carry that water out to replenish Sonoma Creek.

French drain gravel fill

That led to a French drain (buried pipe with drainage holes for water intake) under gravel for additional water capture.

So I uttered the fateful words: “Do you think you could do something to channel the water out of the meadow and into the creek?” Be careful saying things like this around John the Baptist. Before I could say Alakazam!, jackhammers were rented, gravel and pipe were being delivered, tractors were deployed and Louis, Pat and Jesus were out in the field wielding shovels. In less than a week, Hey Presto!, our own private Suez Canal. Sonoma Creek won’t be the only beneficiary. The new organized flow of water will stop erosion on the hill, protect our septic system leechfield and allow more even distribution of water to our meadow grassland.

ditch to seasonal creek with terrier

Which all led to a solid pipe (still to be laid and filled at the time of this picture) which will carry water under the meadow and to the creek.

This project still needs the last length of pipe added. Then the mounded earth needs to be seeded with native grasses and wildflowers. But today, at the beginning of the first heavy rains since construction started, The Little Suez Canal is performing admirably.

water channeling project and barn

There now. Got a sense of the scale of this thing?

Pat the Pomo Indian

Hey, all it took was a few good men! (This is Pat.)

Mark Twain, who was not Egyptian, opined that “everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Well, Mark, in this part of Sonoma, they do!

Photo at top: Original postcard, “Port Said, Steamer Traversing the Suez Canal.” (Cairo Postcard Trust, n.d). 5.25″x 3.5″. From TIMEA