Mar 20, 2009

PVC and Me

By Sarah Albrecht

Last Friday I bought four five-foot lengths of 2-inch diameter PVC pipe, three connectors, and one set of PVC primer and glue at Lowe’s. It sounds simple but that was also the day I had about 1,543 other things to do, plus all my kids were with me and my ten-year-old found a great hideout under the shelves and my four-year-old kept screaming at the (innocent, of course) older kids.

That night while everyone watched Spongebob I opened the family room window for ventilation, brought in the pipe and primed it with noxious purple primer, then glued on the connectors with a cute little pompom of a brush. Never having primed or glued pipe before, I felt quite proud.

The job had to be done Friday, you see, because Saturday was Nature Trail Work Day at my son’s elementary school, and, lack of knowledge and experience aside, I chair the nature trail committee. During the work day we planned to dig an arroyo to channel water from the bus bay to the pollinating garden we’re planting. We would dig one retention basin on each side of the garden to hold the redirected water. We would dig a narrow trench between the basins, into which we would lay my pipe so the water could flow from one basin to the next, as a water harvesting expert had advised.

Saturday morning I arrived early, tools and plants and wheelbarrow and pipe rattling around the back of our 1996 Ford pickup. I had to glue the pipe lengths together so the pipe would be ready when needed. Turns out three lengths fit between the basins, so we had one pipe left over. Not a bad error. Could have been worse, I thought.

I finished gluing and left my pipe lying between the projected basins. About that time a volunteer family arrived with a landscape-savvy dad. I told him our extensive digging plans, then pointed out my lovely pipe. “Thing’s gonna be full of silt in a year,” he said. “Now don’t get fancy. Just dig another arroyo over to the other basin.” My face carefully bland, I said, “Sure, that makes sense, we can do that,” while in my head I screamed, “Do you know what I went through for that pipe laying right there?”

Fortunately I was in the midst of reading Three Cups of Tea, a book about former mountaineer Greg Mortenson’s efforts to build schools in Pakistan. Due to trial and error, it took him three years to build the first school. Subsequent schools took three months. My little pipe was nothing like building a whole school, but the reminder was the same: mistakes, often time-consuming ones, are essential to learning. In fact, they function like springs, drawing one back in compressed discouragement, yet, if released, able to launch one forward further than was possible before.

From water harvesting to writing, I’ll take a deep, cleansing breath and keep that in mind.


  1. Good analogy Sarah. Those firsts can be tough to deal with...then later you wonder why you thought it was so hard.

  2. Great post, Sarah!!! Way to be! And I LOVE "Three Cups of Tea" ~ I think Greg Mortenson should win the Nobel Peace Prize.

  3. Thanks Sarah. With so many irons in the fire, it is amazing how we roll with the punches.

  4. great analogy, Sarah! Thank you for the inspiration!


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