Digging Howlets

Lest readers of this blog are under the impression that the work at Howlets will all be about the correct paint color choices and furniture placement, here is a glimpse into the less glamorous side of home restoration. For me, part of the excitement of moving into a new place is the melding of the new space with one’s own life. We want to feel “at home” and enveloped when we enter. What painting will go where, and which fabric works best on what surface, are the “sexy” decisions that are fun to make. In contrast, having the front yard dug up by a back hoe and giant jack hammers in order to put in a new septic system — because the old one does not meet code — is not high on life’s bucket list.

Here in Rockport, the thin soil surface with granite ledge just below presents challenges to placing a septic system. Test bore holes throughout the front and lower yards attest to the search for a suitable spot for it to be placed. While the holes may look as if someone was drilling for oil, no “black liquid gold” was found — only lots of ledge. It’s now looking like a significant amount of granite will have to be removed to accommodate the hole for the septic system. We’re not clear yet how much will need to go, but the large outcroppings of granite just below the soil surface that the bulldozer has exposed suggests a generous amount.

The land at Howlets has a gentle slope from the house to the sea and the desire to keep that natural grade poses a challenge. The easier, less expensive solution would be to bring in lots of soil fill, flatten out the grade, put a five foot retaining wall in, and place the septic in the flattened out area. This would give a helipad look to the front lawn. Since David and Heather, the new owners, do not plan on landing a helicopter on the front lawn, that idea was scrapped. The current plan is to disguise the septic system by sinking the septic system as low as possible (without going coal mine depth) and softening the look of the septic system by tapering the edges out.

The machines have been digging, scooping and rat-a-tat-tatting away for a week or so and the noise is deafening, nerve jangling and all around annoying.


Living in the midst of a construction site must be a trial for David, Heather and family. The only one unfazed by the work is the cat Clara, who either sleeps through the racket or perches on the stone porch rail and observes.

Next week: The dish towel that spoke to me.