Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Drilling Down

If you keep your eyes open you can learn something you didn't expect in the darndest of places.

Rain barrels donated by Ocean Spray (Margo D. Beller)
Recently I attended a program on how to build your own rain barrel. I learned that an inch or so of rain off an 800-square-foot roof will drain about 600 gallons of water. Your average rain barrel holds 50 gallons of water. More barrels mean more water saved for your flowers and the lawn instead of using the sprinkler or the hose in the hottest part of summer when there might be water restrictions.

That was good to learn. But what I didn't expect was what I was reminded about changing sexual roles.

Ocean Spray had donated 15 barrels for this program put on by New Jersey Audubon's Scherman Hoffman sanctuary, with a Watershed Ambassador (I learned I live in Region 6) from the Americorp service partnership of federal and private groups. When it came time for the hands-on part of the program, it was fascinating to see who did what.

Mrs.  Cavagrotti drills her rain barrel (Margo D. Beller)

Shop class - using machine tools, carpentry, hands-on stuff like that - wasn't offered to girls back in my day. We had to make do with "home ec," or learning to cook and sew so when we grew up we could efficiently run a household, presumably one with kids.

Looking back, I kinda wish I'd learned carpentry. I've had to pick up knowledge of machine tools along the way via the School of Trial and Error.

Don't ask me to build my own birdhouse. I have no circular saw. But if you need a curtain rod put up, I'll bring over my tool set.

At this program there were couples and single women of different ages.

For one couple the man was the driller and the woman steadied the barrel for the hole that would eventually hold a caulked faucet. But for another couple - who happened to be Ambassador Alexandra Cavagrotti's parents - there was no doubt who was in charge of the drill.

"Have you done one of these before?" I asked Mrs.Cavagrotti (unfortunately, I didn't get her first name). "I've built whole houses," she replied. I can believe it watching her. Her husband held the barrel.

As the noise made the room seem more like a mechanic's garage than a bird sanctuary class room, I noticed a couple of women I'd put in their 40s or early 50s. One grabbed the offered drill. "I don't want to sound sexist but have you ever used one of these before?" I asked. "Yes," she said. "You get such a feeling of satisfaction from using a drill."

I can understand that feeling. No need to call and then wait for a man to do a simple project and then pay him. Once you've used a drill, you realize the power - in more ways than one - in your hands.

But that is a recent attitude, relatively speaking. One older woman waited for Cavagrotti or one of her co-Ambassadors (who speak on the importance of water and conservation at schools and other programs) to come over and drill the hole. However, one younger woman impatiently waited for one of the three drills so she could customize her own barrel.

My drill set, with bits (Margo D. Beller)
At my house, MH is a master of the electric hammer and screwdriver (I prefer the manual type), but wouldn't touch the drill when I wanted to put up curtains, finally, in two south-facing rooms one summer. I'm glad he didn't. After some mistakes the curtains are up and so is a new towel rack. I also used the reverse function to take out some old, stripped screws.

When she was growing up my mother, who became a doctor at a time when that was actively discouraged, didn't use power tools. That was the province of her brother, the engineer. When she married my father she found a man who couldn't screw in a light bulb if his life depended on it. She learned the basics of home repair from his father. Since she was my role model in many things, I took it from there. But I didn't go the final step until MH handed me the drill and said, "This is YOUR project."

So if you want to learn something about rain barrels, check the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program at

If you want to learn something about yourself and self-esteem, pick up a power drill.

And take some shop classes.