Braille Monitor                                                                                 February 2006

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A Mountain, a Waterfall, a Cracked Pool,
and a Christmas Tree Color Wheel

by Ray McGeorge

Ray McGeorge

Editor's Note: Ray McGeorge is the first vice president of the National Organization of the Senior Blind. He has been a leader in the National Federation of the Blind for several decades. He is also one of those guys we would all love to have living near us; he does plumbing, electrical work, and machine design and building. He is also an amateur architect. Here is his account of creating a backyard fountain:

More than four decades ago, my wife Diane and I were visiting her family. One member had a patio. When I stepped out the door, I could hear the sound of water and a motor. I was told that the motor was powering a pump that forced water up so that it could then fall into the pool below. I got down on my hands and knees and examined the pool and the rocks which served as a backdrop for the waterfall. I really liked the whole setup except for one thing.

I am convinced that most sighted folks simply look at things without noticing the racket they add to the environment. The pump on that patio was noisy. As a blind person I found that the noise detracted from the beauty of the falling water. I was beginning to form a plan in my mind. I really liked everything about that waterfall except that pump motor noise.

At this point I must mention that my wife and I own two apartments. We live in one of them; the other has been rented to the same woman for many years. I found a big fish tank in our basement, so I asked our tenant whether the previous owners had had fish. She said they had and that they had also had several ponds in the backyard. She also told me that at some point they had filled the ponds in with dirt and old cement from the pond sides.

Since I had been thinking about how much I wanted a pool with a waterfall, I went out in the yard with a heavy, sharp tool and began to search for the sound of cement. It took a lot of heavy banging and clanging. The neighbors probably thought I had lost my mind, but I was not deterred. Finally I located a pond that was almost ten feet square and about two feet deep. It took a lot of work, but I dug out all the dirt and broken concrete. I decided to use debris to create the little mountain I wanted to build on two sides of the pool. In my mind I pictured the peak of the mountain at one corner. However, the building material I had at hand was insufficient for my purposes.

Let me digress for a minute to tell you about my next-door neighbors. They were young and managed the apartments in which they lived. But they had no yard. Diane and I began inviting them to bring over their food and share our patio at dinnertime. The couple became interested in my pool project, which was visible from where we sat.

They had an old truck. Being blind, I asked them for help with transportation. They said they would be glad to drive me to the nearby mountains so I could examine boulders to use to form the base of my mountain. I found some as big as three feet in diameter; it took two of us to lift them into the truck. I also made sure that the boulders were interesting colors.

Since the peak of my mountain was to be in one corner, I wanted the mountain rounded, jetting out into the pool. My neighbors helped me place the rocks where I wanted them. This was a long, backbreaking project, but we all survived with our backs still functioning.
As a machinist by trade, I already had some of the skills I needed. One of my neighbors was a steam fitter. He became very interested in the project and donated a lot of one-inch pipe, which I badly needed. I was not rich in those days. However, I still had to purchase a goodly amount of plastic pipe to carry the water across the yard and into the basement to an old coal bin. I wanted that noisy pump far from my waterfall. I had to drill two holes through my house foundation, one to take the water from the pool, the other to pump it back out for the waterfall—about one hundred feet.

Remember, the pipe for the waterfall was on the inside of the little mountain. At the very peak I worked on the pipe with a file until I had a fan-shaped opening for the waterfall. I worked on the opening until the waterfall was about three feet wide. I finally controlled the water flow so it made a gentle sound as the water hit the pool, but it took a lot of work. The first time I turned on the waterfall, the water shot out with such force that it watered the entire yard. After many adjustments and tests, I found the flow level I wanted. I was simply overjoyed when I walked over to my patio and could hear the water clearly but not the pump motor. Boy, was I happy!

After I had all the rocks, dirt, driftwood, and plants in place, I installed a thirty-inch-high chain-link fence. We had two young children, so I did not want any accidents with the pool. As the children grew, they learned to climb over the fence, but by then they understood water safety.

You may think this is the end of this story, but not yet. My wife and I are blind, but we entertain sighted guests on our patio during the summer, so one evening, when we were sitting out there with the water splashing, it occurred to me that lighting for the waterfall might be nice.

I hunted around and finally found a Christmas color wheel. I decided to build a small rock garden in the pool corner, diagonally across from the waterfall. I built a form to house the color wheel and then cemented rocks around it. For twenty seconds one sees blue, then green, and so on. Our guests say that they like the colored lights. To complete the job, I put two switches inside the patio door: one for the waterfall and the other for the lights. Then the job was complete. Well, almost. I did have to build a fence behind the mountain so that the shed could not be seen. I then painted it green and trained a pretty vine with red berries to cover the fence.

Imagine how much we enjoyed this backyard beauty for thirty years. But after three decades I began to notice that the waterfall was not flowing at full force. I knew that the problem was that plastic pipe was supposed to last only a couple of decades. So there I was, digging a trench instead of rocking in my retirement chair. I had never thought I would be working so hard, but what choice did I have?
I forgot to say that the pool was painted a pretty blue. Please notice that I used the verb “was,” for there is one more segment to this tale. When the water level in the pool began dropping, I knew what was wrong. The old pool was leaking. I refused to do any more work. I simply drained the pool and hired a company to come and apply a plastic layer to the interior.

The coming of the halfway mark of fall last weekend brought the end of listening to the waterfall for another year because the pipes must be drained for winter. We enjoyed our last supper on the patio listening to the music of the falling water. But, when spring comes around next year, we will have the joy of hearing our longtime project come to life once again. With my wife's and my NFB philosophy, we knew we could design, build, and ultimately enjoy bringing a mountain and a waterfall into our backyard. Perhaps the day will come when we cannot physically do the repairs needed. Then we will hire workers to do the job under our direction.

Yes, I do believe that at our house we have truly changed what it means to be blind. We recruited and organized sighted people to help with the driving, lifting, and so on, but we were the bosses, and the sighted were the helpers. Blind people love beauty, and we know how to create it.

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