Then the well ran dry

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WE have a small puppy, a small kitten, and a small business. Unfortunately, that's the order in which they get our attention. I thought I knew exactly what we were trading when we packed up to leave the inconveniences of city life for the inconveniences of country life. There were four: no garbage collection, no garbage disposal, no dishwasher, and our Touch-Tone telephones wouldn't work on the ``pulse'' system still in use here on the Maine coast.

We were glad to leave the commuting, parking hassles, and 9-to-5 jobs to city folk. So my wife and I traded our phones with relatives, prepared ourselves to sort bottles and cans and newspapers for trips to the dump, and declared that with the dramatic view of crashing surf outside the kitchen window, washing dishes by hand would be a pleasure.

As it turns out, those inconveniences pale next to the unexpected distractions that consume our attention.

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For instance, the puppy. Until she unexpectedly came to live with us, I thought puppies were small, cute dogs. They are not. They are baby dogs. They know almost nothing. They chew everything. And on top of that, I find that you should never believe anyone who tells you that a puppy can easily be housebroken in one weekend.

The kitten was expected; he just happened to arrive the same day as the puppy. Although he is approximately one-eighth the size of the puppy, he is out to prove to all of us that he is every bit as much a dog as the dog is. He thinks nothing of hitting the puppy with flying tackles and surprise attacks. And although he loses every battle, he won't give up. These animals could keep a trained zookeeper or professional mediator busy all the time.

The small business we've started is very small, and better start getting bigger soon. But here, too, nothing about it matches my expectations. For instance, having your own business does not mean having constant leisure time. As far as I can tell, it means having no leisure time.

On top of these adjustments, nothing prepared us for the well going dry. Only three days after we moved into this lovely, winterized summer cottage, the water gave out. For those of us used to having water provided by big government and water authorities and unseen and unknown forces, a pump in the basement and a well in the yard are things quite new and not entirely comforting.

I've learned quite a bit about pumps and wells these last few weeks. I've spent hours trying to nurse enough water out of the well to wash a few dishes or to take the quickest of quick showers. (There are few things so discouraging as having the water fade just as you are your soapiest.)

I've also learned a bit about having work done. For instance, when a well driller tells you he'll be there to drill a new well on Tuesday, you should pin down which Tuesday he means. I now know that the man who drills the well is not the same one who hooks up the new pump, and that he will probably come on some Thursday.

But I've also learned about the friendliness of Mainers. Our only neighbor ran his garden hose through the bushes and into our yard so that we, like our forefathers, could haul water by the bucket. A couple we had just met invited us over for dinner and showers.

Nothing prepared us for all this. I suppose we might not have come if we had known what was in store for us. Regular paychecks, weekends off, running water, apartment custodians, schedules, nearby restaurants, and attractive stores - the security of our predictable urban lifestyle held a certain appeal. There are still times when I ask myself, ``What have we done?''

But there is something to be said for looking up from your work and seeing a lobster boat steaming out to sea. I enjoy watching the cycle of the tides and having the broad, expansive view of open ocean. Thanks to kitten and puppy, we laugh more than we used to (we also speak sternly more than we used to). And thanks to the unpredictability of business, we work harder and, I hope, more creatively than before.

So with the drill grinding away in the yard, a sinkful of dishes, my wife out of town, the cat taunting the dog, the dog telling me she wants to be let out (I think), and the wind trying to blow us all into the sea, I sit here trying to work.

Sometimes, I suppose, it's better not to know what's coming next.

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