A water bar or interceptor dyke is a road construction feature that is used to prevent erosion on sloping roads, cleared paths through woodland (for utility companies such as electricity pylons), or other accessways by reducing flow length.    —Wikipedia

The northern Vermont rain forest.
The northern Vermont rain forest.

Rain pours down.
Thunder thunders,
lightning streaks.
Falls Brook rages
then subsides.
June in Vermont.
July, too.

The downpours often occur at night following Tupperware Days when the dishwater sky presses, the forest canopy closes in on our clearing, and, as a friend says, it’s as though we live in a giant tupperware bowl.

Did anyone remember to clean out the water bars on Dome Road?     [The one access route into the sugarbush for Old Blue, the 1964 International truck. Dome Road is so steep I’d rather not ride in the truck when it descends with a load of wood.]

Archival Journal Entry, Summer 2012

Someone has to do it.
But not her, not today.
Where are the men?
Blasted Dome Road.
Life here is endless maintenance.
Pleasant plans for the evening,

Death in the midst of life. Detail of decay on the bark of a dead maple tree. Not the old taphole in the upper left.
Death in the midst of the summer verdure. Detail of decay on the bark of a dead maple tree. Note the old taphole, upper left.

Has no choice:
The menfolk are in Canada.
Heads up Dome Road with a spade
and a potato rake.
Can scarcely walk: heavy legs.
Road bushy with grass and weeds;
Woods thick and dark.
Too much green.
Soup-humid evening.

I had felt dismayed earlier in the day, on a short hike up the hill, to observe the washout on Big Bend, the steep curve on Dome Road. Storm water had run down one tire lane and scooped up the gravel, leaving bony stones. The gravel, mixed with leaf mold, now clogged the wooden water bars.

At first I shoveled the silt and debris out of each water bar, tossing it into the weeds along the road’s edge, but then I switched to the potato rake and built up the dirt below the water bar like a dam in order to catch more water in the next storm – at least before this loose dirt got washed down to the next lower water bar.

Immediately sweaty.
Bends over, but not too far;
knees bent, far enough.
Leans into the hill.
Strokes, strokes with the rake,

then runs the rake the length of each water bar
against the grain of the road
to even out the dirt.
Loosening with the dirt.
Doesn’t have to be so tidy.

Rakes away the debris,
the mean streak.
Leans into the work.
Saves the road,
saves herself.

Prayer flags
Prayer flags

Yodel of wood thrush at dusk
Plud of feet against earth
Scrape of shovel
Splish of gravel tossed onto weeds
Rasp of rake

Tinkle of rain on leaves
Resistance of dirt against shovel
The catch of the rake on a root
Knobbiness of gloves against rake
Yodel of another thrush down below


There was not always a road. In the late ’70’s when we started this homesteading/maple project, the only road up was Herbie’s Highway, a logging road too rough and steep for a truck. We learned of a federal grant program to aid in the management of woodlots by constructing access roads. We applied. The check for $800. got us a backhoe to push aside glacial erratic boulders and tree stumps, rough out a road, and spread some gravel, but it didn’t stretch to cover the cost of culverts.

To save the new road from erosion, Chief of Operations built water bar boxes out of hemlock (a somewhat rot-resistant wood) that he set diagonally into the road in eight places, the tops of the boxes open except for tire planks. These wooden water bars rotted into the road after twenty years. Their ditches remain – as long as someone rakes them out.

Stand Tall. (It doesn't rain every day.)
Stand Tall.
(It doesn’t rain every day.)

P.S. Speaking of “bars,” twice in a week we’ve seen one of them thar bars ambling along the driveway.

2 thoughts on “Downpours and Water Bars

  1. Thanks, Charlie. Are there water bars on the Alaskan tundra trails? Neighbors are now buzzing about a really huge bear, not the middle-sized one we saw. Happy Solstice!


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