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Dirt artists to the rescue of my pandemic-challenged septic system

I've heard people talk about weight gain from their work-from-home pandemic routines, spouses complaining about months of competition for space to work on the dining room table and parents stressing about juggling career work and help with kids' homework.

The worst of working from home for me turned out to be the strain on an already-creaky septic system.

There was a lot more flushing, hand-washing and of course sanitizing all those groceries in the darkest days at the beginning of the shutdown. Remember when unwashed groceries seemed scary?

We've come a long way.

I was lucky to be able to hunker down at home for the worst of the pandemic and remain enormously grateful for those who weren't and stayed on the front lines.

And now I am thankful for the craftsmanship — actually, artistry is a better term — of a team from New London County Septic Service, the Ledyard-based company that recently came to the rescue of my failing system.

Until now, I would have said that replacing a septic system would be as unappealing a topic as I could think of to write about. For those who have already checked out, I don't blame them, and take this as fair warning to the rest of you that you may want to move on to something else in the paper.

Still, I can't help but marvel at the remarkable creation built in my yard over a week's time. And because of working from home, I got to watch it being made, the dirt artists at work.

It was a fleeting look at what they created since it is already out of sight, buried and under a few inches of loam and grass seed that will hopefully sprout soon.

It should remain out of sight and out of mind for years to come. That's part of the beauty of it.

I suppose I was especially impressed because I have long worried about the health of a septic system that I have babied over the years, with the determination of a boater or camper to always use as little water as possible. I could only dream of the luxury of long, hot showers indoors.

I always wondered how they could possibly replace the septic on my small lot with its big trees and so much ledge that peaks of rock just randomly break the surface in places. The basement floor is solid ledge and I have to stoop to stand up.

The chief sculptor of my successful new system was Christy Maguire, 54, who told me she has been working in construction since learning as a kid from her father, Robert Maguire. His construction company did a lot of work on the Mashantucket Pequot reservation, before the casino era, and he built the Stop & Shop in Groton.

In her own evolving career, Maguire has come to work with her cousin, Todd Willis, president of the company, who also employs his children in the family business.

Maguire and Willis both quarterback installations. Each does as many as one a week. They do all kinds of other construction and excavation work, in addition to installing and repairing systems.

Maguire told me she used to get more comments about being a woman in the operator seat of heavy equipment, but, well, times have changed.

She was assisted on my project by David Lehr, who was every bit as much a perfectionist about the quality of the work, always at the ready as Maguire picked her way across the landscape. She deployed three different-sized machines, using the steel buckets at the ends of the mechanical arms to carefully run a trench around buildings and rock, landing on one of the few thicker patches of dirt on the property.

They waved in and out truckloads of sand and dirt and maneuvered into place an impossibly heavy 1,000-gallon concrete tank. It is connected to a leaching field filled with sand and equipped with a mechanical venting system.

It all cost a lot, as much as a small new car. But I got to see why it is worth every penny.

The septic installation business kept rolling along during the pandemic, Maguire told me, and got busy as the real estate market heated up.

It turns out one of the biggest drawbacks of working from home in the pandemic, the final ruination of my septic system, led to one of the more rewarding experiences of the time, a chance to see the soil artists hard at work, constructing and making perfect something that we all hope no one will ever even think about again.

I count them among my pandemic heroes.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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