What is man but a mass of thawing clay? – Henry David Thoreau

What is man but a mass of thawing clay? – Henry David Thoreau
I recently had the unique experience of returning home from a short trip to find that my entire house reeked of sulfur. I quickly checked the basement, but no yawning pit had opened up, belching fire and brimstone, so to find the cause I called in professional help.

My first thought when foul odors occur is always the plumbing, so I caught my plumber getting out of the shower and prevailed on him to rush over and address my emergency. To his credit, he was (as always) very patient with me, explaining that everything is tight as a drum and just fine. While that was reassuring, I still had the big stink.

On his advice I called a heating specialist, who was also very nice and blamed the plumbing. While he was here, however, he did take apart my boiler and catch up some 20 years worth of deferred maintenance.

I had never seen a boiler taken apart and laid out on the floor before, so this was an enlightening experience. Also rather filthy. It grieves me to think of the spiders that we displaced in the process of making the thing work properly. On the other hand, if the place had burned down (or, more likely, blown up) we would all be homeless.
During the dismantling and reconstruction process, he also explained that this is the time of year when "weird things just happen." That may be the best explanation of where the sulfur odor came from, although it isn't very satisfying.
It's true that the last time we had a really harsh winter our spring thaw treated me to a ruptured sill-cock pipe. Of course it probably broke in January, but it was March before the thaw made it apparent – and made my basement a wading pool. That was not necessarily weird in itself, but it was a surprise. It probably shouldn't have been entirely unexpected, however.
One of the eternal truths that I have come to realize is that there are patterns in nature, and regular cycles of events. Just as the seasons follow one another in regular succession, and just as my joints get stiffer with each round, we can expect the unexpected whenever life's next chapter opens. We can't plan for the unexpected very well, of course, but at least we know it's coming. That's part of the dichotomy of life. It's the yin and the yang. As Charlie Chan put it, "Sixty summers young – 60 winters old."

After the tradesmen left and I had a chance to settle down, I strolled around my house and took stock. There are bulbs sprouting green shoots here and there, and squirrels poking their noses out. There are also slushy pools of melted snow making temporary bogs in the yard. The north side of the house is still an arctic waste, but it's always been slow to accept the changing seasons.

I also noticed that a skunk has evidently taken up residence under the front porch. Not exactly sulfurous, but odiferous nay-the-less. This development calls for another type of professional help entirely. Perhaps the yawning pit wasn't such a bad option after all.
Robert L. Beardsley is the Cultural Resources Management, Planning & Development, Preservation Alliance of Leavenworth.