November 21, 2019

57 Percent

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

A number of years ago I read that the U.S. Navy considers any one of its Tomcat fighter planes battle-ready if 80 percent of its complex flight, navigation and weapon systems are functioning.

I recall the article vividly.  I believe the piece appeared in Time magazine.  The arrogance of youth struck me when I read it.  I looked up from my seat in the waiting room.  “Wow.  I’d want to be certain that my parachute was 100 percent before I climbed into one of those.”

Age and experience have since tempered my reaction.  A bit of bitter honesty and some figures that don’t lie might help explain.

There are seven buildings on this farm.  Three of them leak.  We replaced the roof on the house last year or that would be added to the list.  We used the old metal roofing from the house to patch and repair the east side of the barn roof.  I thought it was a good idea at the time.  Perhaps it was.

It’s the west side of the barn that leaks this year.  I try to give myself excuse.  It’s an old building.  Unfortunately it doesn’t have to be old to leak.  Not around here.

The garage roof is freshly shingled.  That building is only 4 years old.  It leaks, too.

I used to admire the flock of mourning doves congregating atop it every morning and evening. Flapping, gregarious, perpetually cooing, I didn’t see them as a threat.  The flock roosts nightly in the pine hedge I set out as a wind-break along the west side of the lawn, a convenient and short flight from the garage.

But my view of mourning doves has recently changed.  Now I mourn right along with them.  A number of leaks developed in my brand-new garage roof.  Since I put the building up ― including the roof ― it’s very near and dear to my heart.  Moreover, every time I discover myself working on equipment in heated, neon-light splendor in the middle of January, I grow a bit fonder of the structure.

I used to work on equipment in the unheated barn, losing parts in the dirt floor and picking up wrenches in winter simply by brushing frosted metal with exposed skin.

But back to the garage roof.  I recall cursing the leaks until I actually climbed up for a closer look.  Then the pure blue sky of early March turned a far deeper shade from the language employed.  I’ll be honest.  I didn’t count.  There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of holes in that roof.  They were spread all over.  On both sides.  At all elevations.

Before making a special trip to purchase another five gallons of roofing tar, I stared at the holes for several moments.  “How in heaven’s name did these get here?  These shingles were guaranteed 20 years!”

I gazed into middle space for a few moments more.  Slowly a nasty suspicion percolated at the top of my head, dropping hot thoughts over the rest of my brain.  I snapped my fingers.  “Mourning doves!”  I looked closely.  The holes certainly looked pecked, small, discrete and surrounded by denuded black roofing.

I spent a miserable day trying to spread cold roofing tar.  I kept trading cans, the one warming inside the garage on the woodstove with the one congealing outside on the roof with me.   Considering the conditions, it’s no surprise that I got more on me than on the shingles.

The next morning I went out with binoculars and stared at the mourning doves on the garage.  Observation appeared to confirm my thought.  They were pecking the roof.  But they did it so quickly, it was hard to be sure.  I went back into the house for the pellet gun.  A post-mortem proved it.  The sampled dove crop was filled with tiny, sharp pebbles.  The very size, color and appearance of those that once protected my shingles.

Now I look at mourning doves and shudder.  Sure, I might have corrected the leaks, but I’ve still got the problem.  Mourning doves still flock on my roof.  There are a great many more than I can shoot.  Plus, every time I miss, there’s another hole in my roof.

I’ve got to put up a metal roof if I can ever afford it.

Not that a metal roof is the definitive answer.  That’s because our third leaky roof is already metal.  It covers the storage shed we just purchased next door.  There, the neoprene gaskets surrounding each nail used to secure it in place are cracked.  Worse, a great many are missing altogether.  It’s startling the amount of water that comes through every tiny nail hole.

Now, stop a minute.  Think about all of this.  It’s all true.  And it covers just our roofs.  There are plenty of other things that are wrong beneath them, things requiring maintenance. There are clapboards that need replacing, windows which should be re-glazed.  In fact, the house should be completely repainted.  One of the electrical outlets in the garage keeps popping the circuit breaker.  The water stanchion in the barn leaks.  It’s a so-called frost-free spigot, meaning the bottom two-thirds are buried.  In actuality, that just means it’s that much more difficult to repair or replace.

Unfortunately, I could go on.  And on and on.

But getting back to my roofs, they provide a nice concrete number.  Three out of seven leak if you recall ― at least that I know about.  That means only 57 percent of my roofs are working.  Not a comforting statistic, I’m sure you’ll agree.  That figure has changed my perspective.

While I sincerely doubt that I’ll ever get this farm airborne, I can’t help but be impressed by the U.S. Navy.  They made it all the way to 80 percent.

Now that I’m older, that figure looks unbelievably good.