My desk resembles the Culebra area. I’ve spent all day trying to reduce the pile of loose papers, file folders, notebooks, and shopping receipts, but the pile seems no lower. I’ve paid bills, recorded receipts on my computer accounts, filed important papers, mailed letters, tossed notes after making phone calls, and the stuff just keeps coming.
Me: “I’ve worked for hours and the pile on my desk isn’t any smaller.”
Skus: It’s like the Panama Canal; as they dug down into the Culebra Cut, the bottom kept oozing up and they didn’t seem to be making any progress.”
Me: Now that you mention it, I remember reading about it, probably in McCullough’s book. I’d better look it up–after I file a few more papers.”
A few minutes later, here comes Skus with David McCullough’s 600-page The Path Between the Seas open to the relevant page (553 in my edition). My man certainly has a head for places, both literary and geographic, and details!
McCullough explains it more clearly than I can:
“The most uncanny of all effects, however, was the rising of the floor of the Cut. Not merely would the walls of the canal come crashing down, but the bottom would rise ten, fifteen, even thirty feet in the air, often quite dramatically. Gaillard on one occasion grew concerned as a steam shovel appeared to be sinking before his eyes, but looking again he realized that it was not that the shovel was descending, but that the ground where he stood was steadily rising—about six feet in five minutes, “and so smoothly and with so little jar as to make the movement scarcely appreciable.”
“This phenomenon, diabolical as it seemed, had a simple explanation. It was caused by the slipping walls of the Cut acting upon the comparatively soft strata of the exposed canal floor. The effect was exactly that of a hand pressed into a pan of soft dough—the hand being the downward pressure of the slides, the rising dough at the side of the hand being the bottom of the canal.”