A great weekend

img_3299Let’s see. I’m shivering and wet, deep in a muddy trench in rotten weather — must be working with Allen! I’ve done this so many times before.

Yesterday the temperature plummeted and we had a cold rain. From sweating in a t-shirt and jeans Saturday, I went back to winter coveralls, winter boots, fleece, winter barn jacket, gloves, and hat.

My job was to rake the floor of the trench smooth and hold up the 8′ laser transit stick, listening for the beep! beep! when we were at the right depth. Digging the footings for the barn in ’06 I’d borrowed an old-fashioned transit, which required two people — one to hold up the measuring stick and the other to look through the tiny monocular and call out the numbers. This rented laser transit was far simpler, a one-man job. As I paced holding the stick up in front of me I was reminded of my years as the crucifer in the children’s chapel. All I needed was a red robe and surplice, and a chorus of Onward, Christian Soldiers.

First I measured and limed the outlines of the mudroom. In this photo Allen is in the east trench raking; the transit stick is leaning behind him.


Though it’s hard to judge here where Allen had smoothed the surface, the land slopes significantly. Our job with the transit was to make the trenches level all the way around, despite the slope. We made a mistake with the first trench by digging it one foot too deep; if we’d continued at that depth the northwest (back left) corner of the garage would have been almost underground. We quickly adjusted and the northwest corner will be fine. I’ve always known there would have to be a lot of earth-moving on this project to address the issue of the slope and keep water from running down into the house. In this photo Allen has refilled and tamped the first trench, and is now raking it smooth.

Miraculously we hit no more large boulders — “large” meaning bigger than 3′ high. We had the foundation trenches finished and the transit put away by lunch. One of the potential concrete contractors stopped by and pronounced our work good. Allen ate in his truck in the rain and I ran home for peanut butter and coffee, and a dry t-shirt and socks.

After lunch Allen started the main retaining wall behind the house. We knew he wouldn’t finish it in four hours, but it was so thrilling to me to see the terracing I planned four years ago begin to appear! Pacing it off for Allen I’d said, “See, behind the house, all this is going to be a garden!”

Allen snorted. “Rock garden.” But he smiled.

The wall will curve gently around the back of the house and in front of the cabin. (After the house is built we may decide to move the cabin, which is on skids, to the back of the property.) There will be a five- to six-foot drop-off to the terrace behind the house.

img_3316Once Allen started the cut-away for the embankment, he found where the boulders we didn’t run into earlier in the day were hiding. Tess is sitting in the photo for perspective. They were monsters!

The digging was particularly hard in the rain, with the excavator sliding in the greasy mud. But Allen is a master. By 4 PM he had almost the entire curve cut away, and half a dozen boulders nudged into place.

That whole section of land is now torn to shreds, with giant piles of topsoil, piles of subsoil, piles of “small” rocks (watermelon size), piles of boulders (each larger than I), trenches, and terracing. It almost looks like a meteor hit. An enormous mess. But so much accomplished! I couldn’t be happier!

This morning, driving back from dropping Jon in Keene, I saw my first bluebird of the season. How appropriate.


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