Allen and I have spent parts of the last three days building a run-in shed. It has been fun as it’s been one of the rare occasions when we actually work together, instead of at opposite ends of the property.
But the weather has been mostly awful. We are both tired. And there are competing tensions: as it is due to snow on Tuesday, and Allen is pushing to be sure I get my money’s worth in hiring the machine, we’ve worked for days without a break. Meanwhile he had more bad news from the doctor last week and I’m terribly worried about him. I asked for community prayers for him at church on Sunday and I could feel my eyes filling up with tears.
(Allen prefers to joke about it all. At his most recent appointment neither the doctor nor the nurse could hear a pulse in one side of his neck with a stethoscope. “Do you see black spots?” the doctor asked seriously. “Only when I close my eyes,” Allen smiled.)
The run-in shed is going up in the far corner of the barn paddock. It will provide shelter for the animals when the weather is bad but I don’t want to leave them cooped up in the barn all day. The shed panels are pieces of an old school pole garage that was demolished two years ago. The materials have been stacked, waiting for the opportunity to build it, ever since. Whenever I had a few extra dollars I would buy a couple more posts and add them to the pile.
I called last week to get a building permit for the project. I mentioned to the code officer that I would be putting up the run-in with Allen. “I love those guys,” he said, referring to Allen and his son Damon. “Tell Allen hello from me, and to make it look nice.” So much for paperwork.
Naturally, on Saturday when it was supposed to be sunny, it was raining and 38° F. White mist blew across the ground. Allen began by smoothing the far corner of the paddock.
My coveralls were soon wet and caked with icy mud to the knee. The pressure-treated 6×6 posts were long and heavy and hard to manage. Allen insisted on climbing down from the excavator to help me in the rain. I tried to get him to stay in the cab with its windshield and heater.
“I ain’t sugar!” he protested.
“No, but you’re sweet and I don’t want you to get sick.”
“Ain’t gonna get sick,” he said firmly.
At first we tried lifting the posts with my rock chain hooked around the excavator bucket.
This worked fine but took an extra few minutes. Soon Allen was picking up the big posts in the jaws of the bucket itself. It is very impressive to watch him delicately maneuver the giant bucket — which crunches whole trees in a flash — without even scratching the wood. Similarly, he would lift the end of a big wall panel with just one tooth of the bucket, so I could slide the chain under. “Show off!” I shouted up to him, teasing.
The planned run-in shed was a simple design. However there were some challenges. The wall panels were different heights and, since they’d been cut down with a chainsaw, all different lengths. Also, the ground where we had to dig post-holes was full of buried stumps and logs from clearing the land five years ago. Finally, marking a specific spot for each 6-inch-square post was almost useless, given that the bucket scooped a 4’x6′ hole, which then grew larger as stumps were pulled out and dumped over the fence into the woods.
Allen asked me my plan. “You’re the boss,” he said, twinkling.
I was horrified. “But you’re the brains!”
Allen decided we should put up each panel as we went along, and measure for the posts one at a time. He pulled a string line from our first post to a stake to keep us straight. As long as all our subsequent posts touched the string, we should be fine.
With the excavator he would dig each hole and carry over each post; then he’d climb down and together we’d try to wrestle the post into position. This usually entailed me jumping down into the hole to heave the bottom of the post forward or back. It was cold, wet, muddy work. My pants and gloves were soaked.
The second post was particularly difficult. We set the post, filled it, found it had been knocked by a rock, dug it out again, re-set it, re-filled the hole. Now the post was twisted. We dug it out once more, forced it straight. Now it was pushing the string. The rain blew in our faces. I was worried by how tired Allen looked, climbing in and out of the excavator, and frightened by the thought of struggling with eight more posts.
“Forget it! Bury it!” I screamed to Allen over the roar of the excavator. “We’ll move the string!”
When Allen is working, he frowns in concentration. This makes his sudden smiles look like sunshine breaking out all over his face. Now he stopped the excavator and started to laugh. His shoulders shook. “We’ll move the string?” he kept repeating to himself, laughing helplessly. He took off his glasses and wiped his eyes.
Patiently he explained that we couldn’t move the string or our back wall would not be straight or parallel to the fence. (“I don’t care! I’ll move the fence! I’ll cut the wall panel!”) However, still laughing, Allen pulled the post into position with the bucket and we went on.
By Saturday afternoon we had our back wall hung and the sun had finally burned off the rain.
Between the slope of the land, the difficulty in setting posts accurately, and the odd sizes of the panels, we knew it was far from perfect. But — “It’s a shed,” said Allen. “It’ll be fine.”
Sunday morning I was committed to taking a van-load of school children to church. I had also volunteered a month ago to run the after-service coffee hour. (“How come you didn’t tell ’em you was busy?” “Oh, Allen, everyone’s busy, and they had no one to do it — when they asked, my hand just went up.” “Gotta get some rope and tie that arm down.”) I was up at 3 AM, by 4 I was baking cookies and brownies. Lucy and I did barn chores in the dark at 6:30. The weather was cold and wet again, spitting snow. Allen arrived and we agreed that he would pull stumps in the morning and I’d meet him as soon as I changed after church.
By early afternoon the clouds had broken, the sun was out, and Allen and I had begun the second row of posts.
These were 12-footers and that much heavier and harder to handle.
Allen is of course much stronger than I am, and at first he insisted on climbing down in the hole. Here (above) is a portrait of an extremely bull-headed man. However I am almost as bull-headed, and to see him out of breath, trying to scramble over rocks and broken logs, made me much too anxious. I told him I’d be the one jumping in and out of holes. (“I’m the boss, remember?”) Most of the holes were too wide for him to reach across, so he couldn’t do much from above, either. “You’re too little,” I teased, giving him a hug. “Get back up in your excavator.”
Allen might have been offended by all this fussing except that he knows I’m a worrier by nature. (He once told me he was going to paint a big sign on my barn: QUIT YOUR WORRYIN’.) Meanwhile I am hardly a dignified employer. A few minutes later I shouted up to him, “I’ll be right back! I have to pee!” I turned to go, tripped over a root, and fell flat on my face. Wham! Even my hat was covered in mud. Once I realized I wasn’t hurt, I turned over and lay there in the mud laughing up at the sky. I could see Allen laughing, too.
But we were both getting tired. The wind was biting. (At one point we heard an inexplicable crash. Later we found that the wind had picked up and scattered a stack of roofing tin all over the driveway, and ripped the door of the chicken house right off its hinges.) And though I’d hoped to keep Allen safe and warm up in his excavator seat, since I was down in the holes holding the posts upright, it was he who had to trot back and forth, pulling the measuring tape to keep us properly positioned. “I’m sorry you’re having to walk so much,” I said anxiously. “I’m feeling it,” he admitted. But by quitting time on Sunday all the posts were up.
Monday was clear and even colder, 24° F. (My personal Theory of Relativity is that in the fall, 20° feels like an icicle plunged to the heart , whereas in the spring, 20° feels balmy.) The land was glittering with hoar-frost.
I am a wimp about cold. I’d abandoned my lightweight Dickies for my winter Carhartts a week earlier, and now I was waddling around in a fleece, a berber vest, a padded jacket, and winter gloves, too. I worried about Allen, whose outfit looked the same as usual. When I inquired, however, he explained that his current Dickies were flannel-lined and he was also wearing his “insulators” — long johns. But I was glad to have him in the warm cab of the excavator.
While Allen pulled boulders in the paddock, I put up the back row of stringers. Then together we put up the high stringers across the front. We shoved each 2×6 on top of the excavator bucket, he lifted it, and, standing on a ladder, I bolted one end onto a post. The other end was held level by Allen with the bucket, until I could move my ladder and bolt it, in turn. “Pretty expensive sawhorse,” said Allen.
Each bolted front stringer had to be cut to fit in place. I cut the first one. Unfortunately I just don’t have the strength to hold a circular saw steady in mid-air. The cut looked wobbly and awful. “That’s gonna show,” Allen observed mildly from the excavator. I cleaned up that cut — but without saying anything, it was understood that Allen would cut all the rest.
He also cut all the posts off level with my chainsaw. DH gave me this chainsaw, at my request, two years ago, but I am still too afraid to use it.
Allen is not. Chips flew.
By lunch time the excavator was out of the paddock, I’d restrung all the electric fence, all the restless livestock had been turned out, and Katika was investigating the framework of the new shed.
Over the next few weeks I’ll put up the rafters, the nailers, and the roof. All of it I can manage on my own if need be. “We done the hard stuff,” Allen said with satisfaction. “The rest is easy.”
It’s a great feeling.