Today Allen cleaned up final projects with the excavator, refueled it, and parked it by the road for pick-up. Our month is over.
I am sad on the one hand, but relieved on the other. We’ve been driving ourselves hard. At times it has felt frenzied, that there was no time for anything else in life but the immediate demands of the work — which weighed on us insistently, like 200 pounds of over-ripe tomatoes waiting in a sweaty kitchen in canning season. Occasionally I felt as if I’d escaped from Diary of A Mad Housewife: cooking dinner at 4 AM, vacuuming the living room in high heels before church, then shucking my dress to race down to shovel in a muddy trench.
I also worried about Allen. He was exhausted but would not take a day off. The diesel fumes made him so hoarse he could barely speak. Nevertheless, as our month dwindled he was determined to put all possible time in on the machine. “You paid for them hours and I’m gonna get ’em for you!”
It will not surprise you to learn that Allen finished everything on his list, plus half a giant project — cleaning up the ten-acre logging mess — that hadn’t even been on our radar. In a month he installed the septic system, trenched for water and power, dug 70% of the future house basement (couldn’t do more without undermining the garage due to frost heave), put up the frame for the run-in shelter, placed Sonotubes for a future deck, rocked all the pastures, and re-filled half the gravel pit with boulders.
I’ve been under the big excavator bucket so often now I’ve lost any fear of it. I’ve seen Allen maneuver that bucket with surgical precision inside a four-foot opening with only inches to spare, and never brush anything. (Of course accidents happen. Especially when trying to pull boulders that heave unexpectedly in tight spaces. Allen was distressed when an enormous boulder, larger than the excavator cab, that he found in the future basement rolled and crunched the edge of some stacked clapboard siding.) But in general I’ve worked with him and the excavator so often I tend to think of the bucket as an extension of Allen’s arm. Or as a friendly giant beast, `a la the dinosaur in Danny and the Dinosaur.
Digging the post holes. Digging the septic tank pit. Backfilling over the water pipes as I pitched sand with a shovel. I’d look up from under the brim of my baseball cap and watch Allen as he concentrated, frowning.
Hours would go by when our only communication was by hand signals.
After backfilling, one of our Sonotubes was an inch and a half off-center. Oh my goodness. It was the end of the day and we were both cold and tired. When I yelled the news up to Allen, his brows knit.
Then the bucket reached out carefully, buried its teeth in the ground, and gently, so gently, pushed the Sonotube (cardboard, buried in rocks). I measured again. It was perfect. I burst out laughing in relief.
“Allen, did anyone ever tell you you’re a genius?”
His face was serious. “I think a girl said that once.” Then he smiled.
It’s been a great, fun, exciting, tough, exhausting month. Goodbye, excavator. We’re done until spring.