It was nearly 6 PM and the sun was dropping down the sky when I slogged through the mud out to the excavator on Tuesday night and yelled up to my friend Allen, “Are you OK?”
Allen, 72, had been working in the heat since 8 AM. Leon had left with his ride two hours earlier. I worried about Allen. He has had two quadruple-bypass heart operations. His clothes and skin were splattered with mud and cement. His eyes were bloodshot. Yet still he drove himself, because the job was not done.
“Sure — I’m fine,” he said. “Are you OK?”
Despite my exhaustion and bug bites, I had to laugh. Just as it is my nature to take care of people, it is Allen’s nature not to admit to any problem. It always reminds me of my father, who might have been delirious with malaria but always automatically responded to “How are you?” with “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” Allen is extremely fatherly.
Allen’s son had stopped by to help and now the two of us watched his dad at work. Allen and D have worked side by side for years, an unusual situation for modern fathers and sons, and I have always enjoyed watching their communication, which seems to an outsider to be almost telepathic. Allen at the controls of the excavator made a tiny motion.
“He’s telling me I can go home,” said D. “But I want to watch for a while.”
The two of us stood there, watching, as Allen opened the dam between the narrow old pond and his newly dug area.
It wasn’t quite the cascade at High Falls Gorge, but the gush of rushing water was very satisfying. D left. I went off to feed my animals. Allen’s wife arrived to pick him up. We were done.
The job could not be finished in the time we had. That was that.
Yesterday morning, early, I was calling in the cows when Allen’s truck nosed down the driveway. He rolled down his window and told me he had decided to run out to “clean up a few things” before the excavator was picked up.
The site had been left with piles of dirt and mud everywhere. The pond still had a long bridge of dirt between the old section and the new, like a giant sandbar. Though a tremendous amount of work had been accomplished, it was hard to appreciate the progress in all the mess.
Allen is a foe of mess. I think he also knew I was discouraged. He fired up the excavator and began cleaning up one end of the sandbar, which after the morning’s rain was oozy mud. (As always, the photos can be clicked to enlarge.)
I was mucking out the barn when his wife called me. She asked me to keep an eye on him. The excavator tracks were too tight and the machine wasn’t responding properly. She was concerned about it tipping over.
I stopped mucking, picked up my loppers and weedwhacker, and went down to the pond to cut back raspberries and briars. I watched Allen out of the corner of my eye.
Next he began reducing the sandbar from the other side. I had asked D the night before, “How is he going to get rid of that bridge of dirt across the water?” It was much too long to be reached by the arm of the excavator. D shrugged: “Dunno.” I had asked Leon the same question and Leon too had no idea. D and I joked that it would make a nice island or industrial-size diving platform.
I should have realized that “The Genius” had a plan. I watched as Allen began removing the top two feet of the sandbar and swiveling the machine to dump it behind him on land.
Then, balancing the excavator on the tiny strip of earth that was barely the width of its tracks and just above water, he inched forward, scooping, and back, dumping.
Once the surface was removed, he began digging out the sandbar entirely, starting from the far end and carrying it to the land.
Eventually it was all gone. The sun came out.
I walked back to the barn to finish mucking while Allen began smoothing out the dirt piles around the pond. The excavator sank deep in the mud, almost to the height of the cab.
Eventually Allen drove the excavator up to the barn to park it. It took us almost an hour with shovels and a hose to get the packed mud out of the excavator tracks. By the time we were done, I was soaked and filthy — but very happy.
When Lucy came home from school I said, “Allen came in this morning before they picked up the excavator, and guess what he did for us?”
She grinned. After all these years she knows Allen’s work ethic. “Oh! Did he clean everything up, so even though it’s not finished it looks like a pond now?”
I grinned back. “Exactly!”
“He’s such a nice man,” Lucy said.
Indeed he is: very kind and very, very talented. Thank you, Allen.