A Nice Jump Forward


This spring, Damon found some “scrub” topsoil — full of rocks and roots — at a job site in town and I rode with him as he picked up four truckloads for me. My land has many holes and bumps, plus very thin, sour soil, so I’m always on the lookout for both fill to smooth it out and topsoil to help something grow. The soil Damon found was free for the taking; I only had to pay him to haul it in his dump truck.

Damon emptied three truckloads in the back field alongside his father’s “draw,” a natural gully that Allen crammed with stumps and rocks in the spring of 2010 and we’ve been trying to bury slowly over the years. The fourth load he dumped near the pond, to be used wherever I might need it. And there the piles have sat since early May.


More than a month ago, Damon brought his small excavator to the farm for a day’s work. He was going to load and truck the giant, 20-ton manure pile from the barnyard to the back field (where it will rot slowly and can be spread later in the fall or next summer). He would spread the topsoil over the draw. And he would dig holes for a pair of 6×6 gate posts we’d planned to install in the barn paddock one day last November — a plan put on hold when instead he was hospitalized that day for a diabetic infection in his foot.

Unfortunately, the lovely rains that eased our spring drought and kept the grass green also kept the back field too soft for the heavy truck. Every time the ground began to dry out, it rained again. The truck and excavator sat idle.

Finally Damon decided he had to chance moving the manure pile between storms. He needed to take his equipment home for other jobs. The truck did get stuck once, but he was able to pull it out with my tractor.


While he was trucking, at my request he carried the extra load of topsoil to the barnyard to fill deep potholes among rocks in front of the driftway. The area is lumpy with boulders and thus requires tricky weedwhacking every year. It occurred to me this summer that I might try planting some rugosa roses in the new soil in hopes of creating a hedge and making the area maintenance-free.


More days went by. Then yesterday Damon arrived early to finish the last of the work. Over the weeks we had made so many plans that had to be changed at the last minute due to rain that I was almost shocked to see him.

First he spread the topsoil over the gully. A few more loads will see that project completed and the area will be mowable with the tractor. Maybe next summer.


Next he dug holes for the gate posts. I was grateful to have Kyle on hand to help. After years of lifting posts to set them in deep holes, just looking at heavy ten-foot treated 6x6s I can feel the sharp bite of the weight in my shoulder. Kyle hoisted the posts without a wince, and having two people on the ground pulling the measuring tape and watching the level meant that the posts were installed perfectly plumb and square.


Finally, Damon dug my future garden behind the future house, running beneath Allen’s boulder wall.


I have planned this garden since I bought the forested property in 2005 and had it logged and stumped. The specifics became clearer in April of 2009, when Allen terraced the land behind the future house and built the retaining wall along a curving line I drew in the dirt with a stick. As Allen excavated giant boulder after giant boulder, I told him about the garden I would have there someday. “Rock garden,” he said, but his eyes twinkled.

This spring I had stretched a hose on the thin grass and painted a line on the ground to mark the garden border, curving from two feet wide at the low end of the wall to ten feet wide at the high end. The border would be about two hundred feet long.

I had some cash in hand from selling a side of beef; I ordered a tandem load of clean topsoil (after terracing, the back yard is mostly lunar subsoil). I figured I would use a pick-axe to break up and remove the thin weedy surface. Then I would build a retaining wall out of what Allen and I called “trash rocks” — stones about 18″ across — and heap the topsoil six inches deep inside. This had worked nicely for a small perennial garden in front of the garage apartment.


In my mind I could hear Allen laughing at the thought of me searching diligently for 150 trash rocks. In 2009 he buried thousands of them to create the driveway peninsula, which as a result is solid rock, five feet down.


Still, I thought I could find enough stones in odd corners of the property over the course of the summer, in between the hours I spent swinging the pick-axe.

But the garden project, too, was put on hold. Not only was I, as usual, frantically trying to keep up with the spring rush of farm chores, but the trucking company suffered reverse after reverse.  A truck broke down. A driver had a heart attack. A second truck broke down. And it rained. The topsoil was not delivered.

Meanwhile Damon’s excavator sat at the farm in the rain. One day I looked at it thoughtfully. I’ll bet that bucket could skim off the surface of the garden border in under an hour! I asked Damon if he would mind adding the job to the list; he shrugged. Fine.

During the long wait, my original line had disappeared with mowing. Yesterday as the excavator climbed the slope, I ran ahead and re-marked it with red spray paint. For about $40 the entire border was carved. It was very exciting.


And also a bit unnerving, to have created another giant mess — in under an hour. [Double-click on any photo to enlarge.]


“Boy, this will be a lot of work!” I exclaimed, scrambling over the piles of dirt and stones, keeping my voice cheerful.

Damon’s mouth twisted sardonically but he merely nodded. He doesn’t approve of my gardening and landscaping efforts. “You ain’t got time to be fuckin’ with flowers,” he has told me more than once.

This may be true — especially with a possible move on my horizon — but it’s all a part of the dream. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to make a big jump forward.


4 Responses to A Nice Jump Forward

  1. Newly says:

    Beautiful! It will be fun to fill it all up with flowers.

  2. Erika says:

    Ah, but flowers against a long stone wall are beautiful for the eyes and the soul.

  3. Shawn says:

    Progress is awesome. If you need more topsoil, just take your manure pile and spread it, then pour some watered down milk (8:1) over it and you’ll have compost in short order. It’s amazing how much faster it breaks down. Looking good!

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Thanks, Shawn. I have heard about the beauties of milk in compost! However at the moment most of my milk is going to calves.

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