A Bottle’s Story

My latest recreational activity up here has been a project to try to expose the large rocks in the down yard and level out the ground in the process. it’s a classic pointless project. Is it necessary? Absolutely not! But it’s fun, and gets me exercise out in the fresh air, and I like to see physical results of my daily labors.

The project involves lots of digging with small tools as you work between the big rocks to lever out small rocks and level out the soil. And, sometimes, as happened yesterday afternoon, you find stuff — like the classic Nehi bottle and blue glass canning jar lid pictured above, both of which were wedged into a tiny crevice between two large rocks and covered in decades of dirt. They’ll join our collection of other bottles that have been retrieved, intact, from the down yard.

Alas, most of what I’ve dug up is shattered glass. I’ve excavated so many shards of glass that I’m convinced people must have used our down yard area for target practice or random, drunken bottle breaking. That’s why it’s cool to retrieve some intact old pieces that escaped the onslaught.

Resolution’s End (Cont.)

Of course, exercise equipment isn’t the only item that you might buy when your blood runs high and you are charged with enthusiasm — only to find that, a few months later, you desperately regret ever making that purchase.  Do-it-yourself projects generally, and yard projects specifically, also can suffer when someone loses their edge.

If you studied the arc of yard projects, the study would no doubt conclude that you’ve got to strike quickly — right after you go to the garden store to buy those heavy bags of mulch, manure, and garden soil.  The study would show that, for every day that passes before you open the bags and actually start working on your project, there is a cascading likelihood that the project will never get underway at all

Delay quickly becomes fatal.  After one or two days, you’re down to the 50-50 range on the odds of actually getting started, and after two weeks it’s more likely that you’ll buy the winning Powerball lottery ticket than that you’ll haul yourself outside and begin digging and spreading.  By then, the bags have just become part of the landscape.  You’ve clearly accepted, privately, that you’re never going to get started, but you can’t bring yourself to publicly acknowledge your failure by removing the bags.

So, the bags remain.  Eventually, they burst.  And it’s really bad when weeds start growing out of those sad, tattered bags, taunting the non-do-it-yourselfer and adding the mulch and weed smell to the ever-present reek of failure.  

Pathfinding

My latest project is the classic definition of a “yard project.”  It is absolutely not necessary.  In fact, some people would undoubtedly consider it to be pointless “busy work.”  Life could go on quite easily without it, and no one — not the birds, or the trees, or the insects that call the down yard home, or the folks who live in the neighboring homes — would care.  But it’s something I have pictured in my head, I want to see if I can bring it to fruition, and I like having a project to work on during my leisure time.  How many “yard projects” start in that way?

Basically, the project is focused on doing something interesting and hopefully attractive with the area shown in this photo, which is at the bottom of a very steep, rocky outcropping.  The first step happened several years ago, when Russell and I chopped down the scrubby trees that had overgrown this area between the rocks.  Last year I tried to keep the remaining tree roots from sprouting new trees, and this year I’ve dug out all of the stumps and tree roots of the scrub trees — about 20 stumps and root systems in all — to create an area for some planting.  Most recently, I’ve been building stone paths that will allow us to readily reach the little garden plot where we have planted Russell’s vegetables, and in the process make some productive use of the abundant supply of rocks we’ve got around here.  The next step will be to figure out what kind of ground cover, consisting of hardy, and hopefully somewhat colorful, native plants, can be planted in the areas between the paths and on some of the rocky slopes around the areas.

Digging out the stumps was hard work that left me as dirty as an adult can reasonably get, but each day I made some progress, and each stump that was successfully removed was satisfying.  The pathbuilding was challenging, but also interesting because it involved trying to find routes for the paths that made use of the existing boulders that are found in the area and also worked around the root systems of the two large birch trees that are immediately overhead.  So, perhaps “pathfinding” is a better word for the work.  And trying to find the right rocks to fit in the right spaces has been a nice creative exercise.  

I’ve enjoyed working on my utterly gratuitous “yard project,” and at night I look down on the area, compare it to the mental image that got this whole process started in the first place, and look forward to the next step. 

Dig It

My project this week is focused on digging.  Our “down yard” — the part of the yard that spills down a steep slope in the direction of Stonington’s harbor — is choked with granite rocks.  Some are enormous looming crags, big enough that you can lean your shovel against them, some are man-sized boulders, and some are just barely peeking out of the ground.

The problem with all of the rocks is that they make the down yard impossible to mow.  As a result, it has become choked with weeds.  Our yard guy told me that if we can mow the area down low enough, it will kill the broad-leaf weeds, which he says aren’t hardy enough to withstand two or three successive very short clippings.  Grass, on the other hand, is more robust, he says; it will survive the repeated chopping and will quickly move into the void left by the killed-off weeds.  The result will be a nice grassy area among the jutting boulders.

I have no idea whether this is true or not, but his comment produced this project.  The goal is to dig out the smaller, movable rocks so that a lawnmower can navigate between the remaining big boys and do its weed-killing job.

Digging out stones is happily mindless work.  You don your work gloves to avoid blisters, take your shovel, and start chopping away at the soil around the exposed rock, trying to find an edge.  When you do, you use the shovel like a lever, to see if the rock is even movable.  Some are obviously too huge to move.  But if the rock looks to be reasonably movable, you keep at it, digging away and working the rock loose, until you can wedge it out of its resting place and roll or carry it away, clearing a path for next year’s mowing.  Sometimes you need to use additional ersatz tools, like two-by-fours, to brace up a big rock until you can lever it out of the hole — so the work also appeals to the keen tool-making interests of homo sapiens.

So far, I’ve dug and moved out dozens of rocks, large and small, causing Kish to question my sanity and rocky obsessiveness.  What am I doing with them, you ask?  I’ll address that in a future post.