Learning from our mistakes — sort of

While rolling a wheelbarrow full of logs down a path behind our house the other day, I slammed into a jutting rock and the whole load toppled into the mud.

“Well, that certainly is unfortunate,” I remarked.

Actually, I may have used more colorful language, but the point is, this was probably the 147th time over the years I’d hit that same blankety-blank rock.

“Who built this trail?!” I grumbled to myself — a rhetorical question, since I knew the answer: me.

Lately, I’ve taken to blaming many of today’s vexations on poor decisions by a younger version of myself.

For instance, why had I built the woodsheds so far from the house, requiring that every time you need to lug logs inside, particularly while it’s snowing to beat the band and bitter cold (when else do you need fuel for the stove?), you have to pull on boots, gloves and a heavy parka, and clamber over steep, slippery stone stairs?

Well, I may give myself a pass on this issue, because it’s more pleasing to look out the window at an expanse of trees rather than rickety sheds full of firewood. Form over function. But still, it would be nice if the sheds were a few feet closer to the door.

On the subject of steps between the house and woodsheds, I often ask myself, “What was I thinking when I built them a foot high in places, so you have to lift your legs awkwardly while carrying unwieldy loads?”

Of course, I know the answer: I had moved into place boulders that were close at hand, rather than dragging flatter, better-suited ones farther afield. Tall steps, nearly double the height of standard risers, weren’t that big a deal to bound up and down decades ago, whereas now I have to tread carefully or risk stubbing a toe, or worse.

As for the two woodsheds I designed and constructed decades earlier, why did I neglect to brace the corner posts adequately on one of the buildings, causing the structure to slowly list like the Leaning Tower of Pisa? My neighbor asked that question earlier this year when he helped me jack up the shaky shed, reposition the posts and properly install corner braces. Live and learn.

Now, back to that jutting rock: I finally had enough of bashing it with the wheelbarrow and decided earlier this week to fix the problem once and for all.

The most effective remedy would have involved using a backhoe to dig up the boulder and move it a few feet, but that was out of the question. To reach the rock the machine would have to rip through dozens of evergreens, rhododendrons and laurel bushes I’d planted.

Alternative solutions would be to jackhammer the giant rock or blast it into smithereens, but each presented drawbacks. After watching a few YouTube videos, I realized I’d need to rent a construction-grade jackhammer and compressor to break up the boulder into manageable chunks, which not only would likely strain every muscle, tendon and ligament from my feet to my scalp, but also loosen a few fillings.

I’m also skittish around explosives, having watched more than my share of Road Runner cartoons. Poor Wile E. Coyote always gets tossed hundreds of feet in the air before plunging into a canyon.

I once hired a contractor who used dynamite to blow up an enormous slab of ledge that blocked the site of a planned addition to the house, and even though everything went smoothly I never felt really comfortable watching him work.

First of all, the guy arrived smoking a big cigar. I wanted to say, “Excuse me, but do you think it might be a good idea to put out the stogie while you’re handling explosives?” but didn’t want to sound like a weenie.

Next, he drilled a couple holes in the rock, casually reached into his back pocket, pulled out a stick of dynamite, broke off a few lengths, stuffed them in the holes, attached caps and electrodes, ran wires to a detonator and covered the rock with a steel-mesh mat.

At this point, I contemplated jumping in my car and peeling out, but he assured me there was nothing to fear.

Sure enough, I barely heard the blast over the roar of a diesel generator that produced the electrical charge, and never even felt the ground shake. He then pulled the mat away — shazaam! — to reveal a pile of shattered boulder shards, and lit a fresh cigar.

OK, nothing bad happened, but before I resorted to dynamite again, I decided to give hand tools a chance. I lined up assorted equipment: pry bar, mattock and shovel, but I might as well have tried to budge the Rock of Gibraltar.

Finally, after half an hour of sweating and struggling, I carried over a 20-pound sledgehammer and donned a pair of safety glasses.

After half a dozen swings, a seam in the boulder opened up. I jammed a wedge into the crack, hit it a few more times, and the intruding knob of granite snapped off.

I reloaded the wheelbarrow with logs and rolled it past the slimmed-down boulder with an inch or two to spare.

“Close enough,” I told myself.

Emboldened, I went around to other sections of trail where rocks have emerged. They pop up every so often with the frost. I smashed a few — it’s quite satisfying work as long as you don’t bring the hammer down on a toe.

I dug up several other rocks, which meant I then had to fill in potholes. Wood ash from the stoves, which I dump into a pit, makes adequate paving material, but it tends to settle, so I usually dig up clay from a separate pit.

I finished my repaving project just before the ground froze. Now, I’m happy to say, the wheelbarrow rolls smoothly, and I can efficiently transport logs that are stacked a couple hundred yards from the woodsheds.

Should have done this years ago, I told myself.




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