Learn­ing from our mis­takes — sort of

The Day - - DAYBREAK - Steve Fa­gin

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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