11 June 2012

Dirty Projects

I've been working outside for more than a month now. It's great therapy to play with dirt. Plus, did you know that dirt is the most effective sunscreen protection? Maybe Pigpen from Peanuts was on to something...

Anyway, I started thinking about doing this during the winter afternoons when we wanted to sit outside in the warm sun. The only place we could do so was in the graveled back half of our yard, beyond the Thunderdome--I mean the railroad ties. Someone Other Than Me decided that large chunks of pink granite would look great back there. Might look great but it's a bitch to walk through. The wrought iron patio chairs don't sit well in it, and of course it scratches and scrapes everything it touches.

Where we started with the planter...
There was a planter on the northwest side that sat in sun all day where no plant truly thrived. I tried growing wildflowers, zinnias, sunflowers, portulacas, irises, herbs...none of them did well. Oh they might get a bloom or two within the first month, then wither and dry up. Initially, I thought it was the soil, then perhaps too much sun. I gave up and let it sit empty all last year. Staring at it while trying to balance my chair in the granite chunks, a brilliant notion occurred to me. I'll rip the damn thing apart and put a patio there!

(And before you ask, no. No, I don't have my husband or son "helping" me on this project. Working solo will keep me out of jail for homicide. It seems to be working--so far...)

I forgot how heavy retaining wall bricks are. I also discovered why nothing would grow there, ever. See that giant saguaro behind the wall? Saguaros don't sink roots like a tree; they spread them out in a circle around them in a twenty-five to thirty foot radius to absorb as much surface water as possible. This one had hit the jackpot when I built that planter.

A web of saguaro roots slowed me down as soon as I removed the first layer of brick. I'd see a skinny strand less than a quarter of an inch thick and think I could just yank it out of the dirt. Oh. Mah. Gawd. Looks are truly deceiving when it comes to those things. They have the tensile strength of steel. There wasn't one foot of free earth in that entire planter. No wonder nothing grew--that saguaro sucked up every bit of water and had wrapped its greedy tendrils around the water line to boot! Now before you think I've killed the cactus, remember: those roots circle outward. The entire desert area beyond the wall is full of root strands to sustain it. It's cool.

Anyway, the reason I'm sharing this is how physical drudgery frees the creative side of the brain. I've been writing in my head while shoveling dirt. I have a short story to finish by the end of the month and the time spent working outside has allowed me to explore different scenarios without sitting at the computer. Plus it's incredible exercise without going to a gym. Just ask my shoulders and lat muscles.

The foundation as of June 10.
The current State of the Patio? The new foundation is slowly progressing. I work on it in the early mornings or evenings when the sun is closer to the horizon. June heat in Arizona can not only fry your skin to a crackly crunch, you can dehydrate faster than your brain registers thirst. So I'm careful to work two hours at a time. I need to get the paving stones set before our summer thunderstorms begin.  Only a little more foundation dirt to tamp then I can frame the layout, set the border of retaining wall bricks, add enough sand to cover the area two inches deep, level that, and then place the pavers. It's going to be fun to see the finished project.

And don't worry. I have more Dirty Projects in mind for the front yard, too.


  1. I go through a similar process, JJ, only mine occurs in the late winter before the snakes, ticks, and giggers come out. I plow about six acres, try to rip out residual roots from trees removed years ago, yet the roots still remain. Then with 5 gallon buckets I collect several thousand rocks ranging from 4 inch to 20" in diameter (no joke) and create rock walls for the next generation.

    Darn rocks make love and have babies each year cause they repopulate every till I plow.

    Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
    Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
    Award of Excellence (2011)

  2. LOL Rocks are like potatoes, Mike. They sprout!

  3. You guys are so ambitious. Can't wait to see the finished poject(s).