Saturday, Oct. 28, 2006
Dear Diary:

Dead men. The problem, I've decided, was a distinct lack of dead men.

People sneer at daylilies, but I love them.If you look closely at the far edge of my pond in the back of this picture of daylilies, you'll notice a gap in the stone wall that encircles the pond. That gap occurred when part of the wall collapsed earlier this summer.

I built this wall about ten years ago, not understanding the huge forces that the ice on the pond would exert on the dry laid stonewall. I only made this wall about 18 inches thick because it wasn't very high and under normal conditions it would have been fine..

The thing about dry laid stone walls is that all the rock is woven together. If you start rebuilding one part, you're pretty much committed to rebuilding the whole dratted thing. Our pond is 50 feet across. It takes a buttload of rock to encircle a pond that big.

I love building new stone walls, but for some reason I normally find it a huge pain in the buttal reason to disassemble and rebuild walls. But this summer, with all the stress that came with my mom-in-law's illness, I needed a honking huge physical challenge, something to tire me out so I would sleep properly.

And so I began what the spousal unit has christened the millennial wall.

Since 18" of wall wasn't enough, I decided to make the pond wall three feet thick. The thing about making the wall three feet thick was that I would have to cut the flat trench around the pond in which the wall sits back another 18". The fifty foot in diameter pond. The fifty foot in diameter pond which is surrounded by hard packed clay soil.

We drained the pond down two feet so I could dig without standing in water, which made it a slightly less miserable experience. That fatigue I was looking for? Oh, but I found it.

Since my wall was going to be three feet thick, I had to lay rocks in the bottom layer that were no smaller than three feet. The thing about rocks that are three feet? They are stupidly heavy. And, unlike gym equipment, which is perfectly balanced and comes with convenient handles, rocks are uneven and very hard to grip.

The spousal unit figured that the limit for my pretty little gym muscles seemed to be about 120 pounds. He said anything I called him over to help me with was over that. This would be the part where I hop up on my desk, pound my chest, and make scary, territorial gorilla noises.

All done to the tune of, "I Enjoy Being a Girl", of course.

The view from the top.  Yes I'm making you look at rocks.So where do the dead men come in?

Well, as you can see from this view of the top of the wall, it's very hard to find three foot rocks that are flat on three sides (top, bottom, front), so after building a flat, strong base, a certain amount of staggering inevitably happens. What you try to do is make all your seams overlap�if you look at the front of the wall, you'll see that I build it like a brick wall�if there's a joint at one level, the next rock above will span that joint. Simultaneously, I do the same thing with the interior of the wall. It's a three dimensional challenge.

But every three feet or so in every level of the wall, you need to throw in one rock that's long enough to span all the way to the back of the wall. It doesn't have to be wide, but it has to be long, to create stability. That rock is called a dead man.

I didn't use many of them the last time because the wall was so short I didn't think that it would matter. I thought wrong.

Dead men. Take it from me, you can never have too many dead men.

I got about two-thirds done and we had to pull the plug for this year. The pond needed to be filled and flushed with fresh, oxygenated water before the fish go dormant for the winter. Next spring I'll finish up.

Two thirds done, one third to go.Normally, I whine incessantly when forced to do something with my pretty little gym muscles that involves actual work. I've never understood why, but I've always found building stone walls to be anything but a chore.

Wall building is an insane amount of work. It starts with marching up and down streams to find the special flat rocks I need. I have to haul them out to a road where we can pick them up with our tractor. I store them in a big pile near the pond, a pile I have to pick through as I'm working on my wall.

Every rock that goes to the pond has to be brought there with a wheelbarrow. Sometimes I'll bring four or five wheelbarrows of rock before I bring the one rock that will properly fit into where I'm working. The big, three foot base rocks I tip one at a time into the wheelbarrow and edge into place at the pond using gravity and a prybar. Sometimes it takes both the spousal unit and I to horse one of these rocks into the wheelbarrow and push it up the slight incline to the pond. It's crazy, really.

Yet, it's one of the few places in my life where I'm utterly in the moment. I can lose myself in the physical and mental challenge of building the wall. I feel sweat run down my back from the raw strength it takes to push, lift move the rock. My mind is constantly occupied envisioning the shape and size of the next rock I need.

Squirrels yell at me. Dragon flies skim the pond. Frogs come right up and place their front feet on the bank where I work, fascinated by my intrusion into their lives. As I disassemble the old wall, salamanders dart out from the cracks. The fish weave in an out of the protection of the waterlilies. The perfume of the waterlilies wafts over me.

For the hours I do this, things are simple and clear. I take the rock, the very curse of my existence as a gardener, and weave them into something that makes me happy. I tire my body, calm my mind, and sleep comes effortlessly each night.

My mom-in-law continues to improve and I think that in a month or so she'll be strong enough to come home. I used to worry endlessly about the logistics of her return, about what her care will involve. Now I realize that much like my wall, it's going to be a one day at a time project, that solutions will come as we need them.

Who knew rocks could be so comforting, eh?


Mileage on the Marnometer: 664.43 miles. 10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck10 per cent rubber duck
Oh, man, but I am having a hard time building back stamina. Ouch.

Goal for 2006: 1,250 miles - 2000 kilometers

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