Heavy Lifting

We garden on a very public triangular corner close to downtown Bellingham. The point of the triangle once had a street under it, so the soil is shallow. When we moved in we weren’t sure anything would grow out there, so we planted a bunch of spreading junipers from K-Mart. Sixteen years later they had become overgrown and weren’t very interesting. So last week I ripped the last of them out, hooking a retired climbing rope to the stumps and literally pulling them from the ground with my truck. I also dug up an infestation of Euphorbia robbiae, which was crowding other plants out.

Today it was time to clean up the corner, add soil, and get it ready for some new plants. That’s where the heavy lifting comes in. I took my truck up the Mt. Baker highway to a creek that overflows every winter and leaves lots of rock laying around. I hefted as many rocks as would fit one layer on the bed of the truck, very aware that rock is heavy and not wanting to break my springs. Since I was working by myself, I was limited to “one man” rocks, but some were as big as I could lift. Back home, I unloaded them on the sidewalk next to my work area.

Next trip was to Northstar Stone to get a load of 5/8 minus crushed rock with fines. Neighbors had been making an impromptu path across the little bit of grass that remained on the point of the garden. I dug out all the grass and soil down about 4 inches. Then I shoveled the gravel into the path area. We had some old broken concrete laying around, so I put pieces down to define one edge of the path, leveling them into the gravel. I was a little surprised to find that I used nearly a yard of crushed rock on my new path and foundation for a low stone wall.

With gravel in place and tamped down by walking on it, I started placing my big river rocks. There’s definitely an art to building a stone wall, even one that’s only two rocks high and no more than 10 feet long. Gaze at the pile of rocks until one seems right for the next spot in the line. Then lug it into place and set it in the gravel, making sure it’s solid. Repeat. Repeat.

Eventually my wall had taken shape, with some larger rocks set on end, others laying flat to form a foundation for a second layer. I stepped back and decided it was good. I shoveled the rest of the crushed rock up against the front face of the wall, packing it in around the base stones with my boots.

With a new wall, now there wasn’t enough soil to fill the area behind it. So off to Growsource for a yard of 3-way soil mix, gently dumped in the bed of my truck with a front-end loader. Back home I picked up the shovel and unloaded it all to form a nice rounded raised bed. Natalie raked and shaped, then packed the very loose soil down by walking on it. I shoveled the rest of the truckload into place, then took off for a second load before Growsource closed for the evening.

It sure would be nice to be able to unload as fast as the front-end loader dumped, but alas, I had to shovel another load. This one got split between the triangular corner bed, the perennial bed in front of the house, and the last portion at another point of the triangular corner.

Ever the glutton for labor, I decided to go fetch another load of small boulders for the next section of wall. So back up Mt. Baker highway I went, with a detour down Mosquito Lake Road, where I thought I’d remembered a source of rock. I was wrong, but the view of the Twin Sisters in the late afternoon light under a clear blue sky was spectacular. I eventually got my load of rock and gently made my way home, where I still had to unload the stuff.

Tomorrow I’ll build some more wall. Today, I figure I hefted at least a ton of rock, another ton of crushed stone, and a couple of tons of soil. That’s a lot of lifting, even with reasonably good form and using the legs as much as possible.

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