I imagine that a lot of dads out there spent Father’s Day lounging about the house with the Sunday paper or maybe enjoying a good book in their hammock with an ice cold beer. I’ll bet their children checked in periodically to see if there was anything else they needed to make their special day as fabulous as possible. As lovely as that might be for some folks, I gotta say it’s just not the cut of my jib.
I prefer a good workout. But you won’t find me pulling on the spandex and cycling the Grand Rounds or tugging on my battered running shoes and churning out a 10K before lunch. No, I figure if I’m going to push myself to the brink of exhaustion I might as well have something to show for it besides a sweaty T-shirt.
That’s why My Lovely Wife and I were shoveling wet gravel into the back of the car in the middle of a torrential thunderstorm Saturday afternoon, and why we transferred a couple of tons of distressed concrete, one wheelbarrow-load at a time, from our driveway to the front yard as darkness fell Saturday night. (Forget that trendy sled those primal fitness guys are pushing around the gym these days. There’s nothing like wheeling a couple hundred pounds of concrete over a bumpy backyard to challenge your wobbly proprioception.) A little obsessive? Guilty as charged. We had big plans for Father’s Day, and they didn’t include margaritas on the patio. We had a wall to build.
There are several viable reasons for building a retaining wall. Gardeners and landscapers mostly tilt toward the aesthetic: a lovely retaining wall can enhance a garden design. And, while I would never suggest that MLW favors the practical over the artistic, this particular wall we were building had a rather utilitarian purpose. It would give us a place to store all that busted up concrete I’ve been creating since we moved here almost a year ago.
(MLW will argue that the most authentic garden walls are always built using native stone and that the stone most native to any urban environment is, in fact, concrete. I don’t disagree.)
It should be noted by way of explaining the single-mindedness with which we pursued this particular project that our garbage collector last week had noticed the aforementioned tons of concrete in our driveway (which, I should also mention, is a different collection of concrete from the one described in my previous post — we are, it seems, generating a bit of a surplus) and left us a note explaining in somewhat authoritarian terms that we would run afoul of an obscure city ordinance if we didn’t remove the offending pile by this coming Thursday.
This isn’t the first retaining wall we’ve built from the remnants of some concrete slab or sidewalk, but it is by far the largest. Indeed, as I measured the size of the rubble piled on both sides of our house on Sunday morning, it seemed to me that we were embarking on the construction of something akin to the Great Wall of Concrete. There was nothing to be done, however, but to – as Nike says — just do it. So I started digging up sod at a measured pace and flinging it up onto the top of the slope, stopping periodically to quench my thirst and mop my brow. MLW soon joined me to contribute to the general evisceration of the lawn and the forlorn hostas upon which much of the former lawn was landing.
An Exercise in Landscaping
I think there are few exercises that surpass sod removal for its whole-body torture. You’re using your legs and your glutes, your core and your deltoids, your shoulders and your upper arms — over and over and over. It even improves grip strength and builds terrific calluses. But in any exercise routine, you want a little variety, so we moved from unearthing sod to practicing hundreds of repetitions of concrete squats — clutching chunks of former sidewalk and lifting them into the wheelbarrow. Then, for more variety, we pushed the loaded wheelbarrow into the front yard and down the slope on the other side of the steps onto the front sidewalk. This was accomplished with me at the stern and MLW (an immovable force in many ways) slowing and steadying the load as she inched backward down the small hill. Then we lifted the rocks out of the wheelbarrow and placed them strategically on the sidewalk in front of the slowly growing wall.
Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have thought twice about cranking out such a project in a half a day. But your body knows the difference between 60 and 40 — and your brain should to. So, we paced ourselves, drank plenty of water and even granted ourselves a lunch break — something we would never have even considered back in our (relative) youth. And by around 4 in the afternoon, we found ourselves beginning to stiffen up, at which time (purely by coincidence) we decided the wall was done. We swept up the sidewalk, rolled the empty wheelbarrow back up the slope one last time and shuffled back into the house.
We did manage to convene our two former-children-turned-housemates for a lovely Father’s Day dinner on the patio (no margaritas), after which I was allowed to lounge for a brief time on the porch admiring our handiwork. Later, MLW and I took an inventory of the remaining concrete and concluded there was only enough for a small wall to be embedded into the opposite slope. Neither of us voiced any disappointment.