sand beneath the hump
Friday, May 20 2005
I got up early, at about 7am, and soon thereafter continued my work on the latest phase of yard excavation. My early encounters with a reef of solid bluestone bedrock meant that I'd have to angle the newest drainage channel differently from the way I'd originally intended. I'd have to catch water in the swale several feet upstream from the place where runoff is ponding. I could also raise the elevation of the ponding location, but probably not quite to the same level as the interception point in the swale.
For the record, as swales go the one in our yard probably follows the worst engineering possible - it's pointed directly at the house! If it wasn't for the crumbling retaining wall and the (now bluestone-paved and well-drained) walkway standing in its way, the basement foundation wall would be the only barricade against most of an acre's worth of runoff.
Were I to make a list of the instances of shoddy engineering and execution that went into the creation of our house, it would extend for pages. The items in that list could be divided into three broad categories analogous to those familiar from medical triage. There are the trivial things, like the upside-down wall outlets and lights controlled by switched neutrals. There are the fundamental long-term issues we have to live with, like the apparent absence of waterproofing on the foundation walls and the many trees that the tree-hating bulldozer drivers backed into while clearing the site. Then there are the things that are broken and can, with much effort, be fixed or coaxed in the right direction: the incompetently-shallow well supply line and the many perplexing site runoff issues.
Later this morning I took the dogs with me to the west bank of the Esopus at Fording Place and collected eleven five gallon buckets of river pebbles. They probably constituted a thousand pounds of payload for my poor 1988 Toyota pickup. I used those pebbles as permeable fill around the drain tile I laid in the ditch that diverts water from the swale to the area just uphill from the driveway.
The other excavation site I began yesterday, the one that eventually became home for the time capsule in its blue Aztec ice tea bottle, was intended as the foundation for a hump in the lawn, a hump running just above the crumbling retaining wall that would have the effect of arresting the flow of any surface water coming towards the house and the bluestone walkway. The goal is to have most of that water end up in the swampy area just uphill from the driveway and have as little as possible draining across places where people walk, where it inevitably becomes a hazard in freezing winter conditions. In the past the retaining wall tended to leak in periods of heavy rain or thawing and water would freeze on the old asphalt pathway, a condition that caused our heaviest neighbor to fall last winter and crack some of his ribs.
In finding fill for raising the elevation of the lawn behind that first retaining wall I built a couple weeks ago, I had the luxury of having to dispose of over a cubic yard of broken asphalt. Today, though, to create the hump along the crumbling retaining wall, I needed some source of fill material - but there was none available around the house (unless I was willing to use, say, obsolete computer electronics, styrofoam, or plastic vodka bottles). So I decided to drive down to the east bank of the Esopus at Fording Place and collect sand from the endless supply available there. In the course of two trips I gathered more than forty five gallon buckets (more than a cubic yard) of mostly dry sand. It provided the necessary bulk to make the contour changes I needed, though the swale does still descend to a low spot slightly below the intake end of the diversion pipe.
In between the two sand sorties I stopped at the Stewarts in Hurley for a tank of gasoline (now $2.21/gallon). I spent most of my time there waiting behind a statistically challenged gentleman as he made his purchases. I use the phrase "statistically challenged" because chief among his purchases was a variety of lottery tickets. I don't know what it is about lottery tickets, but they always seem to take three times longer to transact than something more obviously necessary for survival (gasoline, beer, milk, cigarettes, icecream, etc.). I always feel like wringing the neck of the lottery purchaser in front of me, shouting into the dark matter between his or her ears, "Forget your dreams; you will never ever get rich buying lottery tickets! Furthermore, even should you make it to Heaven, you'll be stupid and poor there too, and you'll be even more sexless than you are now!" The guy was trying to buy his lottery tickets on his credit card, but there's a new New York State Law which forbids this practice. Evidently the truly desperate have been known to throw caution to the wind and max out their credit cards buying lottery tickets and praying for a rewarding dividend on their investment.
Once that was all cleared up, I finally got to pay my $27.60 plus whatever a big blue bag of Doritos Cooler Ranch Corn Chips costs. The guy working the counter was an unusually handsome young man, much better looking than any of the long parade of other employees I've seen in his place. He gave me a look like I was someone who might understand his plight. "Just shoot me!" was all he said. "Ya having a good day?" I asked rhetorically as he wheeled around to grab something from near the lottery ticket display. Evidently he'd already discovered whatever it is that makes it so that, with the exception of the manager, I never see the same employee twice in that particular Stewarts.
In the course of all today's landscaping changes, I also rebuilt and heightened the crumbling retaining wall that separates the new lawn hump from the bluestone walkway. That wall had been built by the original owners using small awkward bluestone pieces held together with tiny dollops of mortar (which long ago broke free from the rocks it had once been attached to). In rebuilding parts of this wall, I mostly used pieces of bluestone I'd taken the other day from the California Quarry in Woodstock. But I also gathered some pieces from the lower yard, hauling them back with the truck. As usual for today's errands, I took any dogs who wanted to go. But when the drive only took me to the lower yard Sally was unimpressed and remained seated in the passenger seat while I went hunting for good blocky pieces of bluestone. Before long we'd been joined by the cats Lulu and Julius. Lulu's always up for a local walk in the woods or to the mailbox. As for Julius, he's my biggest fan. He always wants to be in my general vicinity no matter what I'm doing, so long as there's nothing too scary going on.
Here you can see the progress of the project starting in early April, continuing to late April, and concluding with how it looks today. You can't even tell I'd had the right side of that foreground wall completely excavated to the bedrock yesterday evening.
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