The winter was rough, for so many reasons. I found myself standing in the back yard this past weekend with the realization that for the first time in a long time, I am completely unprepared for the rest of the year. Usually, a significant amount of my attention during colder months is devoted to planning out gardens and our next big building project. Instead, both my wife and I committed our energy to something much more important. There is no doubt in my mind we did the right thing, but it never dawned on me that I would find myself so drained that I would forget to put any thought into what came next. So there I was, standing in the middle of my backyard, staring at the buds on our peach tree, trying to conjure up my own spring awakening.
Somewhat by choice, somewhat by force, we started a new outdoor project. Almost without thought. Rewind to last fall and a phone call from my dad, telling me he’d discovered a “stash” of masonry bricks on the grounds of the church my parents attend. When I asked him how many bricks he considered to be a “stash,” he answered with, “a lot.”
Now, I don’t mind admitting that a great deal of doubt kept me from getting too excited. I didn’t really need bricks, there probably weren’t that many, and at best I could find a use for them over time. But dad insisted that I bring friends and my truck to move them. I organized said friends and we drove thirty miles to the nearby town where my parents live.
Here’s the thing about bricks. They’re misleading. I took one look at the stack and thought we had totally wasted our time. After the first twenty minutes or so, and several wheelbarrow loads, my doubts had faded and traded up for some future lower back pain. It didn’t look like we had moved anything at all. Even better, we found some stone slabs that we decided to add to the pile. The real kicker was deciding that my truck wasn’t going to be enough, and that dad would have to drive his back so we could get all the brick in one trip. We unloaded both trucks, re-stacking the bricks next to my garage. All 1,100 of them.
Fast forward to the present. Our beloved dog has all but destroyed the part of the yard immediately outside the back door. It’s an awkward part of the yard, there’s a big stump in the way, the deck doesn’t really mesh with the layout anymore…etc. My initial plan was to use the bricks to make a small patio to prevent the dog from making the entire yard a mud hole. Aesthetically though, it just wouldn’t look right. Instead we opted to use the bricks to make a patio around the fire pit my son and I built two years ago.
We didn’t waste our time easing into it, no sir. No lazy afternoon picking up sticks or raking a few leaves. On the first really warm, nice day of the season, my wife and I grabbed our shovels and started digging. Two loads of dirt later we looked at one another and wondered allowed if renting an excavator was the better decision. Not only were we working out the usual aches and pains of winter lethargy, I think we were powering through the stress and exhaustion of the past several months.
At some point though, our engines turned over. It was like muscle memory kicked in and our bodies went, “Oh yeah, this is just summer work. We’ve got this.” It still hurt, and it was still hot, but we did it. In five hours we carved out a 17 ft. diameter circle and moved roughly 175 cubic feet of soil. Enough to put a full new layer of topsoil in our garden, build another raised bed while topping off the four other we have, and adding soil to an annual garden. It was a lot of dirt.
The start of this project, maybe more than any other at this point, has been a staunch reminder to me how deceiving things can be when taken at face value. Sure, that pile of bricks doesn’t look like much. Individually, they’re not all that heavy, pretty small and don’t support much. Combined though, and arranged in the right way, they are not only strong, but weigh a literal ton. They require a lot of effort to move. Before you can even begin to move them, room has to be made somewhere else so they can be used.
It’s an amazing metaphor for mental health and self-care. Even more so because I wasn’t really ready for it. But that’s the way things happen so often. We’re not ready, or we avoid making a plan because as cumbersome as it is, it’s easier to hold onto all that weight, or look at an eyesore than it is to do something about it. In that avoidance we can’t see the fertile ground hiding underneath, or the benefits it can provide if we can only summon the energy to till the earth and look for it. In those heavy lessons we carry around are the foundations of something better, should we take the time to envision it.
If you thought you were going to read a blog post about a DIY patio, I’m sorry to disappoint. It’s a DIY project, for certain. But it’s oh so much more. This phase is done for now. We’ll rest up and move on to the next soon.