Archive for October, 2021

A Different World

Saturday, October 2nd, 2021

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars for living where I live. The natural world around us is balm for my soul. The seasons keep me on my toes. The birds, insects, and other critters are constant reminders that I share the planet with a vast and fascinating diversity of creatures. I’ve done some traveling, including one trip that involved driving a rental car in Los Angeles rush hour traffic. I always enjoy seeing new things, but am also always eager to get back home and see what’s changed while I was away.

This summer Alice and I decided to tackle some projects around the house that have needed to be done for a long time. When we were more ambulatory, having the laundry facilities in the basement, kitchen on the first floor, and bedrooms and bathroom on the second floor was just fine with us. Using the stairs multiple times each day kept us in shape. As the decades went by though, we’ve become concerned about the real possibilities of a serious fall on the stairs. The home system that had served us so well for so long was reaching the end of its useful life.

So we embarked on an ambitious project. We’d build on an 8′ x 12′ addition to the first floor of our house. In it we’d put a bathroom and laundry facilities. We’d then move our upstairs bedroom downstairs, and have most of the essentials on one floor. We had the great good fortune to know a father/son contractor team that had time in their schedules to do the building. “I can pour the footings and basement floor,” I offered. “I have a cement mixer.” I was looked at with a mixture of skepticism and amusement, and was told to have at it. “Uh oh.”

I was also lucky enough to have a neighbor that was a wizard with his mini excavator. It took some doing to get him out here because his services are in constant demand. But eventually he came out with his machine and dug the hole. We’d decided to make the foundation the same depth as the part of the house it was attached to, so we were putting a full basement under our little addition. The hole was dug with all the numerous problems attending such events. Then I went to work producing the trench in the bottom of the hole that would become the base for the addition’s footings.

I had things just about where I wanted them so I could start setting forms when we had a big rainstorm overnight. The next morning when I looked into the pit, I almost cried. My lovely trench was covered up on two sides by cave-ins. This was wet sticky clay, which I knew from experience would require serious effort to remove. I was again lucky enough to know of two brothers in their 20s that were looking for work and were stupid enough to say yes. We spent several days in the pit bailing water and shoveling out clay:

The cave-in

Eventually the weather moderated, the pit dried out, and with the help of two wonderful neighbors, the footings were poured.

Footings done. The door is installed so the block layers can escape the fortress they build

Contractors then came out to lay the block, then my neighbors came back to help pour the basement floor. It all came out beautifully.

As a result of all this activity, I was responsible for making sure the materials necessary to get the job done were chosen and trucked to the site. The other worlds I’m referring to in the title are the places one has to go in order to make these arrangements. The cement block factory with big trucks, fork lifts, and noisy machinery, and gravel pits. For someone whose hearing is compromised by overly loud birds chirping, these places represent the antithesis of our rural hideaway. But they are important. If you don’t have good gravel around the drain-tile of your foundation, leaks will happen and frost heaving can occur. If you have too few or the wrong kind of cement blocks, the foundation wall could be weak. And on and on. As I drive through the country and see miles of suburbs with rows and rows of houses, all of which have footings, drain-tile, and crushed rock doing the same job for them as for me, I wonder at the magnitude of the effect we are having on the planet so we can live in comfortable homes.

The addition as of late July

Now when I see big trucks rumbling down the road with loads of gravel, I can no longer feel superior. I too am a willing consumer of the technology, and very well understand the necessity of the work they do. Without them buildings would fall down and roads would crumble. And I have to admit that when I pay my $35 for a pickup load of gravel, I get a thrill every time the end loader comes rumbling up. It has a bucket big enough to bury my 3/4 ton pickup and me with it. The operator scoops up some gravel in a tiny corner of his bucket, and shakes it into my truck, which transforms from tall and proud to squatting down on all her springs. The sound it makes and the rush of wind makes me appreciate the power we’ve been able to harness to make our lives better.