It’s been a slow process, but I finally finished installing the walkway in our west side yard.
My current home is of a type familiar to many who grew up in California – a 1950’s starter ranch style. My lot is a typical 50’ by 100’ in dimension, with the footprint of the house positioned pretty much in the center. The side yards are the minimum width dictated by fire code – ten feet between the edge of my roof line fascia board to my neighbor’s, or a space for about a five foot width of walkway for each neighbor and a fence.
To the east, my neighbor’s house is one foot lower than me, and to the west my neighbor house is a foot higher. The house behind me is approximately three feet below mine. When I first moved here, the house behind me used to get sheets of water to their back door, draining from my property, and my west neighbor’s via my side yard.
In the thirteen years I’ve lived here (I’m astounded, I’ve never lived anywhere else half that long!) I’ve built a fifty foot swale or dry well along the back fence, comprised of: rubble from the back concrete patio I broke up, filter fabric and drain rock. I’ve dug trenches and laid drain along the west side, removed soil and replaced it with drain rock, filter fabric and decomposed granite path. I’ve hand wrestled large concrete chunks and set them as footpads in a similar decomposed granite pathway at the back of the house. I set railroad ties, 60 lb. concrete sacks for steps, and helped my east neighbor build a “good neighbor” fence.
I can judge how much was moved by comparing the yards of expansive clay soil sitting in my front yard patiently waiting to be hauled. It’s a pile 6’ x 20’x 20’. If I think back to all the tons of rock and gravel and concrete, I can’t imagine why I would do it.
I still have a lot of landscaping to do. I must: finish the retaining wall in the back and replace the back fence, build the west fence, build the front fence, pathway and patio area, and complete the sprinkler and lighting systems. However, there was real elation at completing the west pathway this week in time for the rare May Day rain. It was truly fun to watch the water go from my neighbor’s and my downspouts into the drain system, instead of puddling ominously between our homes.
When I started this process I was 49. This month I will be 62. I’ve had help: the young local kid who grew to manhood during this effort, my granddaughter, the neighbor, a friend, and my husband. Mostly it was I, because I was the one who wanted it.
What compels a person to this kind of personal sisyphean odyssey? I know I have some family history in this department. I can remember both my parents involved in similar behavior, building concrete pathways, lawns, and cement block walls in an early childhood house. I remember my mother in her own house, later doing something similar.
The house withstood 50 years before I chanced upon it. As far as I know, in 50 years, the neighbors never complained about the runoff into their yard. Aside from the drainage problem there was the above mentioned badly done and crumbling patio, dangerous amateur re-wiring, and exploding plumbing, a wood stove whose fan blew clouds of smoke into the room, retrofitted gas wall heaters intent on starting a wall fire, improperly installed air conditioners, improperly installed and waterproofed retrofit windows and doors, asbestos ceilings, decayed fiberglass canopies, a carport needing correction – there were so many things to fix, or that still need fixing. Money I might spend for others to do the landscaping job is designated elsewhere.
Yet I am still compelled.
Value is not based on a 20 year depreciating deduction, minimum standards, “just-in-time” supply, or a mysterious acquisition based formula, or location, or bourgeois appeal. It is based on whether you fix what is wrong, left what you found better than before, and cared for it while you had it. Maybe I won’t get it all done before I leave, and maybe the next person to own this house won’t understand what I did, because none of these accomplishments make the house prettier. It doesn’t matter. I believe what I am doing will be to the lasting benefit of the house and neighborhood.
I awoke today, thinking of the word of “stewardship”. My grandmother’s surname was Steward. Perhaps, that’s what I am – a home steward. Why else would I have this compulsion? Having identified this viewpoint in myself, I see how much it colors my view of life. Take the economic crisis, bankruptcy, torture, rendition, fair pay, N1H1, health care, global warming, tainted food supply, or international relations. No matter the subject, and how I apply the words, I keep coming up with the same answer – fix what is wrong, leave it better than you found it and care for it while you have it. No wonder I’m not a diplomat.