Saturday, October 18, 2008


Ooh my aching bod.

My friend Alley called me Wednesday about being her helper over at Willow again for Thursday and Friday. I show up. I'm on time and I work hard. At least for 3-4 hrs at a time I work hard. I don't have it in me for longer than that when it comes to manual labor, but appreciate the opportunity because it still gives my body a work out which is good at my age.

It was the war of the elm roots. Ya see, Willow decided sometime back she wanted her walkway redone with flagstone. The walkway has been dirt and crusher fine from before she bought her house. A few years ago, her brother-in-law did the inside of the front gate with flagstone but didn't continue it. But things simmered along with Willow planning on it "eventually". So eventual happens.

Now there's been a nice big hump in the walkway that we knew was a root from the elm in front of the house that goes all the way across and deep into the front yard. (Also where Alley and me worked a few weeks ago redoing the lawn - tilling in compost and then leveling, seeding, rolling and so on). Of course if we just laid the flagstone over it, it wouldn't seat flat and would be a hump with an edge. It would be of those edges thats perfect for catching a heel and tripping over or stubbing toes on. We needed to take out the roots so there would be a moderately level surface to work on.

A well established tree's roots can go every which way which is exactly what the elm's did. There were areas I dug in where I felt like I was excavating at an archaeological site with a whisk broom, a dental pick and can of compressed air. Actually my instruments included two types of shovels, large bypass loppers, small bypass shears, a hand cultivating rake, an axe and a saw. Alley got to use the chain saw which was fine with me. You can chop your way through small roots easily enough with a shovel, but roots larger than your shinbone need stouter tools. One one section of root about 16 inches long, we had to make a series of cuts through it, like a row of teeth, then knock each one out with an axe. (I was really glad we didn't have to use the splitting maul on it... it weighs almost 8 lbs!)

Being roots that went everywhere however, we discovered they were in most places as much as 25 inches around, some grown together, others tangled around each other. Digging out roots is not easy. You'd think it would be simple - just ratchet up the chain saw and set to. But you don't want to run the chain in the dirt because it will get dull in a heart beat, so you have to move as much dirt as you possibly can before cutting into the wood. After a while we were able to get ropes around the roots and use her truck to pull out the largest, most stubborn of them.

I remember reading stories of America's early settlers and how they'd clear the land -- taking the trees they logged and building houses of them, and then having to pull the stumps and roots with teams of horses. They'd spend 8, 10, 12 hours a day, month after month at it until they cleared up as much as a hundred acres or more. Men, women and children working at it. I put in about 8 hours on it over 2 days and am really glad it's not my regular work.

The pic is of the roots I'm whinging about. The two big ones weighed close to 200 lbs just by themselves. We set them out in the backyard to dry out and season .. should take about 3 years of so cos' there's so much sap and water in 'em.

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