Cutting And Shaping Rocks And Boulders – Part One

This is an old favorite post of mine I thought I might recirculate. The subject matter – shaping rocks – is about as old as prehistory – and we know that is some really, really, really old stuff. In fact, it is an excellent concept for placing the interaction between Mankind and Rocks closer to Infinity.

Generally speaking, my landscape designs most often featured massive boulders in their natural “finished shapes”. By this I mean using what nature had wrought after rolling the rocks and boulders which chipped off mountains and fell into rivers or were formed under advancing glaciers. The river rocks of the West are these delicious and shapely granite pieces of amazingly sensual form and which fit incredibly well into gentle, humane landscapes.

(Click on pictures to enlarge)


These natural assets can even double as seating around a warm seasonal fire in Reno………and, of course, adding even more sensuous practicality, these rocks stay warm long after the sun sets and make for a terrific feeling on cooler nights.


Disguising drainage swales by creating a semblance of a natural creek has always been yet another trick of artistic misdirection and a hugely satisfying one at that. Changing a landscape from its own natural high desert habitat into a Riparian lushness is just one of the tricks a designer can take into the work. It is more than a “small makeover” – it changes and sometimes improves on Nature. Needless to say, a small creek such as this can also conduct water into a direction more conducive to drainage on those torrential downpour days.


The “beauty part” of this is in creating an alternative universe, complete with “creekside” plantings which in just a few seasons produces a scenario a naive person might deem as natural, rather than some construct on the side of a newly-created land shaping.

Modern concrete technology is now proud of its replication of rocks. When replicating rocks is considered “modern”, then you have to realize rocks carry some value which might just mirror their age – often counted in billions of years, which is dang old.

Anyway, here is my experience with these hardbodies. 😉

As if anyone wondered…… are some incredibly hard stuff. 😉

Particularly rocks such as granite, marble and the various basalts landscapers encounter on a regular basis. Concrete products are obviously much the same – hard, unyielding and perfectly suited for their roles in pavements and building construction. Concrete also has varying densities – which typically rise in price when searching for a permanent hardness.

During the processes of landscaping, we are often asked to make products conform to our weird ideas and plans no matter how seemingly impractical on the face of it.  In terms of your basic rock impediments, we can encounter huge boulders right smack in the ground where no one guessed they would be. Take it from one who knows – as is illustrated further down – this happens.

So we learn ways of dealing with all aspects – boulder impediments, shaping stuff for practical and aesthetic purposes, slicing bricks to help us make a curving effect, cutting rocks up to clear room or to actually use.  We learn about cutting brick pavers and wall systems; we learn about the tolerable gaps which maintain the security while allowing us to provide a curving element to the landscape.

(enlarge any picture by left-clicking – some, twice, to get real detail)


What happens in the length of a landscaping career for the luckier – (or is that “Unluckier?” I forget!)  is that we run into these great persons with great tools, who can direct our energies to rectifying our little problems. Being willing to learn and listen comes in very handy when dealing with some of these smart fella’s who specialize in things we never even heard of.

As a perfect example, I was taught by an elderly Italian guy how to cut granite into increasingly small sizes. Here’s the formula:


Seems simple, eh? These little items go by various names – we called them “Pins and Feathers”, although I have also seen them as “Plugs and Feathers”.

But wait. The addition of a small sledge hammer and a masonry power drill complete the picture. Generally, as can be seen, the process does not involve dramatically pneumatic or gas-powered machinery. Nor does it involve psychic power to discern “weak spots” or advantageous lines for the work. The nature of these stones are somewhat uniformly crystalline – with some exceptions being breakage in handling – so one can literally create the line one desires to establish.

When all are engaged, it looks something like this piece of marble prepped for sectioning – prior to gentle taps which serve to break the stone:


To relate all this to my existence, a small story:

We encountered a project in Deep Cove, British Columbia (a gorgeous suburb of Vancouver, hard by the Burrard Inlet) on a chunk of land which was something like 30′ wide by about 200′ long – one of those chopped-up residential sections specially-inserted to allow more people to savor the salt air and shoreline. The property was shoreline property with a severe slope to the rear and a long boat pier extending outwards in to the ocean water bay. Our client was interested in our  somehow providing some specific landscaping wants – walls for perennial beds, the irrigated lawn, a paver walkway and landscaped stairs to conduct folks down easier to the pier and his boat (s). Needless to say, it was an architectural feast for an innovative home designer and I was the chosen fool to implement the outdoor plan. The house itself was marvelously eccentric – as was the owner, lol.

Well we ran into “issues” right off the bat. Needless to say, the sloping nature of the hillside was the geological result of rock behaving very much like rock – in this case, the common granite which composes so much of the area’s geology. To make matters worse, the home was a replacement and “improvement” over what had once been there – all landscaped and apparently full of great pockets of soil.

Here, thanks to the Deep Cove Yacht Club (link provided) is a look at the small burg and it’s lovely setting. The home referred to in this post is on the left back, about a mile from the harbor park, one of the piers jutting out into the bay. It’s pretty easy to see why someone would want to live there.


All that aside, we return to how great the landscaping looked to deal with and how simple this was going to be.  😉

Au Contraire.  Not really. I was kidding and so was Fate.

“Hey, Steve! This crap is all rock!”

As we stuck one of our first stabs of our ubiquitous shovels into what we figured was a great lush dollop of dirt, we heard the clang of all clangs and, as we explored more, we realized we were plain on top of good old rock. Lots of rock. Tons of rock. Uh oh.

“There”, thought I, “goes a perfectly good plan.”

We had a wall designed to be out front and, to be honest, we had not really investigated very thoroughly, seeing as how it was a long ride out through traffic to assess the place and it was in the midst of a rainy season. But – the saving grace: the “Price was Right” – we had something of a license to make it all work. It was an interesting moment.

Fortunately for me, I had been watching another construction project down the street that very first morning. Indeed, my attention was ostensibly focused on how they arranged parking (my original impetus) on the narrow little street. (One learns as a contractor – real early – to grease the wheels of all trades in a neighborhood, including those on separate projects! This is called “Survival”, for those wondering.).

That then led to more than one handy discovery, as I illustrate below. I also advised them that we had deliveries of fairly large stuff scheduled which might block access at a future point – always a landscaping dilemma.

As we conversed about logistics and what we could do for them to trade favors during the course of both projects, I could not help but notice the masons who were constructing the entire face of this other cool home with a Granite facing. I watched, fascinated, as an older gent ran his rock drill into a large slab of native granite, piecing off chunks of the stuff for the guys inserting these “chunks” into cement, and into what was an absolutely gorgeous finish.

He was amazing. He’d drill holes along this line of his devices – usually no more than 3 holes – and then add some grease to his “Pins and Feathers”, then insert them into the holes, wedges facing out. He tapped on the “pins”, just firmly, not terrifically hard, very patiently, running from one to the other in sequence. As he did this, suddenly you’d hear this cracking sound and the entire rock would split, exactly where he wanted . It would just fall right off into the pile of other pieces.

Here is a Youtube vid of a guy doing much the same thing. The short film was made by Port Coquitlam resident and professional instructional designer Brian Thorn, who noticed my placement here and who delivers a perfect rendering of the process on a small scale. His  lesson is perfect and the video aptly describes the process to a ‘Tee’. The virtue of this video is in how it deals with a general stone – one which could be used as either an example of creating shapes or in removing obstacles. Both are the same, in the end.

Remember to wear your ear muffs as you watch this drilling festival – it ends soon enough,lol:

Indeed, cutting huge slabs of granite into increasingly smaller pieces turns out to be somewhat simple. It hurts, “giving away the store” like this – I mean, it seems so specialized – but this is one highly satisfying chore, in the end. It always seemed so “Lilliputian”!  😉

Anyway, as we discovered our rock hard impasse, I returned to the guy later on and asked if he’d give me some advice on how to deal with things. He was kind enough to wander up with me to assess my situation. I greased my own improvement by an offer of beer, lol. Which was gladly accepted with smiles from his crew.

He was a virtual fount of information. I showed him the parameters of the dilemma and he had a very ready answer: “No problem! Just cut that granite out and use it for the wall!”

I blinked and asked if he’d help us out. We could wait for him to finish down the street seeing as how we had major work first, out back. We would pay whatever the going rate was. He then informed me he was booked for 2 years, lol. My heart sank.

He smiled at me, seeing my obvious disappointment. “Tell you what,” he said. “You stay around after work and I’ll teach you how to do it. You’ll learn this in about 20 minutes.” I was dubious, but I was young and dumb and this guy was one interesting as heck guy. I gladly complied.

He came up and I delivered the promised beer – ;-). In the end, it turned out he was right. Within 30 minutes, I had cut through two big portions of the impeding granite rock. I could barely contain myself, I was so crazy happy. He saw my wonder at the result and he well knew he’d “hooked me” into the whole “rock-shaping” world – a place where no one can be unaffected. I guess it’s short of “orgasmic” or “Cathartic” – but I wonder. 😉

All of you “Closet Rock Fans” should thoroughly enjoy this next video!

True Rock Fans will endure this next one as well – especially inasmuch as it displays authentic and melodic Music. It’s a party. You also have to love the safety boots.

The project was an unmitigated success in the end – except for the raccoons – but that’s another tale.

What’s In A Picture? – Swimming Pool Angst

There is such a thing as “Potential Energy” in something as simple as a photograph. I get this from my own reaction to what is implied in the picture below. I had a funny reaction, looking at this recently, seeing as how it took place so long ago and the Completion Party – July 4th of that year – saw me sleeping on the couch there, pretty much unable to drive. Of course, this was long, long ago. 😉

But now and then on projects one gets a sense of being literally “overwhelmed”. I recall even the day that this one was taken and that sense I remember like it was yesterday. We also deal in time constraints impressed in a world where we promise completion. At that time, it looked impossible what with all the hundreds of small chores and even a few big ones left. We made out fine – as usual – but I’ve never forgotten those sensations.

Let’s look deeper into this picture. This was taken about 2/3 of the way through the installation of a patio around a swimming pool. For those who follow this blog, I have used other pictures showing various views of not only the finished product but of some of the construction phases I was far-sighted enough (for once 😉 ) to actually take. I will refer to things as this post enlarges below and I will ask the reader to go back to the picture. I think it will reveal better what, exactly, I am speaking of. If one really cares to get a concept of what’s involved in constructing landscapes – and particularly if you are considering having it done – you might want to pay some attention. Everyone does things differently but all landscapers will tell you what you see below is a factor in any project.

click image to enlarge, sometimes twice for more detail


What sort of electrified me when I looked at this shot was not just the obviously “clustered effect” which typifies many of our projects when you include the varied number of machines and equipment we use and the storage issues relative to them. From parts and supplies to the machinery that moves them around to the Porta Potty – these all needed addressing. Then, of course, there is the actual work…………….oh yeah!  But first – space……………

The mini excavator shown above is a bear to find space for, as well as the Bobcat skid steer machine which sits behind it. Then there are the piles of gravel and soil one wishes to have precisely when one needs them. This can lead to problems – owing to the timing of completing certain areas which then make it impossible to cross by machine, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Lots and lots and lots of logistical problems comprise these larger projects, many of which do not offer such a wide sweep of land to park our parts and equipment. This then, produces yet other sets of budgetary and “manners” problems. We take up space!

Now the work. The work! Almost forgot!   😉

The stage of construction above began at the point of the following photographs:


This picture complete with Owner! Oh – and the painter. We are not around just yet.


Obviously, this is a somewhat primitive stage in the development of the project. Where Tim is standing and in all the areas where pavers are to be laid, we will need to add a whole bunch of gravel first, to provide the necessary underlying foundation for a strong, never-altering patio. What may be missed – even in this photo – is some noteworthy work we accomplished to get even to there. Placing the large boulders on the edges of the swimming pool required our efforts as well as placing the bricks near the cascade hard by the “spa” – the circular area where paving bricks were virtually ‘hung” on mortar. The same bricks which are shown here are already adhered as the “coping stones” surrounding the pool itself, giving us our level and one permanent outer parameter for installing the paver bricks.

Back to the picture – am I Marcel Proust?

So – finally, referring back to the origination of this spiel – what we see there are some accomplishments, first. Note at the top of the picture the gorgeous blue color the swimming pool water accrues once it’s loaded into the pool itself. That is the upper portion of a cascade that actually does fill the pool and marks the entry point of the pool’s recirculating water. This is actually “finished”.

This picture, believe it or not, comes around the period of the top picture and shows the same pile of pavers hanging at the spa, feeding the eventual “turn” the pathway makes up alongside our creek and back into the house.


Once again, referring to the top shot, the pavers shown where they are below the spa are also “finished” – the cuts made, the curving pattern accomplished, pipes supplying drip irrigation and lighting wire are laid in. Now, the pavers themselves will make the corner there and turn, accompanying the side of a long creek which played strategically into the design. With a waterfall beginning in the front yard, we coursed a small river down that side of the house, ending at a point we can also see in the above picture.


If you notice, there seems to be a ramped incline of sand running hard by the pool cascade. Well, our hope was to make it appear as a bridge where water would “seem” to flow from the creek to the cascades themselves. That “bridge” needs addressing yet as well as the corner turn of pavers. The picture below is a very early morning shot of at least a partial angle of what “finishing” implied. Enlarging the picture shows it a bit better:


In the end, we completed the little river and the little pond faking itself into the pool. It all looked as wonderful as it possibly could and I was left with a huge sense of satisfaction……….until the next job – which had already started!


Landscaping Stories – With Horror Featured

This is a recirculated story about dynamiting for landscaping purposes and my very precious moments with a fine man – Bert – and a great crew of machine operators………just when I was very ambitiously starting out in the field of landscaping…1981……

I’ve recirculated it because I think there are lots of readers who have not encountered it. My blog has become ponderously large now, I realize. I do know blogger reading habits somewhat and asking someone to view this old post in a natural review of my work is asking a ton. I really don’t expect that sort of attention. I bring some of these back at the risk of boring those who have encountered them before because they are soulful or timely or that I got lazy – and to you, I apologize. To you guys, thanks for your comments and I’ll have a fresh Desert Landscaping – Part 2 in a couple days.

(2 notes – 1. – I fully realize this story runs on. It is very long. I advise maybe cutting the reading in two. You can stop at the “Dynamite” section and resume later – that’s about halfway. I had someone read it who thought it too long and I cast about for what to cut and, honestly, I am happy with it as an accurate rendition of the circumstances of the project. 2. -Another thought – the preservation of these stumps was obviously something I wanted. It’s a heartbreaker, in many ways. Just remember that the entire province of BC is one massive tree farm. Plus, you can fit California and Oregon together inside of this massive province. While you and I might deem these stumps priceless – which they are – it is not unusual to see them as impediments. After all, there are literally millions of them. BC is rich in stumps!) 😉

Since I have been plying this trade for so many years, it only stands to reason that I would accumulate a few stories which might make for interesting reading. I do have one or two already in here, one in particular a sort of narrative concerning the construction of the Portland Chinese Garden I was involved with helping construct. I have this one, a tale of an eccentric rhododendron grower in Langley, British Columbia which you might enjoy.

Horror Stories

But I thought it might be interesting to deal with “horror” first. 😉  Now, I don’t want to put thoughts in your head, but I ‘am convinced we all love seeing someone more miserable than ourselves, just as – when “the horror” occurs – almost anyone’s life seems better than the one we are living. I remember thinking, in the midst of some blazing financial or personal tragedy how even Death Row Prisoners had 3 meals a day, a cot at night and  so few responsibilities. Now that’s stretching!!

These are tales that chronicle what may be somewhat typical, actually, of many landscapers. I mean, anyone in business for themselves for longer than a couple of years has to have a fairly impressive stash of horror stories. Since every trade is different, they vary in severity, longevity and in the sources of the horror.

(Enlarge any picture by left clicking – it’s worth it)


1. The Root From Heck

I obtained a contract from a guy who, by any criterion, would be called “obnoxious”. Others might call him a straight out “pain in the butt” – and did, for that matter – often. Anyway, he hooked me in by telling me I would have “carte blanche” to landscape an enormous piece of property – (10 acres) – from front to back. The only caveat to the project was this:

“I don’t want any history. Tear it all down and rebuild it!”  OK, um, sure.

What I did not realize at the time was how literally he intended his remark. There was a lake there, fed by an Artesian Well which was very mucked up and which I was going to be happy dealing with. Indeed, this lake spilled into a creek which was terribly overgrown and which would require scraping by machine in order to find the soil and get it to a “blank space”, fit for re landscaping. All this was cool – no, I misstate that – it was to die for. I was ecstatic.

The parameters of the work would be the draining and diverting of the water in the small lake while we scraped all the muck down to blue clay – scrape off the bottom and sides, complete with the reeds, pussy willows and blackberries which literally teemed there and then “lose” this material into the back of the property which would eventually become a cattle area.. We would essentially render it blank, as mentioned. The creek itself which flowed from this was in a ravine, right below and aside the house itself – a veritable mansion with a 3,000 square foot foyer, no less. I believe the home was some 20,000 square feet. A giant of a house.

Our role was to install various spillways and waterfalls for the well’s water to spill over, making it a series of waterfalls, fed from the lake above. Points of interest like waterways has always been a lure and a huge strength of mine. I love it. There would be around 6-7 of these “falls” as I recall.

Anyway, so off to work we go.

Mucking out the lake was performed by using a good sized pump, feeding about 300 feet of hose to avoid the spillway and excavation work planned in the ravine. The muck and stuff, we were to take to the back of the property and use later to level it all off and sort of reclaim the land from the mess it was. No problem. That was the easy part. We were going to plant clover and alfalfa in the “back 5” (acres) and he was talking about getting horses or cattle. Since both these plants love clay, it was a natural.

We accomplish the lake cleanout by using a D-5 bulldozer with a bucket for loading the trucks who then take the material to the back area. In the meantime, I hired a 3 yard cleanout bucket on a monster excavator, complete with another D-5 Cat bulldozer for the ravine. It was hugely industrial for a while. Another guy – a local – came by and mentioned he had a large bulldozer to help with and would charge less money – he said he was bored. He had all these toys – even a huge crane – which he had accumulated over the years and ran an auto demolition yard. Fun guy, with toys – who could turn him down? So he came along, too, working in concert with the others. It was going swimmingly.

This is a picture of a D-7, from a stock Caterpillar photo:


The ravine itself had all these old stumps from the first-growth logging which had occurred in the British Columbia forests at the turn of the Century. This had resulted in numerous humongous stumps of old Douglas Fir and Cedar trees which were absolutely fascinating. They secreeted “pitch”, even still, a sort of varnish from old sap which was incredibly flammable and smelled just like some acetone compound. Sticky and moist, I used to fantasize how some of this sap could be older than Jesus. Truly, the stumps were from trees which were a thousand or more years old. There was nothing cooler, in my view than having these remnants of our human and floral past standing around. Add that they made some of the greatest imaginable mediums to plant in. I was excited more each day we worked.


Well, the homeowner came home and congratulated me on doing a magnificent job of clearing it all and inside a time frame which we had surprised him with. In truth, it had really only taken about a week. We had pushed over these 100-200 foot tall trees which had been dead a while, as well as some he had requested which were alive. Bert, the guy with the toys, had taken away much of them in the form of firewood. The owner was pretty stunned and it left a glow as he spoke, raving about how it was “perfect” – much better than he had even expected. The only glitch, according to him, was those “dam stumps”. “Remember when I said ‘no history’?”

Sitting with his wife at the kitchen table, I patiently laid out my reasons for leaving them – stressing both their historical interest as well as how they could add so much to the landscape for purposes of planting. His wife had very much bought into my rap but he resisted. I’m not sure if it was his macho because he was so used to running things or whether it was a real urge to be his version of a “pioneer” and render it all his domain. We took a walk outside with me taking the behalf of the stumps and he pointing at which ones he wanted out. We argued some and he even came around a bit. It was a tiny victory however. In the end, he wanted about 6 of the 12 or so stumps completely removed. I sighed and agreed, with reservations.

These stumps were about 6-10 feet across. They stuck out of the ground about 6 feet, some maybe 10, and they represent one heck of a lot of work. Some even had other trees – even other species of trees – growing out of them as if they were fertile soil, which, of course, they were. But since we had the huge excavator still on site, along with 2 other strong D-5 and D-7 bulldozers, I figured it would be a snap. Plus, the one virtue of these pitch-laden stumps are in their volatility. We were going to burn the refuse we accumulated and which Bert did not take away. These were your average  “fire starters”, to say the least. In fact, starting this fire would take one match. So, in my sadness at seeing them go away, I at least had the consolation of some relief in terms of the disposal of our currently enormous pile of forest refuse. But I had underestimated the mutual sadness of his wife.

It turned out she had advocated leaving them most vehemently. She had been an ally in my urge towards preservation and the entire issue had become a real hot potato inside the home. But that sucker would not budge. I was fully convinced the dynamics inside the home determined the fates of those gorgeous natural stumps. Alas, we moved on to Monday.


Bert’s D-7 had a ‘splitter’ on the front which rested on the blade of the Cat- a virtual “spear” which was essentially a long (12 feet) narrow triangle which could penetrate a stump and basically cut it in half, especially aided by the force that a huge bulldozer can deliver. I have never seen one since and I have to believe this was a unique object. I also know he made it himself, a fact for which he was quite proud. I also know it worked………… a degree. As it widened and as the machine pushed the penetration deeper, you could often hear a monstrous “Crack!!” as the tree split. This was some brutal technology – like a log splitter applied to a maximum-sized object. We set the excavator nearby who would use the big bucket to split the stump further and eventually dig out or at least loosen up the roots. At the same time, on the other side of the ravine, we placed the D-5 which had about 300 feet of airline-strength cable spun around its winch. We ran the cable to the split half of a stump, wrapped it up and the D-5 would begin pulling, usually never even applying any driving power to get the desired result. It’s heavy weight and the combination of forces were generally all it took to yard some humongous root right out of the ground. We would then use the Cat with the cable to take the remains over to the burn pile, then return for more.

We got 5 of them out of the ground, proud of our successes. You could hear triumphant roars now and then as we succeeded at these gnarly tasks. These trees were definitely stubborn. Meanwhile, the lady of the house watched in horror as the destruction proceeded apace. Clutching her 2 year old, she was visibly crying. It was some sad stuff, unfortunately, casting a real pall over the project, then coursing through every remaining moment we worked there. Sure, I wandered up and spoke to her often. I had actually grown fond of her and we had joked about her old man more than once, the truth is. And I even liked the guy, so this was the banter of a friendly sort.

But the rubber was hitting the road on this one now and she was darn near inconsolable. Nor did she blame me or anything like that. Unfortunately, I had made too much sense in my arguments for preserving the stumps. I hugged her and mentioned that there were silver linings, etc, etc. The usual. I also took her boy down to ride on the Cat – whoa!! – now at least he was convinced we were the coolest guys who had ever lived, so we had that going for us and she smiled at his obvious relish. He saved us, I am convinced to this day, from curses and voo doo she may have resorted to. The guys were great with him, as well. They sympathized with me and her, actually. No one could understand the logic of removing these priceless virtual organic antiques.

Well, there was only one stump left. We performed the standard operation, with Bert trying his damnedest to split the trunk. But this one was somehow more solid. We attached the winch line to a half we thought would be above a seam in the trunk and Bert pushed in his splitter, Guy used the excavator to help and the D-5 across the creek pulled, even engaging his drive this time. The groans and efforts of the combination of all the machines was absolutely deafening as each strained to accomplish what was becoming seemingly impossible. We tried variations of every move but that dang stump had not even budged – not one inch. We went at it for an hour or more to absolutely no avail. The stump was incredible.  There was only one solution – Dynamite.


Bert mentioned he had a buddy who had some sticks of dynamite. He was licensed for it and all that, having worked for the highways blasting rock for the past 20 years. Bert arranged for him to come out within an hour. It was actually fairly impressive. Needless to say, this was my first experience at using dynamite for landscaping and I would never have guessed how to even go about acquiring a good blast man. Bert smiled at me and winked: “We’ll get ‘er outta there, Steve.”

I wandered up while waiting to apprise my client’s wife that we were about to blow up her property. Nor was this a pleasant experience. “Dynamite??” she responded in horror. I mentioned it was a last ditch effort to get the stump out of the ground. And, to be honest, dynamiting tree stumps is not all that unusual. She called her husband who was all for it, remarking at how resourceful I was, ha ha. It was embarrassing, actually. I mentioned she might want to go to the store or something because things were going to get hella noisy. But she said she wanted to stay for the whole process. I sighed and went back down to where the arrival of the dynamite guy had everyone standing around him.

He was this 135 pound grizzled old man with 3 fingers on his left hand and no thumb. I looked at him and my heart skipped a beat. I suddenly wondered what the heck I had done to deserve this. Of course, it had also started raining – I left that part out. I began to face a misery which I had never plumbed before. The stresses were getting to me.

The little dynamite guy got shown the tree and made his best guess as to where the tap root was going to be. He placed 10 sticks at that spot wired it up and ran up the hill by me. “Ready?”, he asked and I nodded. He tooted his horn, set the plunger and it went off – “Ka-Bloom!”

The earth shook where we were standing and I could see the other trees bounce in in place. Bert immediately started up his D-7, splitter on, and rammed the tree again. The guy across the creek pulled and the excavator reefed on one of the roots closest to the creek. The roar of machinery recommenced as the smoke from the dynamite wafted across our vision.

The stump did not budge. Not an inch.

After 10 minutes of effort, the cable snapped on the winch and shot back at the Cat like a bullet from Hell. Luckily the cage prevented it damaging the driver or the rest of the machine but I will never forget that sound as long as I live. That was the single most malevolent “hiss” and “pop” in history. The speed of the broken cable line was stunning. By the time the break sounded, it had already smacked the Cat. I could have sworn it was simultaneous.

Our dynamite guy was puzzled, so we got down in the hole and used shovels to try and locate the tap root. Thinking we had found it, we loaded that one up with another 10 sticks of dynamite. Once again, the sound of the warning horn, then the muffled but incredibly loud “Ka’Boom!!” of the dynamite as it went off. Once again Bert firing up the D-7 and once again he headed downhill to lance the stump. This time he actually made a tad of headway, getting through all the way to the other side but the firmness of the stump befuddled any effort towards increasing the split. The excavator roared, the D-5 guy had fixed the cable and stubbornly insisted on another “go” at pulling the stump apart and the same thing happened.

The stump would not  budge.

To make a very long story short, we tried another 8 times to blast that stump. We had used 100 sticks of dynamite in our efforts by the end of this session and the dynamite guy was standing there scratching his head, still. Add that he was now out of dynamite. I thanked him for his efforts and sent him on his way. I walked up to the  incredibly upset Mom and mentioned her dynamite days were over. To say she was relieved is an understatement. The, when I walked outside, I saw a most bizarre event.

Bert had gone around the tree to the top of the ravine. He was now orienting his bulldozer nearly straight down. He was mad. The guys were taking this personal now. Bert got himself about 30 feet above the stump and then just launched himself off a precipice which was probably about 60 degrees. When his bulldozer hit that stump, his splitter went through it almost like butter. The crack of the stump was insanely loud as all its pressure released inside the split Bert had just created. He slid on his splitter as it went through, rising off the ground. He sat there, hoisted literally “on his own petard”, bouncing off the ground, stuck in that stump.

So here we are, we have this immense D-7 bulldozer, stuck into a stump with its running pads literally off the ground! Bert was suspended, all 10 tons of himself propped right up into the air. He sat there for a few moments and he began laughing. Looking at me he asked: “Am I off the ground?”

I looked at the layer of mirth written large across his oil-stained face, smiled and said “Yup!”

The other guys wandered over and we all began laughing. “Dam,” Guy said, “I never even seen that before!” The other guy was laughing as well, some of it in relief as we saw the cracked stump and knew we had gained a purchase.

“Hey, Bert, what’s it like to fly in a D-7?”

It was pretty rich. We also knew we had won. That was not small. Crazy Bert had gotten mad enough to enforce his will on that stump – and a formidable foe it had been. That he risked his life was implicit – but he was somewhere beyond thrilled. This was why he was alive. He just craved this stuff – problems and fixing them.

The excavator piled up some dirt under Bert’s Cat and the other ‘dozer came over to ease the journey down by placing the bucket on the tracks and applying downward pressure. The excavator then re-positioned himself to the front of the Cat and began pushing with his bucket in the tip of the “splitter”. With some serious groans from the machinery and the amount of iron-on-iron, the sheer torque of it all saw us get inches at a time until we finally got Bert out of that stump. That was a true victory and our optimism hit a real high.

So………. we returned to our basic positions and it took about 15 minutes to clear the area, then pop the stump with an audible “Pop!” as the roots finally gave up their amazing war. Pulling one half of that giant stump free was one of the most electrifying sights I’ve ever seen. I nearly cried from joy. So we got the other half out like warm butter, then replaced the soil. The stump was out and was added to the pile. After 6 hours on this gnarly stump, it was now dark outside and still raining. But we could not help but feel triumphant. It was with one bizarre mixture of feelings that I drove home that night. The range of emotion during that day was simply astounding. I’m not sure to this day if it added to or took away from my time on Earth. 😉

We had missed the tap root which had uncharacteristically been skewed from its very origins and went virtually sideways into the bank. Bert’s launch of himself in his ‘dozer had loosened the root which had indeed been somewhat damaged by the blasting earlier. The downward pressure released not only the root itself but Bert’s additional great good fortune had come with hitting the perfect spot in a seam running up the stump, splitting it in half.

Later on – a couple days following this, we had the fire which would render all our refuse into a small pile of ash. That the fire went 6 stories high and blanketed the entire neighborhood in soot and ash is another story for another time. It turns out Bert’s crane was a toy which could make epic blazes.

1,000 Miles Of Coastal Color & Loving Friends

I left Portland Thursday morning in a misty rain, cool and dark as the mornings there are. The freshness of the air hit me again as remarkable – it’s an almost therapeutic side benefit of all the constant rainfall, what with the cleansed oxygen and ozone so redolent all around one.

My next leg of travel deals with seeing my daughter again, amid some of the recent changes in her life. As well, I have the great good fortune of my life’s best friend picking me up at the airport, then running up to see his own daughter in Camarillo, a gal I met when she was all of 2 years old. I’m a nice local legend in her family and I was her first real adult friend at her age then.

Here he regales my new bestest little freind, Marleigh, with a railroad tune, further justifying her pet name for her Grandad – “Choo-Choo”.

It was so cool chatting as we drove Northward after we sat for a while with my girl, Alena, at a great outdoor pub close to Mission Beach in San Diego. Here’s a shot of us with her friend, Matt.

But I am a landscaping man…………..enough of the sociality. Time to get local, regional and take a gander at Paradise. As these things go, this is high Rose season in Southern California. Coincidentally, it’s also Bouganvilla season, which rather augments the next picture of a home in Leigha’s neighborhood.

 Here’s “concrete truth” about my whereabouts.

Among the flora of Southern California which I know absolutely Zero about but which I still consider elements of Paradise are Jackaranda Trees. Anything blue always surprises me, I think, but particularly this big.

Leigha and Nic’s place is set in a small and surprisingly mellow corner of humanity, away from the rush of LA, set near the new college of Cal State Channel Islands – you know, the Dolphins. It’s a gorgeous school, the site of an old mental institution and home of a few myths designed to give a scare. But much of it was added later in a great, airy, ultra-modern design which looks real fun to attend.

The view outside is kind of terrific – Leigha and Nic abut the wilds, more or less. Evidently, coyotes are thick especially when it gets drier and farther from Spring. Here’s what’s outside the front porch:

Things are going pretty good, so far. This guy agrees!