Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Backhoe Master

Ernie, who spread crusher fines on my beeyard driveway in December, was scheduled to dig my pond on Friday. But he had one problem: he doesn’t own his own backhoe. He thought he had a deal to borrow a backhoe from somebody else, but it fell through. At this point many people would have blown me off, but Ernie felt committed to help me with my pond, and lined up another backhoe guy for me.

So late Friday afternoon, as the sun was getting low in the west and the temperatures were already starting to drop, Ernie showed up in his truck, along with Paul Madrid, who was towing a backhoe on a trailer behind his truck. I didn’t see how they could do the work in the little time left that day.

After brief introductions, Paul got his backhoe off the trailer, drove down the dirt ramp from the shoulder of the highway to river level, and down the pasture to the work site. The first thing I wanted him to do was remove a cottonwood stump inconveniently located next to the Ark, right where our river deck is going to go.

It’s amazing how many roots a cottonwood has. Paul ripped and tore and gouged all the way around the stump, tearing out roots and great clots of dirt. Occasionally the very Earth itself shook when he whumped his bucket down extra hard. Eventually he dug most of the way around the stump, and could finally get his bucket all the way under it. A final gigantic tug and the stump tore loose, “like pulling a tooth,” as Ernie said.

Then he moved over to the pond. We have beavers here, who dig into the riverbank to make their nests. The nests are located about 20 feet from the edge of the river, and sometimes the roof of an unused nest will collapse, leaving a depression in the dirt. I had such a depression on my property when I moved here, and it seemed to be the logical place to make a pond, since it was already partially dug out. So I got out my pick, shovel, and wheelbarrow, and dug out a pond. (One does the digging during winter, when the river is low. Then, when they turn the river on for irrigation in the spring, the pond fills with water. Voila, instant pond!)

More about the pond next time. I wanted to talk about Paul, a backhoe master if I’ve ever seen one. Not only does he play his machine like a musical instrument, he has a joyous attitude to his work that’s a joy to watch. He really enjoys his work. He’s like a little kid playing with a full-sized toy. His backhoe becomes an extension of his mind, responding to his every touch. It was fascinating, watching his delicate touch on the two control sticks in front of him. He could make that bucket do exactly what he wanted it to, even shaking the last nit of dirt out when he dumped it. I’ve always been a “twenty shovelfuls of dirt to fill the wheelbarrow, then trundle it heavily to its destination” kind of guy, so I was impressed, considering that each backhoe bucketload could fill a wheelbarrow, and Paul could do a couple of loads a minute. (I hope I never lose my ability to occasionally have a gee-whiz attitude about things.)

Next time, the pond. Or, as I say, “Just for funsies.” I hope to be posting more about “homestead happenings” now that spring is almost here. Except for knowing that a too-hot summer lies ahead, spring is one of my favorite times of year, with the resurrection of the vegetation that has lain dormant all winter. There’s an excitement in the air as Nature explodes back into life – the river is full, the flowers are blooming, the bees are busy. Nature seems gentle and kind, in between windy cold fronts that rip the blossoms off the fruit trees. Within a month I’ll be putting my bee suit back on and, once again, become a beekeeper. Better get humping on the Ark, say what!


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