I've never been much for the outside. The woods, creeks, hills & mountains, even out on the porch and down on the street, sure, but not the plain ol' outdoors, where things that bite and disperse their reproductive effluvia are. As a sneezy, bookish lad, I had dreamed of how wonderful it would be to simply laminate the outside, preserving it for observation, but keeping its more unsavory bits from contacting me. This past Autumn, I got my chance. The long, parched summer, unlike 2007's long, saturated summer, was my accomplice. After a few rounds of watering on the prescribed evenings, I decided to be a friend to nature and cease the senseless sacrifice of our precious water resources and stopped watering the lawn entirely. Predictably, the ground cover yellowed, then browned, then gave up the ghost, setting the stage for my machinations.

In the back yard, where we decided to test our mettle, Christina and I sketched out a plan. The south face of the house has a large and newly improved deck jutting out to within 8 feet of the back fence, and spanning 3/4 of the way to the western fence. A slender mulched bed clung to the perimeter of the yard, holding a few assorted rose bushes. We'd also recently acquired a hand-me-down steel shed from my dear brother that almost filled the gap between the deck and back fence. Between the deck and shed, we posited a patio, on which the grill would stand. We overlaid a path of stone on the current red pavers leading to the gate by the front door. The rest we'd blanket with river rock, mutihued and walkable, save two areas around our small mimosa trees.

Measurements in hand, we shopped for rock. The first purveyor we visited helped us convert the one and two dimensional measurements we has into mass. Pity, then, that we didn't buy his rocks. Instead, we went with another, closer, stonemonger. Two tons of native limestone chopped into edgers, and another two in broad, flat, patio form. After covering all the exposed ground in the back yard with 6 mil black plastic sheeting, and securing it with lawn staples, we laid the edgers along the deck and the shed, then at the extent of the patio, around the trees, and HVAC unit. As we hauled and arranged these stones, we slowly realized that there were far too many still on the pallet to work into our plan for the back yard. Since we planned to do the front yard eventually, we started trimming it with the extra. There were just enough to outline it neatly.

Next came the patio, starting with many bags of fine sand poured and graded with levels and small planks of wood. After much scruching about on the ground, I was almost happy when the time came to haul the exceedingly heavy patio slabs around to lay them out, starting in one corner and building out from there, looking for tidy, interlocking neighbors as I went. Again, we found ourselves with too much stone for our purposes. However, a deadline loomed: I was scheduled for my brain surgery in just a few weeks. Rather than attempt to find a place in the front yard for the patio stones, we switched into safety mode, and hauled them all around back into a neat stack for storage.

The back yard had to be finished, though. On a Friday morning, I ordered 7 cubic yards of washed river gravel, and was greeted by the driveway-spanning mound when I got home. That weekend was spent shoveling and dumping, while Christina manned the action hoe (cue theme music: Action Hoooooe!), spreading the mounds I dumped evenly. Some of the stored slabs became stepstones from the deck over to the gate, down the sideyard. To no one's surprise, the river rock estimate ended up extremely generous, leaving more than half the width of the driveway blocked by the mulithued gravel.

A week remained before I would be out of action for an indeterminate span of time. Staring down this reality, and not keen on possibly leaving the garage inaccessible, materials strewn about, and generally leaving things half-done, we devised a plan to apply the resources we had to the front lawn in a way we hoped wouldn't end up looking bizarre. It was our good fortune that our neighbors liked the work we had done already, and invited and encouraged us to apply the same look all the way up to the side of their house and front drive.

The week of December 8 turned out to be the coldest of the season that far. Each night, we'd arrive home from work, change into work clothes, and grab lanterns to illuminate our progress. It wasn't easy; laying black plastic sheeting in the dark presents some unique challenges. Fortunately, our yard is replete with right angles, and is pretty smooth. A few night's work, and the front yard had reached the dominatrix/cenobite look that the back yard had achieved several weeks prior, outlined with chopped limestone. On the remaining evenings, I carried patio stones from the pile behind the gate to form a collar around the small stand of aspiring trees. Saturday was taken with familial commitments that involved tasty little fish (and what I feared might be my only Christmas-like gathering). Sunday, though, I got very familiar with my shovel.

When we bought the house, I had long divested myself of most of my tools accumulated during my first bout of home ownership, especially those for yardwork. Ever the tightwad, I bought a pair of inexpensive shovels, one square and one pointed, from Big Lots! in order to dig and spread mulch. The spade was irreparably broken and replaced some time ago, but the transfer shovel is still with me. Starting at about 8 in the morning, when decent folk are sleeping, and decent-er folk are heading to services, I was making indecent scrape-dump-ring noises out on the front drive. Christina emerged from the house a couple hours later on her way to have her hair braided, an all day affair. I continued to shovel, taking time out to saw off the bottom of the gate to the back yard so it would open over the river rock. Pile to wheelbarrow, wheelbarrow to yard. Load after load, carting each to a new location in the front yard. By noon, the pile finally started to look smaller. By early afternoon, a small remainder of the original heap remained, and the font yard looked like some very industrious fireants had moved in.

Bushed, I stowed my gear and collapsed in an ungraceful manner on the office futon. I didn't hear Christina return or enter. She woke me urgently, concerned for my well-being after seeing the amount of stone I had moved. She urged an early dinner, and afterward, we both returned to the yard. Once again seizing her weapon of choice, she set about spreading the piles, directing me to the places that needed a bit more rock to cover evenly. I placed the two largest remaining flagstones in front of the gate leading to the back yard, and our neighbor's gate as well. In the end, the stone we had was just barely enough to cover the ground. The cheap-o shovel showed its use from hundreds of aggressive scrapings against the cement drive; the leading edge was no longer flat, but rather concave from the angle at which I had pushed it into the rockpile.

In the end, we got the yard we had wanted since moving in. Better yet, we got it sooner than expected, and at half the anticipated cost. We rock.

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