When life gives you jerkons, make benchonade.

October 29, 2014 by

Just about a week ago, one of the local residents wandered up to a wall I’m working on. She was very upset that I’d finished the top of a portion of the wall with copes, and was furious that she couldn’t sit on the wall and rest her cup of coffee on one of the through stones anymore. (Long story short, the copes were in place because I was tired of “helpers” stacking stones on the wall.)

I’m getting used to being chewed out by the locals, but it’s never very fun. I assured her that I’d build a bench at some point, explained what copes are and what they were for.

This is what the copes looked like:

Wall with copes.

Wall with copes.

A few days later I got a chance to get back to work on the wall, and about six feet of copes were gone in the exact spot she pointed out.

On the one hand, there’s a good lesson there. I’m trying to build a wall that will last a hundred years; the reality is that it’s a very popular trail and that wall might not even make it through the winter. Perhaps people are inspired to play, but dangitall, I’m tired of finding what people do to that wall when I’m not working on it. It’s like a sand mandala – a meditation on impermanence – but with big rocks and no nice monks to hang out with.

On the other hand, there’s a good lesson there. I realized I can’t fight park visitors, especially nearby residents who basically have 24/7 access to the park. So I took the challenge on and made something bench-like.

Bench.

Bench.

I’m about halfway between Zen and “meh”. Let’s call it Zeh.

Poop. (NSFW, I guess)

October 11, 2014 by

Found some poop on the Fowler trail this week:

Fox?

Fox?

Bear

Bear

Read the rest of this entry »

In Defense of Wooden Steps.

October 6, 2014 by

Generally, I like to build with stone. It’s fun to work with, looks great, and when done well, stone structures last and last.

Photo Oct 06, 12 52 09 PM

But stone has its limitations. I’ve spent the last two weeks building a pretty massive staircase out of pressure treated lumber.

Here are a few of the reasons I chose lumber over stone for this project:

  1. It’s a big project that had to go fast. Building this beast out of stone would have taken months even if the nearby rock was good for building.
  2. The nearby rock is copious, but it’s also crapious. There are some semi-decent rock sources within a few hundred yards – but the transit time would have doubled the project length.
  3. The bottom of the stairs is near the path of the spring water flow. That’s not insurmountable, but would have easily added weeks of build time to divert the drainage and build an ample footing.

    Base of the stairs - there's 10? 15? feet of gravel and rip-rap underneath that bottom stair.

    Base of the stairs – there’s 10? 15? feet of gravel and rip-rap underneath that bottom stair.

  4. The slope is made of mineral soil mixed with ball bearings. My hunch is that with the significant weight of stone steps and no bedrock in sight, stone stairs would eventually slump into the hillside. Wood stairs with stringers should float on the surface.
  5. Wood stairs facilitate rebar anchors. Every tread and stringer has multiple 5′ lengths of rebar hanging into that slope.  There wouldn’t be an easy way to anchor that much stone.
  6. Small crew size, and delegate-able tasks. In fact, for most of the build, the crew size was… me. I’m very lucky to get occasional busloads of helpers from Boulder County Justice Services. It worked well – I didn’t have to train anybody: me build, you haul timbers.

Photo Oct 06, 12 08 35 PM

And if you’ve read this far, you deserve to know that the Rattlesnake Gulch trail is open. Get out and hike/ride it quick – fall weather like we’re having makes it one of the best trails on the front range.

And if you’re looking for more incessant chattering, here’s a copy of the bulletin pictured next to the stairs.

Wow, and wow. And then some more wow.

September 28, 2014 by

Saw this over at John Shaw-Rimmington’s blog this morning:

Beautiful work…

This work is stunning. The backstory is that the waller, Sean Donnelley, did this all with a very limited source of rock available on site. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the humbling experience of walking up to a bunch of rock, thinking “hey, I’ll build a wall with what’s here”, and a few days later realizing that I only succeeded in slightly rearranging some rocks and inventing new curse words.

I’ve had plenty of time recently to reflect on hubris – my own and others’ – with regards to walling. It is very easy for the uninitiated (and incurious) to imagine that building with stone is trivially easy. “How hard could that be?” “It’s just stacking rocks. Whatever. “If I had that rock, I could have built that wall.” I think  Mr. Donnelley’s work blows that kind of narcissistic thinking out of the water.

Bravo.

More Lurnin’ with Rocks and Stuff.

September 12, 2014 by

The guy I learned a everything I know about building walls from always says something to the effect of: Learn to build fast, then learn to build nicely.

As a novice, that didn’t make one bit of sense. It seems like trying to learn juggling by just throwing lots of balls fast. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to do everything I always do, but faster. That does not go well.

But the maxim is starting to make more sense – the quickest way to go faster is to eliminate the extras.

To wit:

  • Use fewer tools. My current project is about 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead. I started by dragging out all my fancy schmancy hammers and chisels in a wheelbarrow, and as the month has gone on, I’ve left more and more tools in the van. Today, I built a lot of wall with two hammers:

    A trimming hammer, a bush hammer. That's it.

    A trimming hammer, a bush hammer. That’s it.

  • Be decisive. I get myself tied up thinking about the next stone, the stone after, the stone on top. Pick a stone, shape a bit if needed, place it, move on.
  • Hearting is fun. It’s a nice break to play a quick game of small rock stacking after some intense big rock stacking.
  • Rules will be bent and/or broken. Yep, there’s a big, fat, traced stone and a weird triangle stone in that picture up there. Sometimes a stone really locks in and makes sense, but doesn’t abide by all the rules. That stone is a loner, Dottie. A rebel. I’ve tended to abandon prudent, good stone placements to find try and find the one that fits all the rules perfectly.

Now for the less smart stuff – aka the painful, I’m not learning as fast as I’d like to stuff…

  • I’m not always careful about how I lift rocks. Some days, I use knees and hips and feel great at the end of the day. Some days, like today, I lock my knees, lift big rocks, and my back is totally worked after eight hours.
  • I’m spoiled rotten by typical Colorado weather. It’s usually hot and dry, or warm and dry, or cold and dry. A few straight weeks of drizzle and mud have thrown a muddy wrench into the drizzly works, and I have no damn idea what kind of clothes stand up to rock work and stay warm-ish.

The “learn to build fast” idea makes sense in another important way. It’s not just saying “throw stones together quickly” – but it is saying that efficiency is a good focus for a tyro.

Wall is coming along.

More than halfway...

More than half way…

Eldo is Pretty.

September 10, 2014 by

Well, it is.

Photo Sep 10, 9 55 07

Photo Sep 10, 9 09 17

Photo Sep 10, 10 30 31

Ramble Prep

September 6, 2014 by

The Rattlesnake Ramble is on September 13th this year. It’s a footrace to benefit the Action Committee for Eldorado. ACE has worked with Eldorado for decades to build trails and maintain/install fixed hardware. Quite frankly, if you’ve hiked a climbing access trail or clipped a bolt in Eldorado, you should donate (scroll to the bottom of the ACE home page). And if you’re feeling gnarly, run the ramble.

Jack, the power wheelbarrow, a griphoist, and I did some more trail prep for the ramble yesterday.

Photo Sep 05, 9 29 37

Before

After

After

Nice to work in one of the most scenic power-wheel-barrow-ing venues in the world.

Photo Sep 05, 11 59 38

 

Rocks. Learning.

September 5, 2014 by

There are four stages of learning:

  • Unconscious incompetent – you don’t know what you don’t know – novice
  • Conscious incompetent – you know that you don’t know much about what you’re learning – apprentice
  • Conscious competent – you know relevant concepts, you can get a task done adequately – journeyman
  • Unconscious competent – you don’t have to think about your craft while producing master level works

As a side note, I think we live in a time where some unconscious incompetents tend to imagine themselves as masters of their subject – just because they say so, because they attended a motivational talk, because the internet… This is unfortunate.

I suspect that these stages aren’t discrete. I hope that master craftsmen realize that they’re novices in some ways, and I know that novices can put out high quality work sporadically.

As far as rock work goes, I’d like to imagine I’m breaking into an apprentice level of work. I’m logging enough hours stacking rocks that what I don’t know is becoming VERY apparent. That’s hard to sit with, but invaluable. And as always, I get a heck of a nice office to work in.

The far end of the wall is as high as it will be without copes.

The far end of the wall is as high as it will be without copes.

Recovering from Recovering.

August 29, 2014 by

There are some broad types of actions human critters take to get through natural disasters.

  1. Survive the disaster itself
  2. Immediate recovery efforts (short-term, clear goals)
  3. Big disaster recovery projects

Let’s just say that #3 is my least favorite. BY FAR. Last fall’s flood made a mess – but natural resources are incredibly resilient from natural disasters. Unfortunately, the things done in the name of “disaster recovery” can be more challenging to recover from.

Fortunately, as the contractor season is drawing to a close, I’ve been able to get rolling on a few plum projects. I think projects are a great avenue for reflecting AND getting moving again.

One of those projects is reseeding and erosion mat. With a bag of native seed mix and a few strangely cumbersome rolls of aspen/coconut mat, volunteers have been able to do a lot of slope stabilization and mitigate a lot of invasive weed habitat.

Finally, flood recovery starts in Rattlesnake Gulch - thanks WRV.

Finally, flood recovery starts in Rattlesnake Gulch – thanks WRV.

One my job duties (that goes well in spite of my best efforts) is wrangling stewardship volunteers. As the contractors began leaving, the volunteers came back in droves. 607.5 volunteer hours this month. h/t to The Dawson School, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, Boulder County “Fast Tracks”, and others.

5:1, big rock.

5:1, big rock.

For a personal project, I started work on a retaining wall at the East end of the park. It’s amazing to see that even nature has routines. At 10:30, the flies fly; at about noon the rattlesnakes pass through; and at 2:00 the rain starts. And somehow rocks find good places on the wall.

Wall.

Wall.

A thought from all of this: Correlation isn’t causation, sure – but take time to enjoy correlation, coincidences, and other moments of providence…

Look What I Made!

May 13, 2014 by
Seed Bombs.

Seed Bombs.

Yep, that’s right. Three college degrees, numerous certificates of accomplishment, and today, I made hand-crafted, artisan, free-range mud balls. Would that I were kidding – the fertilizer is even organic.

These objects of excellence are actually seed bombs. Several groups of junior high students are going to volunteer this week, and part of their time will be spent lobbing muddy orbs of seed, fertilizer, dirt, and clay at some unstable slopes. It’s kind of a clever trick: sending people out onto the slopes to plant will do more damage than good.

If they work, I might publish my recipe (which is less about quantities and more about technique).


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