Tuesday, August 21, 2007

T, N45
Some Poetic Wall

Written on: My Own Desktop, Calgary, Alberta, CANADA
Composition: Essay-ish 

Previous Post: Why Keep Telling the Story?

Just a few days into this season's first landscaping project (I would guess late April), there was one Saturday afternoon where everyone else, save for the boss and I, decided to quit early - Saturdays being a day where we usually only work half the day.

Now, this boss is perhaps the nicest and most pleasant guy you'd ever know. So nice, you'd think of him as somewhat dull in character and a bit boring. He's just straight edge, is all.

But behind what you may think is a man whose vibrant character has been wizened by age, is a wise man who knows many a great deal about life.

We were building a retaining wall made up of hollow concrete blocks specifically designed for the purpose of holding back earth. More like a dam as opposed to a wall really. Such design touches look great in multi-tiered and terraced yards with many elevation changes.
Fig 1. Kind of like this. Photo stolen from Calgarygreenworks.com

The blocks we use for this purpose have no need for cement. All that's needed is


...All that's needed is a base of sharp gravel that's usually four inches in depth. What you then do as a builder is to lay out the base layer of blocks where you wish the wall to go. You then level each and every block in a very precise manner - and precise is the key word here - where they will be exactly level front to back and side to side. After the base layer of blocks is done, you then fill up the void inside the blocks, between the blocks, and the space between the back of the wall itself and the earth you wish to hold back. The purpose of this gravel backfill is to hold the wall together better by making it more dense and, in the case of filling the space behind the wall, as drainage so that the wall does not get overwhelmed by unstable soil that's been oversaturated by water. Without this gravel the wall would be weak, unstable, and misaligned after a day's worth of rain. You then simply stack your second layer on top of the first, but minus the tedious and repetitive step of having to level in each and every block. Had you leveled that first layer all in properly, the second, third, fourth, and the upper limit of 7 to 8 layers should all just fit in nicely. Had you not, then your mistake gets exaggerated with every layer up. Each new layer of blocks magnifying the mistake you made at the bottom. However due to the non permanent nature of these interlocking blocks, it could be taken apart, and rebuilt again right at the bottom. Design changes, scaling revisions, and relocating where the wall will stand can be done. The ease of this depends on how many levels you've stacked and backfilled.

We landscapers, we tend to view this aspect of the job with mixed opinions. Some think it as the most tedious and repetitive "fiddly" job ever. These guys claim that the numerous small adjustments for small incremental improvements as boring. On the other side, there are guys who appreciate the fiddling and problem solving as a respite from the more labour intensive parts of the job that require only brawn.

Whatever the case, this is one of the few opportunities where conversations - REAL conversations - can happen. This is one of the rare occasions where no loud machinery is in constant operation, and where instead of being spread out around the jobsite, we the workers are almost in one general area within earshot of each other.

Since it was only our first few days back at work, the boss asked me how I was doing, how my trip was, and what I thought all about it.

I told him about the personal mental ordeal I had to go through my first few sleepless days here (in Calgary). And how, during those few days, all I could think of was my next trip back.

He asked why this was. Why I wanted back so soon. Was Canada not good enough?

Not necessarily, I said. It's just that it brought up certain aspects of my character, certain emotions I treasured, and certain lessons I will forever hold with me - all these things that are positive.

So if visiting a country can do so much good, then experiencing more of it is just better is it not?

I then told him of how I had this thought of...

...well let's just say this for now...

I then told him of how I had this thought of planning a future whereupon a great deal will be invested in my being very marketable over there, in the Philippines, as opposed to here, in Canada.

But of course I was just a visitor. I then continued on with how I did eventually realize that it's just vacation withdrawal symptoms. It's probably foolish to set in stone any idea I may have at a time when I was still going through 'withdrawal'. I shouldn't do anything drastic that would set me back in building a "real life" comprised of a spouse, property, and kids.

"Well, don't ever set anything in stone", he said. "But understand that if you want to act on a plan that'll take a good chunk of time, you have to do it now. How old are you again?"

"Twenty Five."

"Twenty Five?" he said, and with a pause continued: "You're still young Randy. But not that young. Now's the time to do something crazy. Don't get too caught up with playing the status quo. See, I work as a marriage counselor for new couples at my church..."

'No way!', I thought. I didn't know that about him before.

"...and," my boss continued. "As a counselor, I have often encountered so many young couples who I could pretty much tell, got married, got kids, got the big house mortgage and car payments, all because that's the status quo."

He continued on by explaining that the (North) American dream has us chasing after that ideal of finishing school in your twenties. Getting a job, then getting married, then settling down, and then waiting for old age and retirement. These are all nice and great, he said. But don't ever ever do any of these because you feel like have to do so now, or because that's what people do, or because of parental pressure to give in to the same life that your folks may have led. Try anything and everything you wish, he pretty much said, while there is still time. Things will come and when you do have to settle, you will have tried enough things that you could just take your pick on what to do for the rest of your life.

"Besides," he said to conclude things. "If it (the idea you're cooking up) doesn't turn out to your liking, you'd still be a Canadian Citizen! You can come back anytime with the full benefits and social safety net that such a status may entail. I'd even give you a job if I'm still at this. At least you could say you did it."

We finished the small section of a wall we were working on at around four. As I topped the final layer of block with gravel, before the decorative solid block of a cap is set in place, I noticed that our short wall looked slightly straighter than all the other longer sections we had built previously.

Straight but, unfortunately, also lacking in visual appeal.

Compared to the other walls in the yard that curve sensuously in all directions, the portion we just finished was rather dull in appearance. And compared to our perfect little straight section, the walls with the beautiful curves had a lot of tiny little imperfections - no doubt a result of the added complexity of their design.

All the walls were too huge to take apart. They may be non-permanent, but corrections have to be done early-on during the buildup phase. By the time they're stacked 7 to 8 layers high, it would take too much time and effort to have to take it all down and start from scratch. No more, "I wish I did it this way instead of that". You'd just have to live with it because it's too late. And any effort to straighten kinks and misalignments, or add other crazy new design ideas for a funky ass curve you might have in mind, just wouldn't be feasible anymore.

Next Post: Calls to Home

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Blogger StrayDog said...

I deleted some comments here, NOT because they were embarassing, annoying or anything like that, but because I wanted to preserve anonymity - the reply maker's, not mine. Last names and emails were put up... so I deleted them for everybody's sake.

1:47 AM  

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