Gettin' Down and Dirty

This week's outdoor project was supposed to be about keeping the dust down, keeping it out of the house, keeping it under control.  It turned out to be a lesson in the importance of dirt and of being grounded.

In Tucson, it's hot and dusty in the summer.  Since I stopped watering my lawn, it's turned into my own private version of Lawrence of Arabia (with a big brown dog named Prince playing the part of a camel).  A layer of fine, sandy silt had settled onto floors, tables, counter tops; it clung to the TV screen; I even found it on light bulbs and magazines.  I had to do something, but I wasn't going to pave paradise.  I may have rocks in my head, but I decided to build a brick path and surround it with gravel. 

My small experiment taught me that I may not be a mason, but I have a child's love of playing in the dirt.  And I was reminded that, as with songwriting, if you have even the tiniest pebble of an idea, if you give it time to percolate, it can turn into a gem. 

I stood in the middle of my yard and just stared at it.  The longer I stared, the more I realized that the basic building blocks were right in front of me, literally.  There was a curved wall of bricks that the former owners had built against the side of the house ... about 60 bricks in all.  The curved enclosure held nothing but dirt -- a lot of it -- which Prince the dog liked to lay in because it was cool.  I admit that I should have thought of this years ago (I guess my percolator is the slow kind) but it suddenly hit me:  Why not dismantle the damn dirt bed and use the bricks to build an attractive walking path?  So what if I'd never laid a brick in my life.  I was motivated.  Out with dirt, in with order and neatness!  And while I'm at it, why not add a little twist?  After sketching a bit, I came up with a winding path that I later realized looked like a rattlesnake.  There was one puzzle to be solved -- the middle looked like a Rubic's cube and had a square opening that needed filling.  I hoped I might find a tile some day to fit in the space, but what were the chances of that?  If not, I could just fill it up with stones.

Constructing the path ended up being a journey to my childhood.  Every time I knelt down in the soft brown dirt (which I had soaked with a hose and which now looked like muddy coffee grounds), I was transported back to afternoons in Buffalo when my brother and I used to dig for worms and tried to dig our way to China (when we weren't sliding into home plate).  Lining the bricks up just right, and leveling them, reminded me of stories about my great uncle, "Eagle Eye" Frank, who earned that name by his ability to lay railroad tracks in a straight line.  Sifting and sweeping cinnamon-colored sand between the bricks reminded me of holidays when I helped my mom to dust pecan cookies with confectioner's sugar and to decorate cut-out cookies with red and green sprinkles.   I was loving gettin' dirty!

It all started coming together, almost cosmically.  The sand I used was called Diamond Infield Mix -- the same stuff they use for baseball diamonds.  The path looked like a snake -- a diamondback.  Then I remembered a small, square ceramic tile that my brother had given me when he first moved to Arizona.  It was a Native American design in earth tones, with a bright white jackrabbit on it.  It fit perfectly in the square space in the middle of the path, right in the middle of the snake, in a diamond position.  It was as if the snake really had a rabbit inside of it -- a snake with a rabbit soul.  When I cleaned the sand off of the tile, it almost blinded me, its clean white glinting like a diamond in the midday sun.   

I wondered why I had come up with the snake and rabbit motif.  Was it a subconscious expression of something?  Passive/aggressive tendencies?  Conflicted?  Or just in tune with nature?  Who knows.  All I know is that I'm comforted by the fact that I can look out of my bedroom window and see that within the body of the snake there lies a sparkling symbol of energy, fertility, and peace.

My final step in the project is adding stones on either side of the path.  You know -- something for the snake to slither against.  So I chose smooth gray stones from the nearby Salt River.  I think they will calm the snake, and I know they will calm my bare feet.

Working outside with my hands, in the dirt, with all of these bricks and diamonds and infield sand, has grounded me.  I feel more peaceful and I am sleeping better.  I think I've discovered a new form of therapy.  I'm calling it Gettin' Down and Dirty. 


July 01, 2011 @01:45 pm
I wonder what Prince was thinking while all this transpired? All that digging and scratching, now where DID I put hose bones?
July 01, 2011 @09:25 am
Wow, this is great writing! And it sounds like we will be hearing some Rock Music soon :)
July 01, 2011 @09:09 am
Lori-Loved your pathway story. Isn't it amazing what we tend to percolate in between our ears.... Enjoy the Day...T
June 30, 2011 @10:49 pm
Isn't it amazing what a little creating can do to bring peace to the mind. Looking forward to seeing your creation in person during our next visit.

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