Two summers ago, I sat with Gus and Manda amidst my untamed backyard. We talked about life as we yanked at weeds that came up to our shoulders. In the time we sat and worked, Gus surveyed the space and drafted a plan: we'd divide the work of taming the hill into three phases. The first phase would address the uneven ground, smooth it out, and lay down mulch. The next phase would be to install raised beds a little further up the incline, and the third phase would be a repeat of the second.
I felt a deep exhale. Someone had a plan to curtail this mess and bring some order to it. But it was a lot of work, and I could not do it alone.
Since that Sunday evening two summers ago, I have marveled at how these friends, and others, have so willingly shown up to do back-breaking work to transform my backyard—and with only pizza and my love and admiration for payment.
This past Saturday Gus and I worked to install the remaining piece of the second raised bed. We were bundled up against the new chill of the season. Gus dug the trench, and I raked the rocks away from his progress. Here, we talked about the things that were keeping us up at night. We moved from topic to topic. At one point, I rehearsed my outline for the talk I would give at church the next morning. Gus and Manda would not be there, so it was good to get his feedback in advance.
There in my garden, we experienced something holy. Gus called it church, and it felt like peace to me. We unburdened ourselves to each other. We felt heard and seen. Lighter in the midst of hard work. I thought of the toil of our ancestors and commented on how much healthier they were compared to us sedentary lot.
The sun moved up higher. We felt its warmth mingled with our exertions. At some point, I couldn't physically help Gus with the work of the raised bed, so I moved on to other maintenance things in my yard. Trimming back the salvia, cutting down random tree starters, and pulling more weeds. We listened to music on his phone and kept working on our individual tasks.
Manda and our girls came to check on us periodically, giving us a time check. There were other things that Saturday required of them.
Again I thought about how wonderful it is to have friends who devote mornings of their weekend to the work of my backyard when their household has a list of its own.
The raised bed was finally in place, and Gus worked with gravity to pull down the rock and move it within the confines of the raised bed to create a level foundation for where I will later spread top soil. We all looked at this summer's progress with delight, relief, and satisfaction.
They gathered up tools and headed home with my daughter, their budding babysitter in tow. I was left to keep working feeling a surge of motivation and momentum.
The photo below shows this portion of my backyard clearer than it has been in years. I have plans to plant a variety of bulbs this weekend and to eventually transplant decorative grasses to help fill in the space and keep back the weed growth. Clearing physical spaces is a good exercise for a cluttered mind, and Saturday's work helped to manage my tangled thoughts.
“A garden is never complete,” Gus reminded me that morning. “If you're okay with just chipping away at this project by project, then we'll continue to make progress.” I am grateful to Gus for not only his manual labor, but for the way he considers my budget and respects my desire to do as much of the work on my own as possible.
Don't tell this woman what she can't do. She'll end up harnessing her resources, and get to work transforming a backyard with the help of her friends. True story.