Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.

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Whistle While You Work Until the Copperhead Shows Up


THIS PAST WEEKEND Mimi and I headed up to the Ozarks to visit with Mimi’s mother. This turned out to be the exact same weekend we visited last year when my son Max installed a drip irrigation system for all of the gorgeous pots at my mother-in-law’s retreat. He saw her watering close to 40 pots so he put the system together and put it on a timer so she could sip her coffee while her plants got thoroughly watered in the mornings.


I am proud to say that a year later the system is still working perfectly. Only one spaghetti tube had been hit by the weed eater. Mimi’s mom, Hilda Robinson, and I held class on spaghetti tube repair. It was a quick fix and now she knows how to do it herself, Yes, the line ‘teach a man to fish’ came up, She’s maintaining 25 acres of pristine entertainment acres so she needs to know these things. Hilda loves to entertain her church community and her friends so the place always looks like there is going to be a gathering.


Our trip was quite different this time. We always ask her to think about a project we can do when we go up there. We love to visit but we like to be doing something we can all do together so we can whistle while we work. This year our daughter, Mia, was able to join us from South Carolina. She brought her boyfriend, Matt, so Hilda could meet him. Mimi and I have gotten to know him over the last couple years, We’ve visited with him some in South Carolina and he’s been to our place. We know they are two peas in a pod. Luckily he and Mia are into the same things when they are not working they are either running, mountain biking, playing volleyball, kickball or something that requires strength and a little competitive edge.


Strength and a little competitive edge are just the things we would be needing for the project that Hilda asked to have done. There is an area where her guests park. The way to the patio where they congregate doesn’t have a clear, welcoming path connecting the two places. We needed to create a safe, well defined path wide enough for couples to walk side by side that fit into her surroundings which is primarily wood and stone.


I spoke with her on the phone a few days before we got there about the length and the width of the proposed walkway. After a little figuring I asked her to have two yards of pea gravel dumped near the work site. I based that on the length of the walkway, 60 feet, by the width, 60 inches, wide enough for two people to walk side by side. I knew I had some flat stones up there to use as the stepping stones. The stones were about two inches thick so I would need to have enough pea gravel to cover two inches in depth so the flat stones would be exposed but not a tripping hazard. Luckily I have a cheat sheet that shows how much material is needed using those measurements.


I have to admit that over the phone I had done my figuring for a 48 inch wide walkway, which is standard, and I had not figured on the stepping stones taking up most of the space. After holding a tape measure to 48 inches and both of us realizing it wouldn’t be wide enough we tried 60 inches and liked that better. I feared we wouldn’t have enough gravel but we could get the steel edging in, set the stepping stones and use up all the gravel. She said she could get a friend to bring in some more gravel after we left.


Hilda fixed us all a cowboy breakfast, juiced us up with some coffee and we all got on it. Mia and Matt being the strongest out of all of us were in charge of making numerous trips in the dump truck to the rock pile. They picked out the flattest stones that measured around two inches thick, loaded as many in the truck it would hold and dumped them close to the project. Mimi, Hilda and I worked on getting the steel edging ready. Putting down steel edg- ing is not rocket science but we wanted it to have a nice curve leading her guests to the patio area. We only had to change a few things a few times. Steel edging adds such a nice element of uniformity that can make a place look neater and with a curve in it, it really looks great.


Once we had the edging just right Mia and Matt began placing the huge stones in the path we had created. They picked out the larger, smoother ones to go mostly towards the middle like a jigsaw puzzle. They left gaps around three inches between the stones to be filled in with gravel. We were so glad those two were so strong, I’m not sure how we would have gotten it done without them.


We had some great conversations going while the physical work was going on. It is invigorating to be active while chatting and getting to know one another. Matt seemed to enjoy getting this done with us or he thought we were crazy. A little of both perhaps.


We bumped into a copperhead on our last trip to the rock pile, thank goodness it was the last trip because none of us wanted to dig in there any more after seeing this medium sized varmint. That snake was kind of a buzzkill as far as digging through the rock pile. Luckily they had grabbed all the good ones before he showed up. Because of my failing to have counted the huge stepping stones as taking up so much space between the edging sides the pea gravel worked almost perfectly. You have to love it when you look smart in front of your mother-in-law. She saw me sweating my mistake and was assuring me that it would be no problem to finish it after we left. She also saw the smiles on all of our faces when that last shovel full went in and it was almost enough.


I SNEAKED OUT THE door early the next morning and headed to the local hardware store to buy six bags of pea gravel to finish it out perfectly. Can’t let your mother-in-law down. We wound up with a really nice stone path that fit into her surroundings just perfectly. We got to try it out that night when she invited two of her friends over to join us for a cook out. They got out of their car and headed right for the path and walked side by side each with a dish in their hands. No one tripped or fell slinging potluck everywhere so our mission was accomplished.


The real mission that was accomplished was having yet another great time while getting a project done that will make entertaining more fun for Hilda and, more importantly, we got to spend some truly quality time together. There’s no better way to get to know each other than while doing stuff with your hands.


We all fell in love with Matt and seeing Mia and Matt working together was a real treat. I got the feeling that Matt’s family is one that does things together and has fun doing it. It’s really a state of mind. A project like this could go down as really hard work and could go down as not much fun unless everyone gets their perspective right. It makes it fun when you keep your mind on the real reason for the project is to get together with enough time to have the kinds of conversations that don’t usually occur around the table. Don’t get me wrong, we also had some good conversation around the table full of lunch that Hilda laid out for us that afternoon. We ate everything she served us, hungry and exhilarated from the successful project.


The next day we treated ourselves with a swim in the Buffalo River and a hike to a great viewpoint of the beautiful Ozarks. The day after that we had to get Mia and Matt to the airport in Fayetteville so we left with enough time to spend some time in the botanical garden near the airport. If you are ever in the area the gardens are absolutely gorgeous. They had lots of perennials blooming, a wonderful butterfly house, and trees that we had to find the plant labels because they were new to us.


As we were hugging each other goodbye I think we all felt really good about the project completed, the time we spent together, and having taken advantage of the natural resources of Arkansas. Another great trip for the books. We are so happy for being able to have been with Mia and Matt at this lovely setting. It was like we all left our places and met at a retreat; very relaxing between activities. This is our idea of a good time.

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