The Evolving Backyard

At this point, we’ve been in The Rambler for about a year and a half. We’ve made quite a bit of progress, but none quite so dramatic as the backyard. When we moved it, it was a crazed weed-land jungle:

Backyard_Before

We worked on clearing it out and made some progress… until we chopped down an 80 foot Douglas fir.

I call this one "Northwest palm tree."

Residential backyard with slash piles.

It looked like an ogre had stampeded through the yard, pulling out trees and throwing the limbs around wily nily. Not a pretty sight — and NOT a fun place to hang out.

Well, in September, we opened up a can of whoop-ass. We threw all those tree limbs in a wood chipper (not Fargo style), hauled in three yards of compost, and tried to tame the wild beast that is the Backyard.

And now — nine months later — we have this:

Backyard_Lawn

WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT?? It’s a lawn! A real, green, plush Eco-Lawn, with little plantings around it, and a bed off to the side with hostas and a baby maple tree! And adirondack chairs, and a small dog tied to a horseshoe stake because we still haven’t managed to complete the fencing!

(It should be noted that two days after this picture was taken, a mole came and erupted three large holes smack dab in the middle of the baby lawn. Thanks, reality, for the check.)

Working in the backyard now, it feels like a place you’d want to hang out. That trio of fir trees behind the adirondacks? That’s where the hammock colony lives. And off to the side — there’s the barbecue that Byron will be manning, next to the table and chair set we purchased last summer and haven’t had any opportunity to use. Maybe we’ll actually use that horseshoe stake for horseshoes. Once it finally gets dark out (at 9:30pm, because we live in the Northwest and Northwest summers are the best), the fire pit is ready to be pulled out for toasting s’mores.

Sometimes life can feel like one long slog, one long day of hard work after the next — but then sometimes, you actually see the payoff of that hard work, RIGHT THERE! Right there in front of you. I’ve been feeling down about my writing as of late, down about the book… but looking at the backyard, I remind myself that hard work can pay off. It’s not a guarantee, of course — but it’s the only way to get any sort of results. You gotta put in your time if you want to enjoy the hammock colony.

Rambler Update: Backyard, Reclaimed

When we moved into our house this past December, the backyard was… well, a bit of a disaster. The ivy and morning-glory had been allowed to take over, and it was apparent that the previous owners had been using the place as their own personal dump (as evidenced by the buried trash and bones we kept uncovering… fun).

I somehow got the idea in my head that we’d be able to get the yard 100% under control by summer. Can we all do this together: HA HA HA HA HA. Man, where did I get that crazy idea?

Residential backyard with slash piles.
As of last Friday, this was the current state of our backyard. Notice the THREE huge slash piles.

But, slowly but slowly, we’ve been pulling it together. Earlier this summer we took out an 80 foot tree. And this past weekend — finally, FINALLY — we achieved my dream of making this wild jungle-land begin to resemble a good old-fashioned blue-blooded American backyard.

Wood chipper.
Chip ALL THE WOOD!

Of course, there had to be big-ass machinery involved. The first step in the process was to rent a wood chipper and destroy all the slash piles that lay scattered about the yard. Which, UGH. “Annoying” is a good word to describe that process. After sitting in our yard for six months, the slash piles did NOT want to budge. The pine needles had turned into a sort of glue, holding all the branches together. BUT, the good news? We didn’t find any rat nests! Which I was 99% sure would happen. So I’m counting that as a MAJOR WIN.

(One big thing that the wood-chipping reinforced? We have awesome friends and neighbors. The neighbor to the south of us let us borrow some machinery. The neighbor across the street saw that we were working and came over to help “just because.” My dad came over to help drag slash piles around. There’s nothing like several hours of tedious labor to reinforce that you have a lot of awesome people in your life.)

After the limbs had all been chipped (oh yes, we now have a HUGE PILE OF CHIPS sitting in the front yard… next project), we turned to the lawn. We decided to put in a small Eco-Lawn to act as a sort of focal point for the rest of the yard, bordered by various drought-resistant plants.

Residential backyard with compost.
First layer of compost, ready for roto-tilling.

Putting in a lawn from scratch is… well, it’s not hard, per se. Just kind of a pain. There’s the composting, the rototilling, more composting, more rototilling raking, smoothing, seeding. A lot of steps that all add up. And at the end? You just cross your fingers and hope that it all worked. I keep peeking out the window, waiting to see little shoots of green. We’ll know in 7-14 days….

But even without the grass sprouting up yet — you guys, what an improvement.

Residential backyard.

It’s actually starting to look like a yard. It’s starting to look like a space where we can kick back and relax, barbecue, play horseshoes, invite friends over and entertain. All the potential that we saw when we moved in, it’s starting to become a reality.

The Rambler: Tree Chopping Edition

This past weekend I drove over the mountains and escaped into the Methow Valley, an unbelievably relaxing strip of land tucked within the north Cascades. I ate way too much food and saw a crazy amount of deer and looked up at crazy close stars and in general had a great time.

Meanwhile, back at the home front, this was happening:

Cutting down Doug fir tree.

SURPRISE!

No, I mean, not really. I knew it was happening, and it was fortuitous I was gone for the weekend, because chopping down 80 foot trees? Not my thing. But fortunately it is some people’s thing, and logger-man Sam came and chopped down this tree for us, while Byron served as ground crew.

Cutting_Tree_2

This ol’ Doug Fir HAD to go. It was planted about five feet away from our house, and about twenty feet away from the neighbor’s house. Its root system had already been compromised on both sides (most recently when we put in the French drain). Basically, it was a ticking time bomb, just waiting to crush one of our houses.

I call this one "Northwest palm tree."
I call this one “Northwest palm tree.”

So how do you take down an 80 foot tree that’s right next to two houses? Slowly. In sections. It took Sam and Byron twelve hours to get this bad boy down. Sam would climb up there, cut a section, then send it via rope down to the ground. We have an INSANE pile of tree debris in the backyard right now. (Crazy tree debris covers up the crazy weeds. Silver lining?). Byron gets to spend the next couple weekends chopping up chunks of tree for fire wood, and sending the rest through a wood chipper for mulch.

Cutting_Tree_6

Now that this sucker’s gone — OMG I can’t BELIEVE how much more sunlight we get back there. This tree was on the north side of the property, so we didn’t think it’d affect much, but now the backyard is just filled with soft pretty light.

Looking at the stump, half-heartedly attempting to count the rings, I can’t help but feel a little sad. I think about how long that tree’s been around, how much it’s “seen”. Like I said, we really had no other option but to take it down. But it really does stop and make you think how impressive something as simple as a tree can be.

Sections of Doug Fir tree.

The Bone, and Other Discoveries

Sunday I found a bone in the backyard.

I mean, that’s the gist of this story. Your one-sentence summary.

If you live in Seattle, and if you’re me, when the sun comes out you cannot resist the urge to say, “OMG GO OUTSIDE NOW DO ALL THE THINGS!”

So, we did. We got a free lawn mower (thanks, Craigslist!) and mowed the front lawn. We fertilized the sad rhododendron (DO NOT DIE ON ME). And we continued to tame the wild forest that is our backyard.

Can I even tell you how much trash was hidden amongst all that ivy? I seriously think some neighbor saw it and thought, “Well, they’re never going to find ANYTHING in that,” and just started chucking things over the fence. Old peanut butter jars? License plates? Rags? Check, check and check.

Byron was being a total amazing trooper and pulling out the last dreadful patch of ivy, and I was kind of half-assedly moving some dirt around with a shovel. And then I saw what was very clearly a bone.

You know how I joked that we hadn’t found a body buried in the yard? First thought: “Holy shit there IS a body buried in the backyard.”

And then I sat back and studied the thing and… well, it didn’t really look human? I mean, I don’t study a lot of human bones, but I just can’t think what part of the body this would come from. It’s kind of shaped like a fat T, and about the size of my fist when I ball my hand up. I poked it with the shovel and saw the hole in the center where once, long ago, there must have been marrow.

Me to Byron: “I just found a bone.”

Byron to me: “Huh, ok.”

Alright, he was still cursing ivy, so I let his disinterest slide. But as soon as he finished wrestling the GIANT ball of ivy into the yard waste, I said, “So…did you want to see that bone?”

We tromped back to the spot and Byron looked down at it. “Yup, it does look like a bone.”

“But what is it from?”

“Probably a cow or a pig.”

“…THERE’S A COW OR A PIG BURIED IN MY BACKYARD?”

“No, like someone was eating a steak or pork chop and threw the bone back here.”

He seemed pretty confident. I remain unconvinced. But you know what? I really just don’t want to know. If there’s a bovine carcass in my backyard, it can stay there, buried, WHERE IT BELONGS. I don’t want to find a hoof poking up among the azaleas.

And then I thought, what if it is human? What if amongst all that plastic wrap there was a body? And I came to the same conclusion: nope. Don’t want to know.

I’m not totally sure what that says about me as a person — that I’m ok with a hypothetical body staying buried in my yard. I think I’ve just settled on the conclusion that I’m lazy and don’t want to deal with a homegrown murder mystery. But let’s be honest — that’s not too much of a discovery. We already knew that.

Welcome to the Jungle

We have a BIG backyard. Grande. We figured out this weekend it’s about 4,200 square feet. And let me tell you, I have grande plans to match it. It will be an amazing sanctuary and adult play area, complete with hammocks, a fire pit with dedicated s’mores area, and of course, places to rest your adult beverages.

The only problem — this is what the yard looked like when we moved in:

Welcome to the jungle.
Welcome to the jungle.

Oh HEY there, crazy six-foot weeds! HEY ivy that threatens to take over everything! And oh, majestic cedar (fir? pine?) trees, feel free to drop your needles everywhere. Please, feel free.

I’ve been eager to attack this project, because did I mention HAMMOCKS? I realized the other day that spring is rapidly approaching, which means summer is hard on its heels… and damn it, I WILL relax in this yard come summer.

THIS is what I will look up at from my hammock. A lovely...seriously, I need to figure out what these trees are.
THIS is what I will look up at from my hammock. A lovely…seriously, I need to figure out what these trees are.

So this weekend we tackled the ivy. I’ve had a long-standing hatred of ivy, inherited from my father. It’s invasive in the area and takes. over. everything. I want it dead dead dead. I enlisted the help of a bored friend (REALLY bored) and my poor husband, who really just wanted to relax inside instead.

Sorry, Byron!
Sorry, Byron!

But over the course of two days, we got SO MUCH IVY pulled. We’re not 100%, but probably about 70% of it is OUT OUT OUT.

This is just SOME of the buried treasure we found:

  • Half a racquetball
  • A broken flower-pot
  • A ridiculously huge amount of rotting plywood
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Blackberries! Surprise!
  • Sheets of black plastic (which didn’t contain a body! yay!)
  • Crushed soda cans
  • Candy wrappers
  • The limbs of a felled tree

I mean, SCORE, right?? Thanks, former owners!

By the end of the weekend, we had gone from jungle to this:

Panoramic view of the backyard, with 70% of the ivy out.
Panoramic view of the backyard, with 70% of the ivy out.

Progress. Next steps will involve all sorts of fun stuff, like leveling and rototilling (I’m trying to get myself psyched for it).

Dad was laughing because THIS was how I chose to spend my weekend, rather than, you know, going to a movie or something. But you know what? This all feels like a new adventure to me right now, and I’m gonna ride that wave until reality comes crashing down. And it’ll all be worth it when I’m drinking a mojito on my hammock this summer.

Spring is coming!
Spring is coming!