From Mud Pie to Rocky Road

February 18th, 2009

Sometimes it’s the small things in life that make us happy. I’m an outside kind of guy, meaning I really enjoy getting outdoors and doing things. Of course I enjoy inside things too, like curling up with a good book on a rainy day.  But much of my life has been about going places, and I still  get restless to go about, even if it’s just about the garden.  Somehow it validates our being alive and we can be part of those elements such as the sun and the wind that make life so embracing.

I remember standing on a mountaintop in the Cascades of the northwest one night with a thunderstorm raging all around. Lightning, rain, wind nowhere to hide- except for a little tent, and yet it was amazing if not unsettling. The landscape was illuminated in brief flashes of rocks, peaks, trees stark and ghostly sights. It was breathtaking and exhilarating- a grand moment of being alive.

As I’ve grown older however, it’s the small joys of life that really matter more.  Most of those involve family and the gradual pace of life each day.  And one of them is as simple as a walk to the barn along a fifty yard reach of gravel.

Why is that so enjoyable? Well there’s a lot of cool things in the barn of course. It’s that place where many engines and machines are kept that help do things around here. It’s the place filled with dusty shelves and old tools. It’s the place where the leaves blow in and are swept out, and an ongoing compromise occurs between dirty and clean, or at least clean enough. It’s the place where the fishing poles lay, and the air compressor and the many other things that are used willy-nilly throughout the year to help shape the course of our lives. It’s really the kind of place to find old memories, and to begin making new ones.

It’s also the place where I forget things an awful lot. I walk back and forth from the barn a dozen times or more during the days I’m outside working, especially when I forget something in the garage.  And that walk is made a lot simpler and more enjoyable because of one little thing. Or a million little things namely a bunch of rocks, or gravel.

It may seem strange that I’m so delighted by a bunch of little rocks. But without them, that fifty yard stretch of driveway was once a sea of sticky, wet mud.  Before the gravel, it was like taking a slow shuffle to the barn, hopping around looking for dry spots or climbing up one side of the grassy slope uphill, or back around the other downhill. There isn’t a really good way to get there except down the driveway, especially if you need to drive something. 

As you can see from the picture below, you weren’t going to get away from the muck either. I tried and tried to grade it, and only made it worse… I humbly ate mud pie, or muddy humble pie, I don’t know which.  Either way I didn’t like it.  Our shoes were a mess, the driveway was a mess, the tires of tractors and vehicles were a mess, and the animals feet were a mess. When it rained you simply couldn’t walk back there. Why bother too much trouble. Except there’s always something you need to do out there!

Muddy driveway before gravel

It wasn’t always that way of course- the previous gravel base had simply been worn into the dirt over many years, and soil accumulated around the driveway environment from runoff.  During the summer it was usually dry, but during the wet months a mess.  Can you imagine what it would have been like to live in so many smaller towns and cities a hundred years ago with just muddy streets instead of cobblestones or asphalt/cement? I have some idea…  but enough was enough for me and it was time to do something. 

Two years ago I brought in about 10 tons of minus ¾ inch gravel as a base.  The ‘minus’ word means the gravel has a lot of really fine dust and particulate matter, along with some larger size rocks all mixed in. It’s not quite muddy, but it can be sticky and difficult to work. After a couple of weeks of grading and shaping, it covered the mud pretty well, but didn’t quite keep the driveway very dry or clean. It was still chalky-mucky in spots and the water just ran on the top during rain.

We tried that for a year, but needed something drier- a crunchy top to walk on- and I investigated a few more options.  Last summer I brought in another 10+ tons of clean one-inch gravel for the top. The clean part means it was just nice clean rock- very little dust or particulate matter. It was also easier to grade and move around, and I finally covered the entire two-hundred feet of driveway back past the barn almost a couple inches deep.

Gravel on driveway

I never knew that a bunch of little rocks could make me so happy.  That’s something else I enjoy… learning.  Somebody with more experience would have known the best thing to do all at once.  I’m one of those who would rather figure it out as I go along.  I wasn’t sure how it would work out, but after going through most of the summer, fall and this winter- it has held up very well. The water from rainfall drains off through the rock, has enough of a base to prevent erosion, and most importantly it keeps your feet dry and clean no more mud. Hooray!  It was rocky road for me.

The real test was last Friday, when I hid some flowers in the barn for Valentine’s Day (they’ve got to go somewhere).  But then the temperature almost dropped below freezing that night so I ran out really early the next morning (like 4:30 am) in my slippers to bring them in. I had to laugh that I was crunching over the gravel in slippers, remembering how muddy it was a couple years before.

So how long will the driveway stay this way? I don’t know, but probably a few good years at least.  It really doesn’t cost that much to bring the gravel in, but it’s a lot of work spreading it around.  A little tractor helps a lot.  It’s worth it though- instead of hopping around in the mud, now we can dance our way down the driveway with ease.  And the boy will tell you there’s lots of cool rocks out there too!  Through the grand adventures of our lives,  it’s often the little things that make all the difference.

5 Responses to “From Mud Pie to Rocky Road”

  1. R. Sherman

    My Dad recalled the family getting its first car, a Model T of course, and always having to leave an hour early for fear to things: a flat tire or getting stuck in the mud on the local dirt roads. His first job out of high school was supervising county surveying crews when the county finally put gravel on all the roads in the late ’30s, using WPA money to do so.

    Yes, indeed. Gravel is good.


  2. As someone who grew up with an 1/8th mile driveway plus four times that in gravel roads among all the building and bins, I can empathize with you.

    I used to believe that gravel continued to sink and perhaps it does to some extent but after my father poured concrete in his shop, I have a different theory. After a week or two of driving what I would consider “clean” vehicles, tractors and implements into and out of the shop, my job would be to clean it out and you wouldn’t believe how much dirt I would shovel out. I would get a 55 gallon barrel full every couple weeks that I tossed out back in a ditch. Over the years, I filled up that ditch quite a ways, probably more than enough to coat the driveway with a layer one inch thick. It didn’t take long to see what was happening.

  3. R.- Great story… a Model T, wow. Amazing to have seen that first hand with the WPA and all. Kind of astounding to think of how far we’ve come. Also reminds me of how far we can go if we really decide to.

    Ed- Yikes! I thought our little barn gets dirty, I can’t imagine how much you get from farming. But it makes sense, a lot of accumulated dirt makes its way in there. I could use a few of those barrels in the right places- that must have been quite the chore. Right now I’m trying to regrade the side of the barn- what you called your “ditch” out back. It filled up too, and during heavy rain, water seeps in under the barn onto the concrete floor. Don’t have a backhoe, but I’ll try to rake it deeper this year.

  4. I’m guessing with the poor soil quality typical of down in that area, you may have to go quite deep. We have the advantage of having lots of watertight Edina clay up here and so you just have to grade that, throw some top soil on top and the water will never be able to touch you.

  5. Life sounds good there at Fox Haven!

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