OKIE IN EXILE — Building Wall

Bobby Neal Winters
Bobby Winters

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down.’

— Robert Frost

My driveway is parallel to my neighbor’s property. There is a strip of land a few feet wide between the drive and where his lot begins. His lot is a few inches higher than mine, and in the past there was a tendency for soil to wash from the higher ground onto my driveway. This was just nature: gravity and water.

I forget when it was, so I am going to say it was twenty years ago, I built a retaining wall out of landscaping timbers. I did this without a plan, without advice. Then I filled the area between the drive and the wall with brick, flat against the ground to keep grass from growing there.

And it worked...for a while.

Recently, however, it has become a mess. Weeds have grown up through it and it is difficult to mow around.

I decided that something needed to be done.

The first step was to take out the old wall. This was kind of an education. My mantra has been that it is easier to tear down than it is to build up, but I need to remember that is a relative statement. Tearing down was a sweaty job, and I never actually tore down the wall I’d made with landscaping timbers. Those timbers are there even yet.

The hard part was the bricks. I’d used more than 50 bricks to fill the area between the landscaping timbers and my drive. They are sitting stacked neatly on my driveway even as I write this. Digging them out with a shovel, bending over my belly to pick them up, and then stacking them neatly in a pile required considerable effort. Thankfully Jean was there to help.

In the two decades since I built my old retaining wall, I’ve learned a lot of things. One of those things is that I am stupid; I can’t just make stuff up as I go along and expect it to go well. Because of this, I got on YouTube and found a video — several actually — on building a retaining wall.

You should have a base of gravel of a certain depth, so I dug a ditch as long as my wall and filled it with gravel. The gravel needs to be tamped down, so I bought a tamper and tamped it. As you lay your blocks, you need to tamp them down with a rubber mallet.

My neighbor came over about this stage of the process to see what I was doing. He was curious because seeing me do anything physical is something of a novelty. I brought him up to speed on it and we talked about our luck, or lack thereof, on such projects.

Once you get your first course of blocks laid on the gravel base, it is like putting together Legos, forty-pound Legos, but Legos nevertheless.

When the wall is up, you need to fill in between the dirt and the wall with gravel so as to allow the water from the higher level to flow down.

I still need to do that part, so I will be making trips to Home Despot for gravel today.

Is the wall perfect? No, but it doesn’t look bad and it suits the person who paid for it: Me. It will be easier to mow around and easier to keep presentable.

At least that’s the plan.

Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. Search for him by name on YouTube.