Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

Saving Grace ... Again

By Cindy Murphy

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In my "Saving Grace" entry, Keith, five years ago, had effectively glued together a sixty foot tall, storm damaged tree, and most recently I was left with a heap o’ dirt unceremoniously dumped on a spirea hedge across the yard.  One thing has everything to do with the other; we are saving Grace again. 

Back to the maple; I’ve named her Grace.  On the ravine side of it, there was a retaining wall - a very poorly built retaining wall.  This engineering disaster was leaning, cracked, and in danger of falling into the ravine possibly taking the maple with it.  It was a potentially dangerous eyesore we’ve wanted to do something with since we moved into the house nine years ago.  Burying the wall seemed to be the best solution; taking it down completely would possibly compromise the stability of the tree.  Estimates were expensive, and when living in a 100 year old house, inside renovations take precedent.   

The Wall

No one knows exactly why or when the wall was built; it really serves no purpose.  One neighbor thinks it might have been built in the seventies.  It was then when the house was raised to upgrade what is referred to around here as a “Michigan basement.” A typical Michigan basement is really not much more than a dugout; it usually has a dirt floor, brick walls, and a very low ceiling.  The fruit cellar in our present basement still has brick walls, and the brick columns throughout the basement remain, but the remaining walls are now cinder block, and the floor and stairs are poured concrete.  Our neighbor thinks the man who owned the house at the time used the left-over cinder blocks to construct the wall just because he liked to tinker and build, (which is evident from some of the rather odd “improvements” inside the house).  Our other neighbor, who just turned 97 years old (Happy Birthday, Gary!), doesn’t remember why or when it was built, but he remembers when it was “plumb and square,” which it hasn’t been in the last twenty or so years, he said.       

I finally got the dirt-ball rolling this summer when a friend of mine had a couple of yards of soil left over from a project that he was looking to dump.  Ah-ha!  Free dirt!  And if you’ve read any of my other blog entries here, you know that “free is good” is my motto.  Though the two yards was just a pimple of dirt in comparison to what was needed, it was a start. 

There were a couple of construction projects happening around town, and Keith contacted both companies to find out if they were looking to get rid of fill dirt.  Yes, they were!  Both companies sent someone out to the ravine to look, and written estimates were mailed – both came in at a couple thousand dollars.

In comes our neighbor – same neighbor who plotted with Keith to glue the maple back together.  His company was raising a house, much like our house was raised, to dig a basement below.  We were more than welcome to the soil, he said, and he and Keith made plans.     

Keith dismantled a set of rotting railroad tie and wooden stairs next to the wall, dumping the remains at its base to be buried, (the rumble in the picture).  He removed three layers of cinder blocks with a sledge hammer and a lot of sweat, so that the soil could be sloped more gradually.  The cinder blocks were dumped over the side of the wall too.

Deconstructing the wall

The first load of soil was brought in mid-August.  When it was dumped on the hedge I was more than a tiny bit perplexed ... and just a bit miffed.  I thought they’d just maneuver between the two maples out front, cut across the front yard, and dump the soil over the wall as my friend had when he brought the first two yards.  Why it was dumped so far from it needed to be, and on top of my hedge to boot, was something I couldn’t understand.  “Trust us,” they said, “we know what we’re doing.... We fixed the tree, remember?”  Yes, I remembered.

Over two months passed, and nothing moved.  No more trucks, no more soil, and I watched the hedge wither.  The “Trust us” idea began to seem a little bit harder for me to swallow.  Me of little faith.  The last week of October, on one of my days off work, they came … and they came … and they came.  Truckload after truckload of soil was delivered, and I now saw why they couldn’t maneuver through the two maples, and across the front yard.  I hadn’t realized how big the trucks were – 30 ton trucks with 16 foot dump beds on hydraulic lifts.  There was no way these could maneuver through the front yard.  And if they did manage to squeeze through the two maples out front, backing up to the wall was just too hazardous.  The already leaning wall would be in danger of collapsing under the weight of the trucks.    

The dumping process was both amazing and a bit scary to watch.  Essentially an elevated “pier” was built.  With each truck-load, the pier got longer and the trucks backed down it further.  I have to admit I was a bit nervous watching them, afraid the dirt would slide, and the truck would end up in the ravine. 

The pier of dirt

Once we had all the soil that was needed, my neighbor drove the Bobcat over the following weekend, moving, contouring, and smoothing out the soil in a freezing early November rain.

The wall buried

With a lot of generosity from him, and a little more than 300 yards of soil, the maple was once again saved.  As Keith says, “that tree isn’t going anywhere anytime soon”.  And look at this big new garden I have now; I’ve got all winter to plan it.  In the meantime, as all the neighborhood kids have found, it makes a pretty darned good sledding hill.

The soil awaits the garden!