Saturday, August 14, 2010


Like so many houses do, our house has drainpipes that come down from the rain gutters on the roof. Most houses’ drainpipes drain right where they drip, but not ours. They continue underground along the edge of the driveway and drain out into a ditch on the other side of the front lawn.

Ever since we had the drainpipes installed underground – and by underground, I mean only about an inch below the surface – people have been driving over them. Delivery trucks have parked on them. Snowplows have plowed over them. Rottweilers have wrestled on them.

So last week I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea. I decided to put a row of nicely shaped rocks along the edge of the driveway – not only for a decorative touch, but to make a barrier to protect the drainpipes from being flattened by a propane delivery truck.

Three years ago, when the lot was being cleared for the construction of our house, the excavators dug up enough rocks to build another Alcatraz Island, so I thought it would be easy to find plenty of perfectly shaped ones to use in the construction of my rock border.

Building the border turned out to be a slow and exhausting process. For one thing, a jungle had grown over most of the rocks on the property, so I practically had to use a machete to find most of them. Then when I finally did locate a few, I was afraid to lift them because I didn’t know what might be lurking underneath them. Spiders? Worms? Swarms of locusts? Giant killer snakes?

Not wanting to find out, I’d pick up a rock and fling it in the general direction of the driveway. I figured that anything still alive or crawling on the rock would be squished when it landed…and therefore, not crawl up my arm.

After 20 minutes of flinging heavy rocks, I was all flung out. It was time, I decided, to begin to piece the rock border together.

By the time I rejected the rocks that were too big, too small, too pointed, too round and too ugly, I had only about five rocks left for my border. But those five were works of art. The problem was, I was going to have to find about another 150 similar works of art to finish my project.

I finally took a breather and sat on the porch steps. As I admired my five rocks in their neatly straight line, I couldn’t help but think back to the time my father asked my uncle to build a fieldstone barbecue for us at our summer camp in Chester, NH.

My uncle was a perfectionist, and his penchant for perfection became obvious during the construction of the barbecue. He made my dad spend endless hours searching for perfectly shaped rocks for the perfectly shaped barbecue.

“Too round! Too flat! Too bumpy! Not enough mica on it!” my uncle would say as he examined each rock my poor dad, dirt-covered and dripping with perspiration from dawn-till-dusk rock hunting, handed to him. If my uncle accepted one rock out of 50, my dad considered it a successful day. Therefore, it was no surprise when four months later, my uncle still was building the barbecue.

Then came the day my uncle rejected a rock because the moss wasn’t evenly distributed on it. My dad finally lost his temper.

“The darned thing is going to be burning in a fire!” he shouted. “Why the heck does it need moss on it?”

When my uncle went home that night, my father hastily mixed up a bucket of cement, grabbed a bunch of rocks and slapped them onto the barbecue. A half-hour later, he tossed down the trowel and said, “There! It’s finally finished!”

And that was how we ended up with a half-straight, half-lopsided barbecue. But crooked or not, it still produced some really great burgers and hot-dogs.

I’ve managed to get about half of my rock border finished so far, but it hasn’t been easy. Out of every 25 rocks I lug over to the driveway, I end up rejecting 23 of them. I think I’m finally beginning to understand exactly how my uncle felt when my dad brought misshapen, ugly rocks to him for the barbecue.

I’ve also discovered that flinging the rocks doesn’t kill all of the crawly things on them…especially big black crickets, which seem to grow to the size of small rats around here. Believe me, Walt Disney’s Jiminy Cricket never looked like any of these guys (I’ve always thought Jiminy looked more like a grasshopper anyway).

But I won’t give up. Somewhere out there, the perfect rocks are waiting to become part of my border. The trouble is, by the time I manage to find all of them, I’ll probably be too old and feeble to lift them.