Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hoops: First Game in the new Husky Season

University of Washington 77 - Central Washington University 48

This was an ugly, sloppy, exciting game. It's always exciting to start a new season; you get to see a new crop of freshman, look at the adjustments the coach has made because of departing seniors (Jon Brockman!), and see what kind of improvements individuals have made to their games. A few observations are in order.

Venoy Overton seems to have spent his off-season watching old Detroit Piston tapes from the Bad Boys (Bill Lambeer & Rick Mahorn) era. He seems to concentrate on getting into the heads of opposing players with his very physical style. An example as the Huskies ran onto the floor for warmup before the first half started: normally, the opposing team is already out going through its warmup drills. The Huskies skirt the side of that and run to their end of the floor.Venoy ran right through their drill, disrupted a pass meant for one of their players and banged that same player in the chest on his way past. Welcome to Venoy's world. He made life miserable for CWU guards the whole time he was on the floor. He has amazingly quick hands and knocks the ball loose alot.

Abdul Gaddy is going to be an exciting player to watch for however long he is at UW. Because he is so young (won't turn 18 until after the 2009-2010 season ends), he's guaranteed to be here at least 2 years. I hope he'll stay for all 4; I think it would do him (and UW) a world of good. After an extremely lackluster first half, he made a couple of passes in the second half that were pure magic. Fast, in traffic, directly into a player's hands close to the basket; both for easy buckets. He didn't score much (1 point on a free throw), but once he gets going, he's going to shatter UW assist records.

Tyreese Breshers is our Jon Brockman replacement as soon as he gets in game condition. He is a down-low banger in the JB tradition, working for rebounds and playing tough defense. He tires quickly in Lorenzo's fast-paced style, but he'll get better (and get more minutes) as his wind improves. One play stood out in the second half. A CWU guard came down the left side of the lane for a layup but met Tyreese there. T stood his ground with his arms straight up and his feet planted. As the guard bounced off him (Tyreese didn't move), T plucked the ball out of his hands and threw it downcourt to a sprinting guard. Awesome!

The freshmen C. J. Wilcox and Clarence Trent are going to be making solid contributions all year long. In the second half on a 2 on 2 break with Wilcox handling the ball to the left of the lane and Trent filling a slot on the right, Wilcox launched a pass that looked destined to go over the backboard. Trent jumped way up, snagged the pass with his right hand and flushed it through in a monster dunk. This all happened at a dead sprint. I don't think Lorenzo was too happy with the play (much too circus-style), but the Dawg Pack loved it and it is likely to show up on the season's highlight reel.

UW shot miserably in the first half, hoisting up 3s at every opportunity. They seemed to have forgotten that it is ok to get in closer to the basket and that getting 2 is better than missing a 3 with the resultant long rebound. At the end of the first half UW was ahead 43 to 18, but it would have been 60 - 18 if we had been shooting a reasonable percentage. CWU just could not cope with UW's defense, it is that good, even early in the season. Their weakside rotation to the ball is a half-step slow at this point, but it is significantly better than where the team was at this time last year.

Our free throw shooting continues to suck. We could manage no better than 50% on 18-36 shooting. Men, that is not going to win games for us! We need to bump that percentage up 20 or 30 points if we are going to win consistently in the Pac-10.

Of the 12 players on the roster, 11 played (Justin Holiday is banged up and didn't play at all) and everyone scored. Isaiah Thomas had 18, Quincy Pondexter, after a lackluster first half had 17, Venoy had 11, Tyreese Breshers and Darnell Gant (who started, but may not once TB gets his wind and legs in order) both had 6. Matthew Bryan-Amaning had 2. He was great on D, but needs to contribute more at the offensive end. Now that he's a junior, there are no more "He's young, yet." excuses left. Time to man up, MBA. The freshmen, C.J. Wilcox and Clarence Trent both had 6; a solid contribution, and they played well in the defense. Elston Turner made 1 free throw; he's supposed to be a shooter. I know I'd like to see him prove it at this point.

Overall, a good game. Very sloppy first half, but that's pretty easy to chalk up to first game jitters. Coach Romar got them settled down and running the offense better in the second half and, even though they didn't have as wide a scoring margin in the second half (34-30), they played a much better half and we came away with the win, 77-48.

Go Huskies!

Raisin' Fish: Early Maintenance

Last Wednesday, Francis and I spent a good portion of the day in McAleer Creek. We were doing early system maintenance on the piping going from the inlet to the clarifier/incubator setup.

The most important factor in raising healthy fish is to assure a steady supply of clean, cold water to the incubator, preferably at a flow in the range of 10 gallons per minute. As long as the water is flowing, the eggs and fish are going to get all the oxygen and nutrients they need directly from the water. Before the eggs hatch, all they need is the water flow and oxygen. After hatch, they don't need any food until late in the process when their digestive systems have started to develop. So, mostly they just need the oxygen in the clean, cold water.

I've probably explained before that we have about 500' of 2" plastic pipe running upstream of the incubator. At the head end we have a 6" pipe with lots of 1/4" holes drilled in it sunk in a large pool of water. Because that pipe is at a level higher than the outlet pipe of the incubator, gravity drives water through the system pretty efficiently as long as there are no blockages or major air bubbles in the system.

We've got the inlet pretty well sheltered to keep debris from entering the pipe, so blockages are not much of a problem (haven't been during the previous 10 years anyway), but air bubbles are another matter. Cold water carries a lot of oxygen in solution (the colder it is, the more it carries - think of a glass of water you let warm up - bubbles develop on the sides of the glass as the oxygen comes out of solution when the water warms up). Turbulent creek water also carries air bubbles. As the water flows through the pipe, those bubbles collect in high spots in the piping. If the bubbles get too big, they restrict water flow.

We do two things to combat this. First, we try to keep the piping at as even a slope as possible, so that there aren't as many places for the bubbles to collect and they eventually find their way all the way up to the inlet end. Second, we bleed air out of the pipes at the junction where two pipes come together. We use standard plumbing piping that we get from Home Depot (2" black ABS plastic) that comes in 10' lengths. We join lengths together using white 2" heavy duty collars (they're much deeper than the black ones with more surface area to hold both pipes) and stainless steel sheet metal screws. Those screws double as our bleed mechanism. We make sure that when we screw the pipes and collars together, the screw heads are pointing straight up at the top of the pipe. Bleeding the system then involves nothing more complex than backing one screw out of the hole and letting the air escape.

Bleeding the system is kinda contemplative; I just put on my waders, grab a portable drill with a Phillips head driver and start walking upcreek from the incubator. At a junction of two pipes, I back out one screw. If water comes out, then there's no air to bleed so I put the screw back in and continue upstream. If I hear the hissing of air, then I wait until water does come out, then put the screw back in. It's a nice quiet walk up the creek and I get to check out what's going on in the creek at a fairly close and slow rate.

When we first put all that piping in, it was all in the creek and just followed the curves of the creek downstream. This led to lower reliability for a couple of reasons. When the water gets high after a rain, the creek flushes alot of branches, rocks, sticks, leaves etc down the creek. Some of that stuff can lodge under the piping, lifting it out of the water and destroying its ability to flow water. Very bad for the fish. The other problem is more insidious. The constant motion of the creek pushes the pipe against the stones over and over. Eventually, this wears a hole in the pipe and you lose water pressure to the system right there. If the pipe is in the creek, you don't see the leak. You have to run your hands over the entire 500' of pipe, checking for leaks with your hands.

A couple of years ago, Francis and Joel (a family friend who works around our place occasionally) took all of the piping out of the creek and put it up on the bank. This makes it easier to bleed and much less likely to spring a leak. We did have one problem area that had been nagging at us for the last couple of years and it wasn't until last week that we fixed it.

At one point in its downstream travels McAleer Creek makes a big curve around a small hill. We took the pipe right over the hill, digging a trench for the pipe so it stayed more or less level. Over the years, the trench filled in with dirt, leaves etc and became somewhat hard to find, and, even harder, to bleed. We spent part of Wednesday digging the pipe out of the dirt and repositioning a bunch of it to make it easier to bleed and maintain.

The incubator is now flowing clean, cold water at a rate of 10+ gallons per minute. We won't need it for a couple of months (the eggs need 750 thermal units from fertilization to hatch, so I'll probably get them in about 60-65 days or so - late December/early January), but we are ready. It feels good to be prepared.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Raisin' Fish: Another Part of the Cycle & A New Experience

I'm pretty well acquainted with the coho salmon life cycle. I'm very familiar with their growth and development from the 'eyed' egg stage through their release into MacAleer Creek. I know a bit about what happens to them once they leave the incubator and head out to sea.

Previously, I'd encapsulate my next experience in a few sentences. Something like, "The fish return to Issaquah Hatchery in mid-October through November. The eggs are harvested and fertilized and then put into the hatchery to grow to the 'eyed' egg stage."

Well, thanks to my cousin, Ken, a docent/volunteer at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, I am much more familiar with the "egg harvesting" phase of the process.

Issaquah Creek was running fast and dirty on Tuesday because of all the rain we've been having lately.

The spillway

A great blue heron sat beside the spillway eying all those fish, but I guess it already knew they were much too big to take on.

These guys are too big for me

The inlet gates for the hatchery were closed (there were enough fish in the holding pens already), but that didn't keep lots of fish from lining up, wanting to get in.

Let me in, I smell paradise

On Tuesdays during the spawning season, volunteers gather at the hatchery at 8:00 a.m. to begin the process. I left home around 7, but, because I haven't been going to work for almost 3 months, I had forgotten just how grinding the morning commute can be. I had the opportunity to experience the I-405 southbound commute in all its glory on Tuesday. I made it to the hatchery on time, but just barely.

First thing to do at the hatchery is gather and eat donuts and coffee. After that everyone suited up. I had brought my own waders, but borrowed a rain slicker and gloves (the same kind of gloves vets use when working inside a large animal, heavily rubberized hands with a clear sleeve that goes up past your elbow and has an elastic closure there). In addition, you wear cotten gloves over those gloves because the coho salmon are quite slippery and you need something to get a grip on them.

First step is to get all of the fish gathered together in a smaller area within the holding pond. They do this using what they so eloquently call a "crowder". It's a motorized walkway on tracks with a big steel partition that reaches most of the way to the bottom of the holding pen. They fire up the little gas engine on the walkway and start moving it toward the business end of the pen.

Driving the crowder

At that end there are a couple of interesting, purpose-built machines. One is called the Wallaby Whacker. It's a pneumatically-driven machine that, when you feed a fish through the opening, bangs the fish between the eyes, killing it quickly.

Wallaby Whacker

After the fish are killed, the females are slit open and their eggs harvested into a bucket (sorry, no pictures of that, I was busy in the holding pen while that was happening). The males are milked for their sperm (milt, they call it, though I'm sure Uncle Miltie would be appalled). After harvesting, the fish are fed through a machine that is a large RFID tag sensor. Tagged salmon have a small RFID tag in their nose. You feed the fish through the machine and it directs tagged salmon into one tote and untagged ones into another. That way they can get the tags from only the fish that have them and get data on the fish (how long they were in the water, when the returned etc).

A locally made RFID sensor

Those machines are made right here in Washington, on Shaw Island in the San Juans.

Ok, so there we all were, suited up and standing beside the holding pen. The coho were all crowded up against one end of the pen.

All crowded up

Once things got started, several of us waded into the pen with a big net and started scooping up salmon. When they harvest chinook, they don't have to use nets. The chinooks' tail is very stiff and easy to grab onto, so they don't need the net. Coho have much more flexible tails; when you grab them they just fold up and the fish slips away.

Fish are separated; hens (females) and bucks (males), wild and hatchery-raised. You can tell the difference between wild and hatchery raised because the wild ones have an adipose fin. Thats a little fin just in front of the tail on the top of the fish. Hatchery fish have that fin clipped off; it doesn't upset their ability to navigate in the water too much and makes it very easy to tell them from the wild ones. Wild hens and bucks are especially prized because they are likely to contribute greater genetic diversity than the hatchery raised fish.

If a male is big enough, or is wild, they are killed and then their sperm is milked out of them.Reproductively, males are always ready (do I hear some of you saying (with a knowing sigh) "Typical."?), but females have to be checked to be sure that their eggs are ripe.

Collecting milt

To check a female for ripeness, you hold it by the tail, head down. If they are ripe, all of the eggs in their body cavity will be loose and they will sag toward her head, creating some dimpling toward her tail by the egg slit. Those eggs are ready for her to eject them once she has built a nest, or in this case, to go into a bucket to be fertilized. If she isn't, then her body will be hard and no dimpling will show. She gets thrown back into the pond, to be checked again in a week. Eventually, she will be ready.

The crew examines a female

That's cousin Ken holding the fish and consulting with one of the hatchery workers.

During this whole process, I netted fish and delivered them to be sorted. The nets get pretty heavy and they have a holding platform that hangs on the wall that you can rest the net on. Once all the fish are sorted, you put the net back in the water and get another batch. I found that if you move the net along the bottom very quietly, the fish don't even realize they are in trouble (you are scooping them up) until it is much too late. That doesn't prevent them from thrashing around; they do that quite a bit. I guess that's why we were all wearing rain coats, to keep from getting covered in splashed water and fish slime.

I stayed until noon, helping to net fish, and then drove home to lunch. Thanks, Ken, for inviting me to experience yet another part of the salmon cycle.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rockin': Building the New Wall: Phase 2

I spent the first three weeks of September in Israel/Palestine sharing the life that Diane, my wife, and Gwynedd, my youngest daughter, had been leading for the past year. We visited many of their favorite places and went to work daily at the Holy Child Program in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. On September 25th I returned to the U.S., flying from Tel Aviv to Newark, then Newark to Seattle. About 36 hours after leaving Jerusalem, I was home in Lake Forest Park.

I called Jane to find out what had been happening with the wall. Nothing. While in Israel, I had gotten a call from my mother and found that her cancer had metastasized. I decided that I would return to Rhode Island, finish the wall and visit my mom as many times as possible during my stay. I made arrangements for a frequent-flyer-miles-fueled flight on Alaska Airlines and a cheap rental car.

I flew out of Seattle on Monday, October 12th, in the mid-afternoon, arriving in Boston around 11 p.m.. Unfortunately, my bag with all my tools and work clothes, did not arrive with me. It would be another two days before it eventually showed up at EFI at 11:45 p.m.. In the meantime, Jane picked me up at Logan and drove me to Providence airport to pick up the car ($140/week there versus $280/week in Boston!). By the time I got to Escobar Farmhouse Inn, it was 2 a.m.

Because I didn't have my work clothes or tools, I drove to Meriden on Tuesday, October 13th to visit my mom. We went to lunch at Napoli's Pizza and had delicious calzones (mmm, pepperoni and anchovies), then drove to Hubbard Park and Castle Craig. The view from there is outstanding. I took her back to her convent (for those who don't know yet, my mother became a nun in February 1981 after my father died in November 1979), we talked for a bit and then she laid down for a rest and I drove back to Portsmouth.

Wednesday morning, I was sitting on the porch with my coffee and was struck by the subtlety of the differences in coloration on the wall, the greenish cast of the stones on the old wall versus the new and rawer grayness of the new stone. At least all of the dirt that gave the stones a brownish look has been washed off in the ensuing weeks. I like the way it looks.

Subtle color contrasts

That night, the baggage delivery guy called me saying he was at 127 Middle Road in Portsmouth and couldn't find 133 (the delivery address I had given the baggage folks in Boston).
"What kind of car are you driving?"
"A maroon van."
"I'm standing where I can see 133 Middle Road. I don't see any maroon van. Are you at 127 Middle Road, Portsmouth, Rhode Island?"
(much laughter) "Well, that explains it. I'm in Portsmouth, New Hampshire."

It would be another full day before my bag arrived.

So, finally, the wall building commenced on Thursday. Louis had a great load of stone waiting for me when I arrived on Tuesday. I began building and was surprised to see how much progress I had made by lunch time. With only 10' to build, it was not going to take long to get this project done. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating. It began to rain while I was having lunch, so work was done for the day. The rain continued the next morning, letting up around 1 in the afternoon. I worked Friday afternoon for a couple of hours. I was getting to the point where I would need to have a set of hand-picked stones to finish out the wall.

Up to this point, I had done none of the picking. All of the rock for the new wall had been coming from an old wall on the farm that was no longer useful and was being reclaimed by nettles and other weeds. Louis, Jason, or Maurice would arrive in the backhoe or skid steer with a load of rock that they had pulled off the old wall. At dinner on Friday evening, I arranged with Louis to pick stones on Saturday morning for the finish of the wall.

Saturday morning dawned grey, cold, and windy, but not rainy, though it did look like it might rain any minute. After breakfast I walked over to the farm and met Louis and he showed me where all of the stone had come from. I saw some really good stones there and loaded them into the bucket of the skid steer. On the way past the barn, I saw a great thick, rectangular rock that would make an awesome base at the end of the wall. As Louis drove up, I said, "I have got to have this rock!" Louis maneuvered it into the bucket of the skid steer. It turned out to be much thicker than I had thought and probably weighed upwards of 500 pounds. When we got over to the Inn, I had Louis drop it right into the space where I had planned for it to go. All I had to do was rotate it 90 degrees and push it around a bit to get it into its ultimate position. I was, once again, glad for the mechanical advantages provided by Louis' farm machinery. There's no way I could have moved that rock by myself! It does, however, make an awesome anchor point for the end of the wall.

Because I had picked some really great rocks, I had the wall essentially finished before lunchtime with only a couple of rocks left to place. One was a behemoth that I would need help lifting onto its final position as the last capstone. I was able to move it into position near the wall, but knew that it would kill my back if I tried to lift it myself.

Moving stone

Help was coming. Earlier in the week when I went to visit my mom, she told me that she and Margaret, my middle sister, would be coming out on Saturday. When Steve heard they were coming on Friday, he decided to come as well. I had also invited my older brother, Mike, to come, but he explained that there were projects he had to get done at home and would not be able to come. What I did not know until later was that he was working to rearrange his schedule and show up as a surprise.

Margaret, Jane, Mom and I went to lunch together and then returned to the Inn. Steve showed up after lunch and, while I was showing him the progress I had made, Mike called. He had driven down, but gotten lost in the maze of Providence highway construction (apparently an easy thing to do). He eventually showed up and the three of us were able to put that final capstone on the wall.

Placing a stone together

Here is a gratuitous family portrait: Left to right; Mom, Stephen, Michael and me, all happy to have gotten that big rock on the wall with no injuries. Thanks for taking the picture, Margaret. We were having a mini-reunion again; Mom and her 5 oldest children all together. Only Mary, in Esko, and Tom, in Seattle, were missing.

Mom and her oldest boys

Because of all the people there and conversation swirling around, it was tough to concentrate on finishing off the wall. It continues to amaze me what a solitary, intense, and concentrated process building with stone is. When placing a stone on the wall, you must fit it in to the space that is there, but even more importantly, you are creating the bed for the next stone to occupy. In that, it's a bit like chess; the move you are making is what it is, but more than that, it is preparation for the move you will be making 4, 5, 6 moves hence. Because I wasn't able to concentrate on it, I decided to call it a day. I did take the opportunity to show Mike the work I had been doing since August.

A project almost done, explained

Because we've both been busy with our families on opposite ends of the country, Mike and I have not communicated all that often. Things are getting better now and I'm glad he made the effort to come down and see the work and the rest of the family. There's some light there and we're making our way toward it.

A walk toward the light

We adjourned inside, gave Mike a tour of the Inn and began dinner preparations. Jane and Margaret made steak, swordfish with ginger cream sauce, and assorted vegetables. It was an awesome meal and we had a great time together.

An enthralled audience

Sunday, as usual, I did not work; spending the time going to church, hanging out with Margaret and Mike who had stay the night and reading. As I sat on the porch and looked out at the wall, I knew that I would be finished tomorrow.

Monday morning was a glorious Fall morning in Rhode Island. Clear, bright, sunny, and a bit on the cool side. As I sat on the porch finishing my coffee, my eyes kept being drawn to a couple of stones; it's kind of amazing how my mind works on these 3-d puzzles even while I'm doing something else. In about an hour and a half, I had solved all of the placement puzzles and Phase 2 of my wall building was complete. Here's a familiar view; I love the way that bottom rock anchors the whole wall. There's no way that thing is moving; short of an earthquake (or a large motor vehicle crashing into it at speed.

Project complete

Here's a view of all 67.5' of new wall, from the cherry tree to the sign post. It has been worth the effort.

67.5' of new wall

This view is my favorite. You can see the wall in its total context; all of the new construction, Escobar Farmhouse Inn, and the blue, clear sky of New England autumn. I love the way the line of the wall leads your eye right on to the neighbor's wall to the north.

A fine addition to the Escobar Farmhouse Inn

I think the wall looks pretty much how I envisioned it would when Diane and I discussed the possibility of doing this project back in July during family reunion 2009. I think it makes a fine addition to the Inn and in many ways looks like it has always been there. In another few years as the stone weathers and takes on some of the moss, algae, and lichen of the surrounding wall, it will look even better.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rockin': Building the New Wall: Phase 1, part 2

I ended my last post with the finish of work on Saturday, August 15. As usual, I did not work on Sunday, using it as a day to go to church and visit with family. I grew up in Meriden, Connecticut about a two-hour car ride from Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Most of my family still lives in the CT/RI area, so it doesn't take too long to go see any of them.

I was about to begin my last week of work on the wall. In early September I would be accompanying my wife and daughter to Israel and the West Bank (where they've been working for the past year) for three weeks. I had to drive back to Seattle and knew that it would take me longer than coming out had, as I planned to stop and see several people along the way. The end of the space where I would be putting the wall (which still needed to be dug and filled) was still 40' away and I had only gotten 12' of wall completed (though it was 20' at the bottom) in four days. I was somewhat depressed because it looked like I wouldn't complete the project and that had been the picture in my mind the whole time since volunteering. All I could do was work as hard as possible and see what I could get accomplished.

One thing that had happened over the past week, though, was that Louis had begun to take my work seriously and was about to begin stepping up his support of it through more timely delivery of materials. When I first volunteered to do the wall, Louis was skeptical. Everything he knew about me to that point did nothing to suggest that I would be successful with the project. He didn't know about my previous stone projects and didn't know whether I was just a dilettante or what. Two things convinced him that I had the ability; first, when he saw the repair work on the old wall during an interim phase he was seriously impressed with the quality of the work, and second, when I took the big hump out of the wall so that I could run it to the level of the neighbor's wall without talking to him about it. At that point, he saw that I had an eye for quality and the ability and drive to back it up.

I know I mentioned it in passing earlier that there was a hump in the wall quite close to the small cherry tree. My theory is that whoever built the wall to begin with was maintaining a constant height. When the ground rose or fell, so did the level of the wall. It bothered me to see that big hump in it, so I took it out. All I had to do was to pick up about 5 capstones and then strategically shift some of the stones around so the height was reduced.

One of my goals with the wall was to have it harmonize with those of the neighbors. The property directly north of EFI has a beautiful, straight, even dry stone wall. It sits at a constant height and really adds a finished look to the property. I figured if I brought my wall to that level over its full length, then it would look like a continuation of the one to the north, adding value to both properties. To that end I pounded a stake in near the sign post, took my roll of mason's twine and established a height line that started far back on the old wall and went all the way to the sign, ending at the same height as the neighboring wall. The picture below was taken at the end of the day, Friday, August 14th and shows the level line and the old wall sans hump

Level set; hump removed

I don't know what happened to my Facebook posts. The ones from before August 18 have disappeared, so I don't have any record of Monday, August 17. In the picture below you can see that I am, once again, at a standstill. I am at the end of the 26' long gravel trench and there is not much stone lying around. I'd put the length of the wall at about 22' at the top and 25.5' at the bottom. At dinner that night I told Louis that I needed to have him finish digging the trench, fill it with gravel, and deliver a load of stone as early as possible on Tuesday so that I could keep working.

Monday end of day

Louis took me seriously. Before I had even finished my breakfast, he and his grandson, Jason, were out in front of the Inn with the backhoe, digging the rest of the trench.

Digging the rest of the trench

Though he would say otherwise, Louis is a skilled backhoe operator. Look at how close he gets to the surrounding obstacles and still is able to do the careful, straight dig he needs to deliver.

The little backhoe that could

He started at the open end of the trench and dug as far as he could, then turned the backhoe around and finished the job. When you realize that he had to straddle an open trench to do that, you can begin to appreciate the skill that let him position that multi-ton Ford beast and get the accurate results that he did. I'm amazed at how closely he dug to the line without breaking it even once.

Precision backhoe work

So now I had a trench stretching the full length of the job site. Next step, fill it with gravel.


By the end of the day, it had been filled in and another load of stones had been delivered.

had a good day of wall building. The bottom is at 28', the top is at 24', and the entire foundation trench has been dug out and filled with gravel.
August 18 at 5:24pm (Tuesday)

Tuesday end of day

At the beginning of building I often had to wait for materials deliveries from Louis, this slowed down my progress somewhat. At this point he began delivering stone to me twice a day, once in the morning and a second time in the early afternoon. This allowed me to keep up quite a pace as you can see by how much wall I was putting in according to my Facebook posts.

had a good day of wall building. Bottom is at 35' and the top is at 27'. Hot day, but the relatively constant breeze made it manageable.
August 19 at 6:08pm (Wednesday)

I only had three more work days left, but the bottom of the wall was now over half way and I had built 15' of wall in three days. That was encouraging, but I also knew there was no way I was going to finish the whole thing.

Wednesday end of day

My FB post the next morning reflects that realization:

is entering his last few days of the project. I have to leave on Sunday or Monday to drive back to Seattle, so Saturday will be my last work day. It is frustrating and somewhat disheartening to know that I will not complete this project, but it has been good work thus far. Hot and humid at 9 a.m., tough to get working.
August 20 at 9:36am (Thursday)

Later that day, I had a somewhat different take on things, though, and, as you can see from the picture had made some good progress.

despite my misgivings earlier today, I had an awesome day of wall building. 40' at the bottom, 35' at the top -- mostly because Louis brought me two incredible loads of stone. I have enough left to make good progress tomorrow as well.
August 20 at 5:19pm

a href="" target="_blank">Thursday end of day

My youngest sister, Mary, had arrived that day for a visit with Jane. The next day, she helped me all day; cleaning and sorting rocks, doing whatever I asked her to do. Together we made great progress.

A spectacular day! Mary, my sister from Minnesota, arrived last night; today she helped me by cleaning and sorting stone. Louis delivered some truly excellent stones. Bottom of the wall, 49.5'; top of the wall, 44'.
August 21 at 5:55pm (Friday)

Friday end of day

I had one day left; though it was hard to believe, I (with the help of many) had been able to build almost 30' of wall in 5 days. The last day of Phase 1 was, in many ways, the best one. While Mary and I were sitting on the porch eating breakfast, we both noticed a space toward the bottom of the wall that you could see daylight through. It bothered her as much as it did me (a good sign) and when we got out to work, she worked at fixing that.

Working with my sister

Up to this point, I had been the only photographer of my work. That Saturday my middle sister, Margaret, also came out for a visit. That's why I ended up in a few of the pictures. This next one seems to be typical of the way I spent lots of time working on the wall. I'm just standing there looking at the wall, looking at the stones, looking at the wall, looking at the stones. Eventually, I see a stone that will fit in a place, then pick it up and place it.

Just looking

My next visitor was Steve, my younger brother. He arrived in the late morning to look at the progress we had made. It was almost a mini family reunion with 5 of the 7 Rzegocki children there. This was not the last time that that occurred, though the next one was even more surprising. I'll write about that in Phase 2.

By the end of the day Saturday, I placed my last stones and cleaned up the remaining ones, putting them in a compact group near the base of the wall. The wall wasn't finished, but it had progressed significantly farther than I had thought possible. I was definitely pleased with the results.

EFI Phase 1

In this picture you can see just how close I came to finishing.

2nd End of phase 1

My part of the stone wall at the front of Escobar Farmhouse Inn is done. My sisters Margaret and Mary helped today; we got an amazing amount done. Final measurements: 57' at the bottom, 55' at the top. What a good work to have done.
August 22 at 5:31pm (Saturday)

I thought that I was finished. Little did I know that I would be back in Rhode Island in just six weeks.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rockin': Building the New Wall: Phase 1, part 1

It has been a long time (almost 2 and 1/2 months) since I started building the new section of stone wall. I chronicled my efforts in real time using Facebook status messages from my iPhone to keep my friends and family up to date on my progress. Rather than relying on my sometimes faulty memory, I am going to copy and paste FB entries into this blog to chronicle the progress. Each of the initial sentences lacks a subject; Facebook puts in the name of the poster, so you can just assume that.

As I previously mentioned, while I was repairing the old wall, I had also staked out the trench for the new wall. I found some stakes around the farm, making two in the machine shed, and then stretched out some of the 800' of mason's line that I had brought with me from Lake Forest Park. The last picture in my previous post shows that work.

So begins the chronology:

spent my first full day at the B & B. There is nothing about the job I regularly do that would prepare me for a full day of manual labor; I am bound to be very creaky tomorrow. Spent the day cleaning up the older section of rock wall; made a lot of progress.
August 5 at 7:07 pm (Wednesday)

finished up cleaning the old section of wall yesterday. Have to wait until Tuesday to dig the new wall's foundation (so we know exactly where any gas, electrical or cable lines are buried). Spent today setting up the B&B's computer syst...em; once Cox Cable arrives I'll set up the wireless network. Also changed the oil in the Roadster; it'll be ready for another one by the time I get back home.
August 7 at 9:56pm (Friday)

going to start repairing the old section of stone wall. Can't dig the foundation for the new wall until late Tuesday (at least!), so I might as well get something useful done.
August 8 at 11:21am (Saturday)

is now firmly into Day Two of old wall repair. Defined the lines for the trench that will hold the foundation gravel for the new wall; while I'm waiting for Louis to arrive with the backhoe, I'll keep going on the repair.
August 10 at 10:34am (Monday)

The folks from DigIt had come out to inspect the trench site and mark where any utilities were. We knew there were only gas and water lines coming in to the house; both electricity and cable (when it arrived) would come in overhead. Even though we were probably supposed to wait for Tuesday (four days after we called them), Louis came over with the backhoe in the morning on Monday, August 10 and dug the first 26' of the trench.

Breaking ground

A good backhoe operator


One thing to notice about the photo above is the large rock lying to the left of the trench. It was a monster that had been lying just below the surface that Louis brought up when he was digging. It would become the first rock I laid for the new wall. There's no sense in wasting such a great piece of stone. While most of the stone I used could be picked up by one person, that rock was not one of those. The best you can do is roll and flip it into position, letting gravity do as much of the work as possible (though gravity is no help when it comes to getting it ready to flip!).

After that, Maurice, one of the workers at the farm brought over a load of gravel and dumped it in the trench. I learned a couple of things from that: 1) Maurice is not the sharpest tool in the shed. If you want him to do something, tell him exactly what to do. Do not expect him to do any thinking; 2) shoveling gravel is hard work. My next Facebook post echoed that statement:

It's hot (79 degrees) and humid (81%) with a promised high of 83 today. Shovelling that gravel yesterday was tougher on me than I thought. Tough to get going this morning.
August 11 at 8:47am (Tuesday)

If I had been dumping the gravel, I would have put the whole pile of it at the end of the trench nearest to the old wall. Obviously (well, at least it was obvious to me, though evidently not to Maurice), that is where the first section of wall is going to be. Instead, Maurice dumped the whole pile of gravel about 6' from the end of the trench. I took my trusty shovel and moved a portion of the pile over to the end of the trench and smoothed the rest of it out.

Fifteen feet of gravel in 26' of trench

So now I had 26' of what would become a 67.5' trench and the first 15' of it was lined with gravel. Shortly after that, Louis arrived with the backhoe. The front bucket on it was loaded with my first delivery of stone.

The first load of stone

I went back to the old wall and finished repairing the section I had been working on, then spent the afternoon spreading that pile of stone out so that I could see all of the 'puzzle' pieces.

just finished the repair of the first section of the old wall. Set 11 capstones today; pictures to follow when the light is softer. In another couple of hours I will have been here one week; I'm going to spend the rest of the afternoon sorting stones for the new wall.
August 11 at 2:49pm

The next day I began working on the new section.

had a good day; it was cloudy and relatively cool. Got 8' of new wall started and blended it in with the end of the old wall.
August 12 at 6:49pm

I took a picture of the first stone placed. It seemed like a historic occasion at the time; sort of like the laying of the cornerstone of a new building.

First stone placed

By the end of the day, I had gotten 8' (measured at the bottom) done.

End of first day's new wall

A couple of things to note about the photo above; that big round rock at the 'working' end of the wall was another that I had found close by. It sat, partially buried and resting against a post on the back side of the existing wall. Again, I didn't want to waste such a beautiful stone. Also, I've written before saying that building a dry stone wall is really building two parallel walls and filling the space between with scrap. That's mostly true, but in this picture you can clearly see at least two stones that I am using to tie the two walls together. While prowling through a rock pile, I would always be on the lookout for relatively thin, relatively long rocks that I could place perpendicular to the long axis of the wall. You can see one right at the front on the bottom and just ahead of the big rounded rock mentioned earlier. The second is visible (if you know where to look) almost directly above the end of the first rock I placed. I know there are others in the wall, but all you can see of them is one end protruding a bit. They look like little filler stones when viewed from either side of the wall, but they have alot to do with the strength and integrity of the wall.

The next day I experienced my only work day of rain during the three weeks I was in Rhode Island.

It's raining in Portsmouth; no wall work until it lets up a bit.
August 13 at 8:30am (Thursday)

But it did let up later in the morning, so I made a little progress.

the rain stopped so I worked for a couple of hours this morning, but it started again after lunch and doesn't look like it'll stop any time soon.
August 13 at 2:22pm

I did take a few pictures, though, and really liked what I saw. In each of the following pictures, the rain brings out the colors of the stone really well and points up the contrast between the new sections and the old.

Rain on repaired wall

Rain brings out the colors


The next day was clear and sunny and I was up and ready to work early:

A gorgeous morning in Rhode Island; I'm ready to rock.
August 14 at 7:36am (Friday)

By the end of the day, I had extended the bottom of the wall 15.5'. As I only had 16' of gravel, that meant that I had nowhere else to build now. In addition, I was running out of rock to use. Louis would have to bring me more gravel and rock. In an example of fantastic, just-in-time production on this old-school project, he brought me gravel at 7 pm that Friday.

Just in time gravel delivery

And the next morning, he brought me my second load of stone:

My second load of stone

Now I had room to build and materials to do it with. I got quite a bit done that day and celebrated with Jane and Louis by cooking the meal that evening.

had another productive day on the wall: the bottom is 20' out and 12' of the top has been capped off. Making Champagne Chicken, Balsamic Beets, and Parmesan Potato Wedges for dinner to celebrate a good week.
August 15 at 4:42pm

I had started working 10 days ago. In that time I had cleared the old wall completely, repaired an old section, and built 20' of new wall. I'll continue the story in my next post.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rockin': Repairing a section of the existing wall

It took me two or three days to get the repair done on the first section of existing wall. Most of the time, I did not bring the camera out to the job site until the end of the day (sensitive electronics/optics don't mix that well with dirt, roots, and heavy stones), so the pictures I'm posting here were usually taken in the late afternoon/early evening after I had taken my shower.

Here's what things looked like on the second day:

End of day 3

I spent a part of the day fixing the capstones that weren't level on the existing wall. I hope you agree that it looks much nicer now. I think it does. I was feeling pretty good about how the repair work was proceeding. I estimated that I would finish this section the next day. Here's what it looked like from the west (corn field) side of the wall:

End of the second day

Most dry stone walls just have a bunch of rubble thrown in between the two parallel walls. I like to fit the stones as tightly as possible. Here's a closer look; you can see how I have Tetrised the inside of the wall. I figure it will last longer that way:

Detail of the wall repair

Just as I thought, I was able to get the section of wall finished the next day.


As much as I wanted to get going on building the new wall, I derive an intense amount of satisfaction from repairing something that looked so beat up and broken down. If you look closely at the stones, you can see which ones have been on the wall for a long time (the sound sections of wall at both ends of the photo) and the new ones I put in (they don't have any moss or lichen on them and are somewhat dirtier). One thing I really like is that even though I know which parts are which, I still have to look fairly closely to distinguish the sections.

While I was doing the repair, I spent a lot of time pulling roots out of the soil on both sides of the wall. Look to the right in the photo above and you'll see the pile of roots I took out of the ground. Most of that is bittersweet. I can see why the Corps of Engineers used it for erosion control.

While the repair was going on, I had staked out the spot where the trench was to be dug. When I drove East from Lake Forest Park, I brought all the wall building tools I would need; a rock hammer (actually a brick hammer, but I use it mostly for rock), an 800' roll of mason's twine, and a line level (an aluminum cylinder with a level glass inside it and two hooks on top so you can hang it from a line). That all fit in one very small box. I found some stakes in the workshop at the farm and pounded them in where I wanted them to go.

New section lined out

Because the wall was going to be about 24" wide, the lines are about 36" apart; you should have about 6 inches of gravel on either side of the wall for a firm footing. I'm going to write about the building process in another post.

These are the things that interest me. If any of them are of interest to you, great. Read along


About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.