A Questionable Fall Project


Fall, it seems, always seems to bring with it a sense of urgency, an accounting of which of our spring and summer projects actually made it to completion. As content as I might temporarily have been with what I did get done in those optimistic days of spring and the warm afternoons of summer, I dislike going into winter with another year’s project still on my list of things to do.

Back in 1993, I bought an empty lot on a dead-end road on Lake Lure, the site of much of the filming of “Dirty Dancing.” Today the 1926 lake and town are undergoing a renaissance, but back then it was a nearly forgotten little lake tucked in amid soft, gentle mountains. It took me three years to pay off the mortgage and another two years to build a modest cottage for us, but with it only being thirty-five minutes from our home outside Asheville, we come here nearly every week.



I’m there as I write this, as I am determined to complete a flagstone patio I have been planning for our small back yard. This will be my third attempt at a backyard project here. The grass I planted after the house was finished in 1998 always needed mowing, until one summer, when we hit a drought, it died. I then covered the area with a pressure-treated deck, which looked fine for about ten years, until it, too, died under a wilting sun. This summer I hired a crew of young, strong men to cut it into pieces with chain saws before hauling it away, leaving my little yard looking just as it had when I arrived in 1993.



Hopefully, my third attempt will require less maintenance and will prove to be more permanent, but permanence comes with a price tag, as flagstones and bags of concrete cost more than grass seed – in more ways than one. Our small back yard is located thirty feet below the road above our house. It sits in a large hole, hemmed in by our house on one side, our neighbor’s house at the other, the lake on the front, and a 30-foot road embankment on the back.



This means all of my materials, from tools and forms to sixty-pound bags of concrete and piles of rocks, have to be carried, lowered, or slid down into the hole.



It’s a young man’s project, one I have no business undertaking, as one slip on the wet embankment or one awkward lift of a bag of concrete could reawaken my old back spasms. But I was raised by a father whose motto was to only call in a professional after you have tried doing it yourself.

And so, this week I have lowered the first twenty-three bags of concrete down my slide, assembled my new cement mixer, and pounded in the stakes holding my first set of forms. In a little while I’ll start mixing concrete with water, experimenting with amounts of each to obtain the perfect consistency to slide out of my wheelbarrow and into my forms, before I start tapping flagstones into it with the handle of my trowel.


Wish me luck, as I will need it!


Until next week,


“Done is better than perfect.” — anonymous