Plenitude of projects sprout in muddy back yard


My back yard is a mess.

Truth is, it’s been in various stages of messiness for close to two decades. When my family arrived to live at Home Place that July day in 1994, the grass at the back of the house had been baked to the end of its roots by unrelenting sun. It was sparse and crusty.

We tried to nurse it back to green. We fed, aerated, watered. And watered. All for naught — in winter and spring the space was a mud bog. I nearly lost my mind as trails of footprints painted a portrait of children and pets in brown ooze.

At some point we got smarter. For starters, we began hacking out grass on all sides. I swung a pickaxe through a mesh of roots birthed in 1947, when my grandparents decided to create this labor-intensive lawn when they built on a double lot.

Eventually we carved out islands of grass, shrubs, ornamental trees and pockets of flowers. We surrounded it all with moats of landscape bark. Lots and lots of bark.

After years of shoveling out cash to refresh the bark every few years, it dawned on me that I had simply created a newer version of yard purgatory. The landscaping was prettier and more cohesive, but my tiny band of yard slaves and I worked almost every stinkin’ weekend. Pruning, weeding, feeding, pruning, transplanting, staking, harvesting, pruning ... it just goes on and on.

I welcome that first frost like a prisoner beholds the open gate. A sweet coating of icy crystals signals a season of freedom.

And the bark ... the minute we get every area fluffed and pretty, it begins a creeping descent underground, too slowly to be caught by human eye.

Last summer, I whispered my secret desire to Camo Man — to install a paver parking pad in the back of the house. Promise as we might, we get lazy and park on the bark there, so let’s stop calling it a yard and name it what it is.

We got bids on the jobs. Contractors returned with surprisingly large numbers, sending my hopes down to live with my composting bark. There was no way to shell out that kind of money, yet the task seemed far too overwhelming for sane people working 40-hour weeks.

The recent winter snow and rains, however, upped the urgency. With no new bark on top, the ground rose up to meet every sole, happy to be brought into the warm house. I became a shrieker. “WHO DID NOT WIPE THEIR FEET? SOMEONE WILL DIE.” I laid down throw rugs for a mile, trying to save the carpet.

“Let’s get a few concrete pavers and make a path from our cars to the patio,” Camo Man suggested. “We can use them later, too.”


We headed out to grab an armful of the rectangles. And, as often happens, our eyes grew bigger than our pickup bed. Talk almost instantly went from quick fix into full-on project mode. In a matter of 48 hours our backyard was strewn with landscape timbers, rebar posts, tools and a mountain of gravel.

Still, we insist to each other, we’re going to be sensible and take this a section at a time.

We’re lying.

For the past two weeks we’ve shoveled, scraped, measured, sawed and drilled. I am personally responsible for fabulously straight post holes and hammered steel anchors.

Now we know why those bids were spendy. This is a lot of work. This is why I instinctively knew not to do this myself. But it’s nice to see my man running his four-wheeler to move gravel and his arm muscles start to pop. His enthusiasm goes a long way in forgiving socks left on the floor.

Last night we realized Hunter Boy has been infected. “Have you thought about putting a lamp post at the end of the parking pad?” he asked, his face innocent of what happened with that one question.

His grandfather and I turned to each other, seeing the answer in each other’s gaze.


Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or


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