The art of digression is the intuitive approach to the complexity of reality. Diderot

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The grass over my head IV

Plumbing is one of the least exciting aspects of a house at the best of times. When your house only has an eight square metre bathroom and one sink, it’s hardly worth mentioning.  
So all that remains is the roof.
          A house’s weakest point is usually its roof. Not mine. Once I had the grass established, it would weigh anything up to three tonnes when saturated. Not even a Sumo-wind was going to be able to toss that. But, of course, at the moment my roof weighed ... nothing. Well, almost nothing, consisting as it did of a single sheet of rubber. Until I had the sods up there, I was going to remain worried ... even with insurance.
          But what was the best way of sodding a roof?
          Some people recommended buying soil and planting seeds. Carrying soil would be reasonably straightforward, but it had the decided disadvantage that it would again be at the whim of the weather. One good downpour before the new grass had established itself, and I could have a lovely green moat encircling my house.
          Others recommended buying ready-made turf strips. Although this would make for a quick job, it was an expensive option. There was also the question of whether normal turf would survive the harsh Central weather. Besides, I wanted my roof to blend in, and a rooftop bowling green simply didn’t seem like the right option.
           No other ideas were forthcoming. Though someone did suggest I simply retain an unembellished butynol roof. This idea was immediately rejected on the basis it was not only a strangely kinky concept, but was also no longer feasible since I’d only glued the edges, and the thought of an eternally flapping roof certainly didn’t inspire me.
          The best solution was also the most obvious one. Dig my own sods from somewhere close to the house, and carry them onto the roof. It would be hard physical labour. All-in-all 10 cubic metres of sods would need to be moved from their current location on the ground -where, in a ‘normal’ building-inspector kind of world, they would forever remain - onto a steeply-sloping roof six metres high at its peak. But local sods were not only guaranteed to blend in, but to thrive in the conditions.    
So I found a relatively flat (and apparently rock-free) expanse of grass behind the house (carrying stuff down is always easier than carrying stuff up), marked off 100 square metres, then gave it a crew-cut with, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit, a pair of scissors.
Once complete, I stood in the centre of my property’s first, and probably last, clipped lawn and contemplated the task ahead. Ten Cubic Metres of sods. It was enough for a tennis court or three cricket pitches. Ten Cubic Metres of sods raised to my roof. Raising the Titanic would be a cake-walk in comparison. Sodding my roof would be a feat of engineering equalling that of the Pharaohs building the Grass Pyramids of Cheops. They at least had gangs of slaves ...
          Slaves ...
          What I needed was my own chain gang of sod-raising slaves!
          Unfortunately, private slavery had been outlawed, and the purveyors of public slavery were unwilling to assist. The Department of Conservation failed to see the ecological merits of my grass roof, while the Department of Corrections couldn’t fail to see the security de-merits of my property. The Department of Commerce claimed slavery was none of their business. While the Department of Social Welfare claimed slavery no longer existed, though they’d be happy to send me a copy of their Compulsory Unpaid Labour Discussion Paper. The Department of Maori Affairs wanted to know if I was using their land. While the Department of State Owned Enterprises tried to sell me some of their land, along with two power stations, TVNZ, Mount Ruapehu and the National Archives. And, lastly, the Department of the Interior, citing demarcation issues, claimed they could only sod inside my house, otherwise they’d risk upsetting the Department of the Exterior.
          So, no slaves. Abraham Lincoln has a lot to answer for. I’m sure if he’d been a New Zealander, he’d have been a North Islander. But I did have friends. And what good are friends if they can’t occasionally be used for hard manual labour with no other reward than the sheer satisfaction of knowing they’d helped out a friend in desperate need?
It would be just like the “good old days” when everyone clubbed together to build each other’s house. Just like the Amish or the Seventh Day Adventists (whom I’d once witnessed converting a disused section into a church, complete with landscaping, in a single weekend). Though our efforts would more likely resemble the Seven Dwarfs, and our song probably wouldn’t so much be “hi-ho, hi-ho” as “oh-no, oh-no”.
          The call went out. Get out your gumboots, and BYO shovel for the mother of all dirty weekends.  (Don’t you just hate people who say things like that? But instead of raising hell, Cain or even hats, we’d be raising sods ... and a few glasses when it was all over.
          Saturday morning was fine and warm ... hot, in fact, and as the sun sizzled away the morning mist, the first willing workers started arriving, armed with shovels and enthusiasm aplenty. By mid-morning we’d attained our full complement of ten, and after some initial discussion about the optimum approach, we began the excavations. Based on my own complex formula (otherwise known as guesswork), I estimated the roof should be completely grassed over by the end of the day ... all going well.
          Everything did go well. We quickly established co-operative combinations according to personal preferences and strengths, with a natural, efficient routine slowly emerging from the chaos. Ideally, we could have simply divided into rotating teams of diggers, bearers and stackers, maintaining the momentum throughout the day. But there were other considerations. For one, it was my roof, so I was anxious to oversee the most crucial part of the process - placing the sods, packing them together and filling any gaps with loose soil to maintain moisture and allow the sods to eventually knit together to form a single carpet of grass. For another, the distance from the excavation to our starting point along the front gutter required all ten of us in the chain, so the digging had to be alternated with spurts of carrying and stacking.
          We hadn’t reckoned on the toll such heat, combined with the heat-reflective capacities of the black butynol underfoot, would exact. Without frequent, spontaneous breaks for liquid refreshments and Minzion refresh-ment, we simply would have perished. Each hour would find us all sitting naked in the creek like living sponges soaking up the coolness.
Having no neighbours has many advantages, not least of which is we can freely skinny-dip in the creek, or lie on the rocks like fur-less sunbathing seals. Actually, there’s nothing stopping me from being a full-time nudist here except the weather and my personal predilections. But I have no desire to extend the realm of my pagan nakedness, or to invite nudity into my house ... and especially not my kitchen. So, although I don’t believe in restricting such natural pursuits to the confines of naturist retreats, I’m not about to join a Sunseekers Club because I just don’t want to sit where other naked people have sat, or to eat lunch opposite someone drooping chest hairs in his soup.
          So, despite our best endeavours, the encroaching evening found us all exhausted and dirty, but with only the front half completed. As we relaxed in the creek, letting sore muscles unwind and the heat dissipate from our naked bodies, the sense of anti-climax was almost palpable. Despite being extremely grateful for their charitable efforts, I couldn’t hide my vague sense of disappointment. Was that all we were capable of - a miserable half a roof? My mood was further undermined by a sudden grim revelation - it had taken 10 people an entire day to do one side, so how long would it take for me to finish the other half - alone.
          Yet, just as I’d under-estimated the amount of work involved, I soon discovered I’d also under-estimated the commitment of my friends to finish the job. Where I had assumed a day’s work was a sufficient price to ask, everyone else had assumed they were there for the duration (or at least the rest of weekend). Tomorrow we would finish the job. Together. Though I was jubilant, half-heartedly trying to prod our lazy companionship into party mode, exhaustion quickly claimed us all and a warm silence descended over my half-grassed crowded house.
          Sunday arrived, fresh and new. We were all weary, tired, but optimistic. Today we were an experienced sodding team. Today we would finish. Because we were now doing the closer side, there was suddenly enough of us to maintain a constant flow of sods throughout the day. With three people digging, five carrying and two stacking, the sod-level progressed perceptibly faster, racing the shadows towards the apex as the sun slipped across the sky.
Despite the continuing heat and extended sodden pauses, the sudden rocky ground and broken shovels, the army of sods marched onwards. Until, finally, the last sod was levered from the ground, lifted, passing through nine grimy pairs of Sherpa hands as it scaled the lawn Everest, reaching the summit as the exhausted sun sank beneath golden poplar sheets. And as we gathered at the apex, it was wedged into place with a final, whooping flourish.
          I would have ended the day there, contentedly exhausted, but the sod-raisers had other plans. The job was, they insisted, still unfinished. There were gutters to complete, gutters which would probably take an entire day alone, but only a few minutes together. It was no use arguing, so we unrolled the coil of Novaflow pipe (ridged plastic pipe with drainage holes), laid it out in the gutters and with a conveyor belt of buckets, covered it with local river gravel.
          I had a grass roof!
          We adjourned to the weir and sat in the water drinking champagne as the day’s heat gently dissipated.
          I had a grass roof!
          I was bubbling with elation and gratitude. And as I looked at the flotilla of beaming faces bobbing in the narrow lakelet, I realised the relationship between us had subtly altered during this weekend. We had undertaken a project together which, in everyday terms, had been a monumentous endeavour, and we had succeeded. We had shared each other’s lives for two days and been drawn closer, enrichened by the experience. The faces looking at me now were the faces of friends.
          As night descended on my grass roof for the first time, I lay in the darkness thinking about my house, my life. When I began this journey a lifetime ago, both were barely-imagined ideas, rough outlines filled with nothing but the potentialities of what each might become. Each step, each nail, each board, each moment, each thought, each adding to the whole, building on the past, building towards the future. Both had withstood the winds of change and the winters of discontent. Both were now much stronger for their passing.
          And I thought about Marion. When she’d left, I’d believed she’d taken all purpose with her. Taken meaning itself. But eventually I’d realised she had only taken her purpose, her meaning, because destinies can’t be coupled together to run on a single rail. The US juggernaut had been derailed, but that wasn’t the end of the line, simply the beginning of two separate, private journeys, on different tracks and travelling under our own steam.
          In the end, the different paths we’d chosen had merely been detours, because here we lay, together again, side-by-side. But now we were individuals with individual aspirations, separate lives. Lives we treasured. Lives of our own making. We were travelling on parallel paths, and could, if we chose, accompany each other on the next stage of the journey. All we had to do was hold out our hands.

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