In Limbo

An alternate title could be Over Our Heads.  Yesterday, we were playing in the trees.  Cutting one down.  Specifically the biggest tree on our property, the locust seen below.

In a way, we’re sad to see if go.  We’re fans of trees, having planted 18 at our first house.  Before you start hating me for cutting down a mature tree, listen to the reasons.  One, the tree is too close to the house; about 10 feet.  Two, this tree is big, and hasn’t reached full size.  And three, the tree’s roots are too high up, so excavating would have killed the tree.  Because the tree is so close to the house and we can’t get a lift up there, it was a bit tricky to cut down.  Having a lift would mean starting from the top, cutting small pieces off at a time.  Ben has cut down about 20 large trees at the apartment complex he works for without any problems.  This smaller (compared to the large cottonwood trees at his work) should be easy enough.

The boys and I watched from the house as Ben notched out the first limb, tied a rope to it, and cut through while Handy Sammy pulled to make sure it landed safely.

Easy and worked like a charm.  But that was the first branch.  The one furthest away from the house.  See that large center branch?  It is a beast.  The guys assumed it would be easy because the first one went so well.  Following the same process, they started working on the biggest branch.  And then it got complicated.  The branch was heavy and naturally wanted to fall toward the house, despite the notch Ben cut.  In fact, it started pinching the chain saw.  Luckily, Ben’s tree cutting experience warned him this could get ugly.  So he stopped cutting and left the chain saw in place, effectively preventing the branch from falling on the house.

Any time Ben’s working on something like this, I’m a nervous, anxious mess.  First and foremost, I’m concerned for his safety.  This time I worried about the house, too.  Not knowing exactly what was going on, I asked if I could help.  Ben yelled at told me to get more rope.  That’s when I knew this was serious and wasn’t going as planned.  Kind of how you know a three a.m. call isn’t going to be good news.  And I thought we were in over our heads.

I found tow straps in the truck.  Sam and I looped the straps around our bodies, pulling on the limb with all our weight.  Ben tied the saw to another branch (so it wouldn’t fall to the ground or on him) and pushed the branch while praying for it to fall the right way.  After several extremely tense (both physically and mentally) minutes, we got the branch down, safely in the yard.  Whew, what a moment of relief.  I may have gotten misty eyed knowing everything was okay.  Of course I have no pictures of this, but you can see that branch on the ground in the picture below.

The last two limbs went just as smoothly as the first.  And then time for clean up.  Ben cut the limbs in manageable, fire-place sized pieces.  Can I add he looked mighty fine while doing so?  Because he did, safety glasses and all.

Smaller branches are in the yard waste bin, ready for pick up.

Between cutting the tree, Ben was loading more dirt for Craigslisters to haul away.  Two birds, one stone.  We’ve still got the stump to deal with.  The plan is to dig out a little more around the base using the bobcat, then pull on it to hopefully get the majority of the roots.

So that’s our (not so) little tree cutting adventure.  Definitely stressful, but we’re glad to be done.

How was your weekend?  What did you do?  Have you cut down a tree?  Did it go smoothly?  Or with a little bump in the road?

You Didn’t Have to Cut Me Off

Sorry, Gotye, but we wanted to.  Had to.  Did.  Cut concrete, that is.  For the basement windows to pass egress in the basement bedrooms at our first house, Ben hired a concrete cutting company.  When we decided to cut this concrete, we knew who to call.  A $300-400 bid wasn’t bad at all, so we made our appointment and got started a week later.  The process was interesting, and not only to the boys.  First, a metal guide gets bolted to the concrete.

Then the giant saw gets set in the track, hooked up to hoses, and starts cutting.

Following the guide, the saw moves on its own.  The guy, Pete, adjusted it along the way and changed directions until it cut completely through.

Once the bottom was cut, he switched the guides and cut the sides.  A nice shove and the concrete fell to the ground.

Over the weekend Ben and Sammy framed out the opening for a sliding door and double hung window.

Having installed a door and several windows made this easier and they had the new window and door in before the evening.

It’s a little more finished looking than last time, right?

And certainly different than what we started with.

Now the sliding doors are at the same height.

No more climbing up three steps to get to the wet bar, then down three more to get to the patio.  The back yard is looking worse than ever, but that means we’re one step closer to rebuilding.  Just a little more excavating, cutting down a tree, and waiting for spring to get started on our plans.  Speaking of plans, I figured it was time to share the ideas we’ve been tossing around.

(not to scale, just to give a picture)

Oye, that’s a lot to take in.  Let me explain.  Because our house is built on rock, there’s no way we could drill a well to water grass.  We’re far too cheap to pay for city water for green grass.  And Montana is too dry (especially this year) to keep grass green.  So, a large concrete patio should minimize dirt/dust in the house while giving us a space to relax.    Centered on the family room sliding door will be a pergola.  I’m thinking something simple and more modern than traditional.  Perhaps we’ll have an outdoor dining table under or we could go more toward an outdoor living room.  We’ll see where we land.  The rock stairs to no where will stay.

Some of the sandstone boulders we dug out will be used as a natural retaining wall.  But we carved out a larger area for a waterfall feature and a gas fire pit.

I’m thinking something rectangular like this bordering on the patio with moveable bench seating for maximum enjoyment.

A small stream will meander down the hillside to a waterfall with hidden storage pond below.  Hidden meaning we’ll use holding tanks to recirculate and keep an open pond from looking gross/filled with rocks deposited by little boys.

In the surrounding areas, we’ll add crushed limestone to further cut down on the dirt.  Drought resistant plants are on our list to add life and greenery.  Because the back yard connects to the driveway, a wooden walking path, or boardwalk, will connect the patio to a set of stairs down to the driveway.

Of course this is all subject to change as we gather inspiration, search out materials, and take measurements.

Yep, we’re officially crazy, but it should be totally awesome when we’re done.  My pergola dreams will be fulfilled.  What do you think?  What’s your dream for an outdoor space?  Are you already planning your spring landscape duties?

It’s a Cougar! No, Wait!

It’s a bobcat.  Having a cougar in the back yard (either a real cat or a Mrs. Robinson-esque lady) would be strange.  I much prefer the four-wheeled bobcat version we have.  A week ago, Ben brought home the bobcat from his work and started digging up the back yard.  To get the bobcat up the hill, he had to gently slope the hillside.

After an hour or so, he finally got the hillside finished and came into the yard.

Digging around, pulling the sandy paver base out was easy digging and went quickly.

Over the weekend, Ben really got to work.  All the stone retaining walls are too short/unstable/easy to break and don’t have the look we’re going for.  See what I mean?

Oh, the cross hatching you see in the picture above?  Just the window screen.  The boys and I hunkered down in the house.  Because broken bits of concrete were flying, we put pieces of foam insulation over the new windows.  How much would it suck to shatter a newly installed window?!?  So, my peeping Tom vantage points were limited, hence the screen shot.

Digging sand and dirt was the easy part.  Lifting giant slabs of concrete, not so much.

Trying to break it with a sledgehammer wasn’t working, so Ben used something with a little more muscle.  Lift…

Higher, higher, still higher.

And flip.  Broken pieces were easier to hammer to more manageable pieces.

Quitting time for Friday night.

With the fountain out-of-the-way, Ben set out to destroy the patio off the pool house.  Which included moving a giant rock.  You think I’m kidding when I say giant?  Take a look.

That is only the top part of it.  Here’s the bottom.  Yes, I was cringing and hoping it would work.  Ben is tenacious with that bobcat.  Oh boys and their toys.

Now we’ve got a giant pile of dirt.

This morning, the concrete cutter came out, cut the pool house opening, and left.  More details on that next week!

Progress, but it’s so dirty now.  Sand constantly in the house.  What does your backyard look like?  Or any other large equipment?

Back Yard Beginnings

I realized you haven’t seen much of our back yard.

Once at the top of the driveway, there’s a hollowed out area for a future shop, a lame set of stairs, and retaining wall.

From the driveway, the hill climbs about four feet, extending to the patio.

At the edge of the patio is a two foot tall retaining wall with steep hill above.  Plans are coming along and we’re figuring out materials and prices, but we have a general idea of what we want to change here.

Over at the far end of the house, near the pool room is a set of stone stairs to no where.

Climb up those 18(!) stairs and there’s a small plateau area mainly used by deer.

That big rock at the top left of the picture above is nearly centered on the sliding door and fountain.  I’m standing right by that rock here:

In fact, our lot is so steep you can actually walk on the pool room roof from the back and it’s easy to see over the house from this plateau.

Solar panels from the 70’s are on the roof, but they’ll have to go because they’re causing the roof to leak into the pool.  So that whole blue angled thing will go once Ben starts the big roofing project.

We love the privacy and size of the lot, but it is a challenge, in many ways.  More research and planning and we can start working.  What are your favorite low water/low maintenance plants?  I’m looking for a mix of evergreens and flowering plants.  Everything needs to survive with minimal water because Montana summers are usually dry.  Hopefully you all can give some suggestions!