landscaping

The Beauty of Stone

Beautiful stones imported to south Louisiana

 

Here in southeastern Louisiana there is virtually no natural local stone. Geologists may differ about when and how it occurred, but generally agree that the original Gulf coast lay somewhere north of where I now live, between Baton Rouge and Memphis. What we do have here, as a setting for verdant plant and tree growth, is a lot of red clay and or sand, as well as the significant contribution of alluvial (river borne) soil. On this, our eastern and only slightly elevated side of the Mississippi River, they tell us we also have ‘loess’ soil, wind-blown from the west. In other words, where I live rests upon a legacy of materials brought here over the course of millennia – by mud-flow from the north, and dust storms from west.

Stone, as my earlier posts about our patio project suggested, therefore comes here from elsewhere, mostly I suspect by river barge. When visiting a local landscape stone vendor recently I was reminded of something I used to take for granted when living in the midwest or traveling in the far west. It is the beauty of natural stone, whether found on a Great Lakes seashore or on the banks of a Colorado river. What on childhood visits I appreciated seeing in abundance upon the north shore of Lake Superior, I now find to be an almost exotic discovery at a commercial location in Baton Rouge.

And, among the wonders of the handiwork of our Creator is the splendor of variously colored and multi-shaped stones

An unfinished stone border featuring ‘river rock’ from Colorado

Some years ago a teaching colleague shared a story from his work assignment in Saudi Arabia. On a free day, a local guide drove him for several hours through the desert toward the sea. Upon viewing the welcome sight of the water, he noted a large cargo ship discharging material into barges. He asked his guide what they were unloading, to which the response was, sand! “You’re kidding me,” he said. And then my friend learned to his surprise that the sand that has been blowing back and forth forever across the Saudi desert is apparently reckoned by many as worthless for construction, having rounded particles. Sand essential for concrete foundations and buildings needs to have edges, and come from Europe and elsewhere, to provide a proper binding material while the cement cures.

I am mindful of this story when I view the beautifully rounded and smooth rock that comes to us from far away rivers and lakeshores, after perhaps long eons of geological friction. I also rejoice in the variety of color in a material that might otherwise be as uniform as the sand in an Arabian desert, or on the banks of the great river just a few miles from our home.

Random Colorado river stone pieces

I am therefore thankful for the shaping and molding effect of God’s Providence upon me – even after what may seem like an unimaginably long time. Our experience through the rough and tumble of life can sometimes leave us feeling awkward and with uncomfortable or raw ‘edges.’ At other times, we may feel we have been smoothed and shaped in ways more attractive to others and to ourselves. The beauty here may lie in the wisdom latent in one of my favorite, but still-not-fully understood, verses from the Psalms: “You have showed me great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life… (Ps 71:20)” For why would God show me adversity other than as an act of positive love? And, why would God not to seek to bring us together into a beautiful fellowship within God’s own being? Especially when it may be ambiguous as to whether we have jagged and or smooth edges!

 

One big ‘stone’ in my life has been Robert (Bob) Hansel, my former CREDO Institute colleague, to whom I owe much. When I first encountered him, he played a decisive role in helping me to discern that I was being called away from a tenured seminary teaching position back to parish ministry. His prior CREDO faculty role as a team leader changed many of our lives – not by persuasion, but by encouraging our personal discernment. Here, I want to acknowledge his wonderful story about his experience in Saudi Arabia (that he tells so much better than I can).

The Beauty of Koi and of Goldfish

 

One day as a boy in Japan I looked up and marveled at the fish-shaped fabric streamers, flowing in the wind like kites. The fish were Koi. Traditional Japanese households fly Koinobori from poles or lines in honor of Children’s Day, a national holiday observed on May 5. Whether in the kite form or not, Koi are special to the Japanese, who first bred the new fish varieties and cultivated their colorful iterations in the early 19th century.

As beautiful as some of the fabric examples of Koinobori can be, they are not nearly as evocative as the real thing. Koi are a form of carp, which to our ears makes them sound like something unpleasant. They are not a variant of goldfish, and though Koi can be interbred with the latter, the offspring are sterile, just as are mules (the offspring of horses and donkeys). Unlike common carp, Koi have been bred to feature bright colors and a fluidity of movement that graces many ponds in formal Japanese gardens. Curiously, if released into the wild and allowed to propagate, researchers find that within a limited number of generations, Koi offspring revert to the more common form and dull brown-gray color of river and lake carp.

A goldfish above a Koi

One notable difference between common carp that are found in many rivers and lakes, and Koi found in Japanese style garden ponds, has to do with the quality of the water in which they are typically located. As bottom feeders, carp tend to swim and eat in the lower levels of murky waters. And so – by contrast – Koi are usually cultivated in clear and relatively shallow pools where their bright colors can be better appreciated.

Koi can be quite expensive, especially the fancier varieties, but they can also live as long as, if not longer, than humans. For these reasons, those who are new to keeping fish in smaller outdoor ponds may do well to start with multi-colored goldfish, the outdoor care of which can be easier and a good preparation for caring for Koi.

Some years ago when we previously lived in south Louisiana, I purchased a black plastic pond basin from a big box home supply store, along with an inexpensive pump. Having half-buried the basin, we found some decorative stone and an aquatic plant or two. We then filled the basin and let the water sit for a few days to allow any chlorine or other potentially noxious elements within treated water to dissipate, and to ‘season’ the pond’s content. Some landscaping needed to follow, as you can see below.

For a surprisingly limited number of dollars, a trip to WalMart provided a number of long-shaped, rather than plump-shaped, multi-colored goldfish, which survived and even thrived over many years while growing to an 8 or 9 inch length (photo below). The pond pump helped aerate the water, and a natural bacteria and enzyme product made a huge difference in helping keep the pond clear.

Many people find even a small water feature like a miniature fountain near a patio to be calming and restful. Adding a small gurgling pond, such as ours, with a few fish can enhance the interest, providing the subsequent pleasure of helping care for the aquatic residents within it. Someday, I hope to have Koi. But I may be starting once again with goldfish, which on a smaller scale can often be just as beautiful!

 

A special thanks to former and now neighbors, Jeanne and Tom Morris, for adopting our goldfish and pond, and giving new life to the ensemble.

Patio Project Near Completion

 

And just in time. My brother’s return flight to Seattle has loomed on the calendar, along with the daily weather forecasts. We have been most fortunate, keeping on track with the former while dealing with the latter. The photo above shows the basic work done: poured concrete edging well set; foundation for pavers put in; and the pavers themselves set in place. Two further photos may help show how this was far from a simple process.

Here we see the packed gravel foundation for the patio, with sand above it, between the concrete edge surround on the left, and a wooden frame on the right. Below is a photo of an ingenious wooden framing-tool my brother created, which first helped us level the gravel, and then assisted us to achieve a level, packed sand surface for the pavers.

Careful attention to two things at this point made a huge difference. The first was to attending to old fashioned geometry – making sure everything was square. Because if we were not attentive to this point from the placing of the first square, all else would have been difficult and possibly compromised.

Also critical at this stage was leveling the sand, assisted by hand-holds of sand, a shovel, and a very handy 6″ spackle blade. With my brother’s home-made framing tool (depicted above), laying the pavers on a flat but slightly sloped surface was (as some might say, perhaps wrongly) ‘a piece of cake!’

Here we are after the first few rows. We did all of them in about 5-6 hours. Though we have some edging work left to do, and putting some very fine sand between the pavers, as well as between them and the concrete edging, we have essentially achieved our goal.

Here is how it looked before we started!

 

 

A Patio Project by My Brother, with a Good Neighbor’s Help

Building the frames for the concrete edging

 

The project continues, as does the seemingly ceaseless rain! Living near the Gulf of Mexico in the summer brings the possibility of lingering low pressure cells, sometimes dropping inch-an-hour rain. We have entered that middle stage of a project where we have done enough so far to prevent turning back, and yet not far enough along to have confidence about the intended result.

80 pound bags of Quikrete are not easy to lift and move around, and are far more challenging to handle than individual stone pavers. And three cubic yards of ‘gravels and fines’ (perhaps about 5 tons!), brought here to south Louisiana by barge, must be moved from the driveway out front to the new patio out back. In the midst of these considerations, a 9″diameter trunk magnolia had to come down because its roots had already compromised the prior patio. We accomplished that mostly by using a handsaw, but the providential appearance of a neighbor with a chainsaw helped us take care of the hardest and last part of that task.

The magnolia on its way down! (the debris in the roof valley is coming down, as well)

Another confidence-building point has been the kind help provided by our thoughtful next door neighbor, who volunteered to drive his Bobcat small tractor to assist us. In the process of helping clear the area for the new patio, as well as to move the gravel around to the back, we made a discovery. A very large, 80-100′ ancient pine tree had also intruded roots under the whole area of the old patio, and needed to be removed. Below is a photo of the guy who climbed that tall old tree to achieve its removal.

Having cleared the trees and roots, we have continued to deal with the challenge of almost daily heavy rains. Though my brother very carefully provided a packed gravel base for the new patio, heavy rain flooded the area. His good work enabled him to put in a wooden framework for the concrete edge of our intended project, and has allowed us to begin pouring new cement into it.

My brother’s self-taught knowledge of landscaping has helped him know how to prepare a proper foundation for pouring cement in this way, including how to handle rebar. The photo below shows how he has carefully anticipated a pour that we intended to make this afternoon.

As we began to pour fresh cement, the rain (of course) began again:

More to follow!