By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
Even though we just had a string of lovely, sunny days, overall, it’s been a pretty gloomy winter here in Oz. Early cold and snow, persistently cloudy skies, and a generous dose of downright gloomy days are enough to chase just about everyone indoors. The temporary respite we just had will be followed by a weekend of snow and rain and who knows what else. Despite all that, there are good reasons to get outside; and get movin’. My reason of late has been good ol’-fashioned rock pickin’ – a hillbilly pastime if there ever was one.
If you’ll humor me, I’d like to tell you of another time in my life when snow and rock pickin’ turned into a whale of an adventure. It pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject and hopefully it will inspire you to tackle that “big one” in your yard…
It had been a week since it snowed and all that remained after the slowly warming temperatures melted most of it away were a few dirty patches hidden in small crevices and shady nooks. Of course, as soon as the sun began to thaw the clay, the yard turned into a morass of sticky, sucking mud. With every step we took – whether on grass, or rocks, or stepping-stones – the earth beneath our feet squished and gushed uncomfortably, soaking the sides of our boots and leaving water-filled puddles in our wake. But as annoying as it was, I had to look for the bright side. All things have their place and purpose. So, instead of sitting around moaning, I went in search the positive. And I found it in the mud itself.
The house we lived in then rests on a narrow, flat ridge along a southerly sloping hill. Like most yards in the area, it is littered with rocks. Sometimes the rocks are charming, especially if they are away from the house and can be used as a natural focal point, pavers, or garden borders, but generally they are little more than irritants that can make walking barefoot or mowing the grass dangerous ventures.
One of the first things we did after we moved in was to clear some of the brush and tall weeds so we could have a yard. But hidden below all of that vegetative cover was a hive of sharp, half-buried rocks just lying in wait to destroy our shovels, mowers, and rakes.
During the summer, I trek around the yard picking out those rocks that stick up. Those that don’t want to come out easily get coated in blue paint so we can avoid them with the mower and easily spot them for future removal attempts. Every time we walk by one of the blue rocks with a shovel or some such, we give it a try. If it comes out, we’re happy. If not, we move on. But in the summer, most rocks are glued in place by the dry, cement-like clay soil.
After destroying several different rock picking instruments in quick succession, I stumbled upon the answer to our rock picking dilemma. On this sunny, but soggy winter day I was prowling the yard with my brand new shovel looking for protrusions that could maim a good lawnmower in a city second. I started out with the more notable suspects and after the first three or four of the most stubborn ones in the yard just popped out of the ground like magic, I got a little giddy.
Every single rock I tried seemed to jump right out without any effort at all. I couldn’t believe my luck! I had just discovered the rock-pickin’ secret of all time! When the ground is cold and the surface becomes completely saturated by snowmelt, the clay loses its usual tenacious grip and nothing planted in the earth is safe. Even huge trees have been known to simply fall over when the soil is in this soggy half-thawed state.
Elated with the idea that I could very nearly remove every tiresome rock that dare poke its nose above the surface, I went a little nuts. Success after success had the rocks piling up in droves in my wheelbarrow. Driven into a rock pickin’ frenzy, I decided to give it a go on particularly tiresome knob around the back side of the house. It was just an inconspicuous little knob; not the biggest protrusion I’d ever seen. But that little bit above the surface belied what lay below and there had been many previous attempts to remove it. If I hadn’t been so jacked up about my rock removal successes on this particular day, I may not have tried it at all
My wheelbarrow was full of rocks at this point and this was to be the last rock on my circuit for the day. I slipped the edge of the shovel into the mucky soil beside the rock as deep as it would go and tried the old ‘lever and fulcrum’ trick. And the rock moved! I wedged the blade a little further down and gave one good heave on the handle and out popped a rock so huge that I would classify it as a boulder.
I stood staring at this massive piece of stone and was floored at how big it was. I had no idea it would be that big! And it just popped out of the ground like a cork in a champagne bottle. Pop! It was out. I barely had to try! In fact, the thing was so huge that there was no way I could move it by myself, so I called Dean to help me dispose of it.
When he came around and saw the rock lying there beside the hole, he said, “Where the hell did that come from?!”, as if I had planted it there as a joke. We had to lay the wheelbarrow on its side and roll the damn thing into it and it took both of us working together just to upright the wheelbarrow again. After the rock was deposited as a cornerstone of the growing rock wall around the perimeter of the yard, it took two full wheelbarrows of dirt to fill the gaping hole it left behind.
In a day or two the soil will reconstitute itself into its usual cement-like texture and will refuse to give up any more pokers. But when I offered to yank up a couple more monsters, Dean looked at me with eyes that said I needed to find something else to do.
So when the forecast calls for nasty winter weather that you’ve just had enough of, you can say in an earnest tome of voice “That rock-pickin’ snow’s a comin’!” and head straight for the shovel.
Happy rock pickin’, y’all!
© 2014 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
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Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.