This was a summer to remember. Usually summers are sleepy for Ranger. And for us, too, because our story is part of his story and his story is part of the garden’s story.
Summers are just too hot to get outside and work unless you must make an exception, and this summer was a compulsory exception. Rain for days on end had turned paths into floods and lawns into rice paddies. August heat or no, we had to rethink – and redo — garden beds and drainage. We had to wake Ranger up.
It was touch and go for a while, though. Ranger, our ’92 Ford truck is twenty-six this summer, an old-timer, in truck years at least a hundred no exaggeration. He tips the scales at a healthy two tons, maybe a little less. The gas gauge doesn’t work any more, but the odometer is clicking away at 99,000 miles. We’re hoping he’ll be good to go for another 26 or 99 now that he’s fixed up — if he, or we — don’t collapse first.
Those dagnab internal problems were what needed fixing up, kept him low for a couple of weeks while we waited for parts that were needed for surgery. Nothing real serious, like engine-bucking or transmission-hiccuping.
The exhaust system had finally given out. It needed to be replaced, though even under duress, muffler noise was restrained. (Knowing Ranger, he could never become one of those hotshot muffler blowhards.)
Since Ranger was already out of commission, we added some bells and whistles, like a new rear view mirror that promises to stay properly glued to the windshield and new side mirrors you can truly count on to give you something more than a view of the road just traveled.
Oh yes, and a repair to the driver’s seat so a certain driver will not have to balance on the edge, impaled on the steering wheel while toe-tapping the gas pedal, though this particular driver is happiest being a passenger.
People tell us we’re crazy for putting money into Ranger. But where would we find another truck as faithful as Ranger?
By the time all the work was done, the tail pipe was the shiniest thing on the truck. Too bad it is half-hidden.
There wasn’t much time for a sleepy convalescence in the woods. We needed Ranger. How we needed that truck. Three trips without pause to haul garden debris away helped limber the old frame and tone up the springs and tires.
Ranger was now ready for the big trip to Rocky Hock, where every summer they grow the biggest and best melons in the world, or at least the biggest and best along the east coast. Tasty and juicy they are, but we weren’t driving thirty miles for melons.
We get them direct from the melon man who sits under his canopy next to his truck on a local road and waits for his customers. Come to think of it, Ranger might have preferred melons to cotton dirt, but he didn’t have a say in planning this operation.
Cotton dirt? Yup. A ton of it.
Here’s how it went down. A few weeks earlier, we had pulled up or chopped back a dozen or more winter-torn pittosporum. When we surveyed the new reality it became clear that if they were to survive another winter their beds needed to be raised above the rice paddies to keep new roots from drowning.
The cotton gin is about 30 miles from us, a cooperative shared by Albemarle cotton growers. During the fall, cotton plants are chemically defoliated and cotton is picked by huge machines that look like alien spacecraft shadowing the sky under a full moon. The picked cotton is packed into open-work box cars and brought to the gin for cleaning.
During winter the gin hums. The waste piles up – you can find mountains of it at any gin –and the piles begin to decompose. Good composted waste, piles of it, and free for gardeners who can cart it off.
Summer is off-ginning season. On this day the air was still and humid. There was only one workman at the factory, and he was accompanied by one very loyal chihuahua who guarded his master with attitude. With a smile and a wave, he revved up the front loader, and tackled the pile, roughing it up first, to shake out weeds and loosen soil.
Careful, slow, measured drops from the bucket should have eased the jolt from a ton or more of soil landing on the truck bed, but it darn near broke Ranger’s back. Even with helper springs, Ranger was slung low and the back tires bulged flat.
It steamed. You could see the steam coming off that compost, still fresh even after sitting in the yard. It was that hot, much too hot to hold in your hands or sift through your fingers. But Ranger never flinched.
We had to travel major highways to get home. For Ranger’s sake we took it easy. It didn’t matter, though. The roads were empty during the heat of the day. Once in a while somebody passed us, but nobody was in a hurry. And nobody got annoyed.
People expected us to go slow, that’s what farm trucks do here, and Ranger looks like an old farm truck. Then too, the white-haired driver could be taken for an old farmer. What can you expect from an old farm truck and an old farmer?
The Ersatz Farmer and wife unloaded Ranger lickety-split, and the rear axle would have thanked them if it had had the words. But still there was no rest for Ranger. We had to take advantage of a stretch of sunny days to finish a big job we’d put off.
Hauling rock. Yup, hauling rock.
Here’s how this project went down. The slate path that slopes toward the house from the shed has lately been puddling and streaming and mouldering and mildewing.
We removed the slates and the Ersatz Farmer, helped by the Ersatz Farmer’s Friend recontoured the slope into a series of three level steps to be topped off with washed river rock. The contouring did not particularly alter the flow of water, but now the puddles would be hidden under rock.
With a little forethought and sleuthing we probably could have gotten a landscaper to bring a big truckload and shovel it for us.
Maybe. It’s tough to estimate rock. And you can’t always find a willing shoveler, especially when there is long-distance wheelbarrow work. Well, we reasoned, this isn’t such a big area. It shouldn’t take that much rock, should it?
We can do it.
We’ll start with a ton, we said. A ton would not quite top the wheel wells. Ranger would be all right with that, wouldn’t he?
Let’s go! So began a cliff-hanger of a drive down back roads past woods and fields on a bright day with not a care in the world but a truck’s sagging rear end.
Good old Ranger! Home with no blowouts, no stall-outs, no conk-outs, and no embarrassing side-of-the-road calls for help. We sighed with relief.
A ton didn’t go very far. Should we try again? Maybe once more? Yet again? And one last time?
For five breathless days, anticipating calamity, hoping for wins, we gave Ranger the task of hauling rock. Tailgate slung low, tires bulging, Ranger came through each time.
The Ersatz Farmer shoveled and the Ersatz Farmer’s Wife raked. The Ersatz Farmer’s Friend came by to help with the last ton, when we were flagging.
He would have been here from the beginning but we are too proud to ask friends to do (much) grunt work in our garden.
The stone is shoveled and raked and spread now. A certain satisfaction that promotes laziness has come over us. But Ranger is not yet back in his paddock.
There are still truckloads of superfluous greenery to cart away. And another truckload of cotton dirt to haul. And a major hurricane set to storm the coast that will surely leave more superfluous greenery.
Maybe when winter comes, Ranger can take a short nap.
For an introduction to Ranger, see A Small Tribute to a Silent Partner.