Bulldozer work

Can you see the mad gleam in the eye? I couldn’t take my smile off my face the whole time I was behind the controls.

The long-awaited mini digger day arrived. You could say early and unexpected. But I have been hankering to have a go on one of these things for years and years.

But the sudden availability of a flat-bed truck and the hire digger meant that I had to cancel all my plans and just wake up super early full of anticipation for the 830am start.

Bebère roared up and Etienne attached the heavy metal tracks and off it came.

The principle reason for the machine on the farm was the installation of a storm water drain at the far end of the parking area.

We had discussed how nice it would be to level this rather unprepossessing area. David had done a great job of clearing a lot of the self seeded box and cherries around this edge of the farm. And now you can see into the chestnut field beyond.

But this area is also what everyone has on these remote properties – a dechetterie – a rubbish heap. Where all the random bits of broken roof tile, tricky wood, large dead shrubs and tree stumps go to die. It is a steep drop down to the next terrace and for about 350 years people have been lobbing things that they can’t be bothered sorting.

And I joined in.  We used to park the car here. But being so close to the forest, too many small creatures (let’s be frank, mice) set up home inside the bonnet of the car. That lovely warm space between the fabric of the insulation on the inside of the metal lid.  And they were happily chewing through the wires of the car.

A bit more chewing and the whole thing would have been worthy of tipping it over the edge as well.  Useless.

So we have been forced to keep the car elsewhere.  And naturally an expanse of flat land with forest views meant we had to make more of an aesthetic effort.

The mini digger also meant that we could move the heavy stones that are also stacked here.  Bebère uses it for storing stone lintels when he finishes renovation jobs on old properties and needs to keep monster heavy bits safe.  Obviously his wife won’t have these huge attractive boulders in her backyard.  And ours is an easy dumping area as we never took great care.

But now.

A dream.  Well. If you look critically – and I can see you squinting and saying, what am I looking at here? It’s just flatish land and mud – it is what I call Full of Promise.

There is a 12 metre long drain buried under the soil; the tree stumps have gone. The broken tiles are gone. It has been graded and compacted. And I spent a whole day (apart from the first hour behind the controls) throwing good rocks, stones and pebbles to the side of the parking area as good landscaping possibilities.

Yep. aching ribs from an earlier fall down the bank, nascent sciatica from lifting something too heavy last week and I was throwing rocks.

I tell you, never let a landscaper wannabee anywhere near a building site. I kept seeing really good flat stones unearthed by the digger and couldn’t countenance having them reburied. Good useful materials here.

It started small. I kept seeing ones and just rolled them out of the way of the machine. But after a few hours it was hands and knees and throwing like mad. I have enough rocks, stones and (frankly) boulders for about 50 metres of low walls. Yippee.

And what of the machine?  Bebère very patiently let me start. I had an hour of bliss trying to work out the capabilities of this beast.  If I had spent a youth on a gameboy console it would have gone faster.  I kept yelping with shock when I forgot the left hand lever raised the arm and the right swivelled it way too left.

I was not very efficient. And we were on the clock. The weather was threatening. And I realized that the ‘it will take about an hour to do this and then you can play’ promise was conservative.

Digging out a trench of 12 metres, removing boulders, avoiding the water pipe, levelling the ditch with a slope so the stormwater won’t puddle, creating a stone barrier at the entrance to the drain, back filling, and then the mighty grading job of this huge area……

Time ran out.

So much for my dream of taking a lot of soil off the base of the terrace below the road.  Or shifting lots and lots of soil to build up the edge of the dry garden bank.

I managed to cajole Bebs to drive the machine down behind the stables to shift the soil there.

And take out a huge cherry tree stump. I could never work out why there was a huge hummock of soil here. And I discovered why. This is where boulders from wall building came to die.

I was all for pushing these huge rocks into the bramble jungle on the edge of the property. But bless him, Bebs is a stone mason, and each huge rock was lovingly prized out of the mud and placed aside.  That took time. And my dream of level land with 10 cubic metres of soil shifted out of the way went as the clock ticked to 4pm and we huddled into our jackets as the rain came down.

Etienne and I were shifting rocks like mad, but we were both flagging.  And too soon the digger was back up on the truck and gone.

I couldn’t even stalk about the newly dug earth as the rain really was tipping down. That should have been celebration enough on this still dry land.

Instead I had a long hot shower, a painkiller and actually had to lie down to rest as all my muscles in my body were screaming in horror – ‘you spent a day throwing rocks and shifting heavy soil?

But never underestimate the enthusiasm of a gardener. Especially one who gets to play on very large digging machines. If only for a short time.