WOSTER: Yard projects rarely ever a ‘great notion’“Sometimes a Great Notion’’ is the title of a marvelous novel by Ken Kesey, but it’s also the theme of my long-running, just ended relationship with a patio full of flagstone.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
“Sometimes a Great Notion’’ is the title of a marvelous novel by Ken Kesey, but it’s also the theme of my long-running, just ended relationship with a patio full of flagstone.
In the novel, which was turned into an awfully decent movie starring Henry Fonda and Paul Newman, the story is about a family of independent loggers led by the old man, Henry Stamper. The novel has little to do with my flagstone story except the title. Flagstone: Sometimes a Great Notion.
Flagstone is heavy, pinkish, flat rock. It’s a commitment, not a notion. You can have the stuff or you can not have the stuff, but you can’t go halfway with the stuff.
My great notion began, oh, 35 years ago, when, as often is the beginning of my home-improvement stories, Nancy and I were sharing an evening at home and idly considering ways to brighten the appearance and functionality of our property.
We had a puny little back step in those days and a backyard that always looked half finished. I was never sure what was wrong with the soil there, but even in the best of spring and summer growing seasons, that stretch of lawn always looked like, well, my thinning head of hair before a shower. We couldn’t seem to get a decent growth of grass no matter what we tried.
I was doing some digging for another project, and the blade of the shovel struck a stone. I dug around and found a nice, flat piece of flagstone, basically overgrown with weed. I looked around and found a bunch more, a mostly hidden walking path that led around the side of the house to the front.
The stones were all pretty even shaped and generally of the same pink color, and without a thought toward the consequences, I went to Nancy and said, “We should get a bunch of this stuff sometime and turn the scraggly back yard into a patio.’’
When the initial excitement wore off, I settled back to consider what the patio might look like when I got around to finding more flagstone in, oh, five or 10 years.
Nancy settled back to consider where a person would find the stone and how quickly we could obtain a pickup to haul it to the back yard. That’s the difference between us. When I say “Let’s do something around the house,’’ I mean sometime in the next decade or two, and she thinks I mean yet this evening or at the very latest, first thing in the morning.
It wasn’t that evening or even the next morning, but it wasn’t very long before my brother-in-law and I were headed west to a stone quarry to pick up a load of flagstone. We filled the bed of his pickup until the springs threatened to snap. When we got back to Pierre and laid the stuff, I was kind of surprised to discover that we had barely half of what we needed. With another trip and another load, we were pretty close.
The stone was free if we loaded it ourselves. The gas for the pickup made the project a budget buster, and the trips out and back were an adventure because the engine in the brother-in-law’s pickup had a habit of stopping for no good reason at highway speed. It always started again, eventually, but it was unnerving.
Well, we laid the patio and built a nice, circular, step to the kitchen door from the remaining stones. I rebuilt the step three or four times, trying for level. Years later when we put a deck off the back, we tore down the step and laid those stones in an expanded patio. More years later, after a bunch of earth work, I had to re-lay the whole thing. Earlier this summer, when our sewer had to be replaced, the workers dug up the patio and piled the stones along the fence.
I thought about laying them again, but I just didn’t have it in me. I found someone who wants the stones, and we’re both smiling.
It’s kind of the way the buyer and seller of a boat both smile when the deal is closed.