- Home Improvement
From Rocks to Riches, Part 2: The Kids Come Out to Play
Guido (or was it Vinny?), the Mob boss of the collection of rocks in my yard, had made a blood oath to me. If I’d promise to build a beautiful fountain he’d call off the assault he and his brethren had been making on my lawnmowers, shoes, and offspring for the past seven years. He swore I wouldn’t see any more guerrilla rocks once I mortared them all together into a cohesive army.
Guido and I would have shaken on it if he’d had a hand. But because he was a 9 million-year-old hunk of schist, with a totally bald scalp, no eyes or mouth and a chin that jutted out like the Florida peninsula, we instead consummated our bargain by quick kisses on opposite cheeks. Guido’s kisses felt like a couple of firm swipes of sandpaper on my face. When we were done, I slathered mortar all over him with a trowel and plunked him down on top of a couple of gneiss pebbles on the north side of my emerging fountain’s wall. He has been contented there ever since.
After I had completed the outer wall with the facing of rocks I gradually built up the circular inner wall, one section at a time, with concrete held in place by my plywood mold. I then went around the outer and inner rims of the top of the wall with a trowel and wet mortar and created a small bank to confine the top mixture of cement and sand to a clean edge.
By this stage, some two months after I had embarked on the project (I worked only in my spare time—I had a so-called “day-job” back then), spring was approaching. Kids from around the neighborhood, noticing what I had been doing, had often come to watch me while I worked. There was an eager buzz among the youngsters. When the “Grand Opening” took place, the kids demanded that they be notified and given invitations to attend. I started to feel a little like Walt Disney about to turn on the lights and open the gates to a new theme park.
I ordered a cheap pump online that I thought would have sufficient power for such a relatively small amount of water, which I estimated to be about 160 gallons. The dimensions of the circular structure were about six feet in diameter for the inner pool, eight feet for the outer wall, and 18 inches in depth. Then I noticed that the natural gray shade of the concrete (This was long before “Fifty Shades of Grey” achieved popularity), was a little depressing. I wanted something summery and cheerful, so I did something that in hindsight I recognize was foolish. I found some sky blue pool paint at WalMart at around $40 per gallon and stained the interior so that it would look like a larger swimming pool. The kids loved it.
The early April day when the pool was filled and the pump turned on was one of the most exciting events in the history of American exurbia. Well, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much, considering that nothing exciting ever happens in exurbia, except the grand opening of a Sam’s Club or a new Longhorn Steakhouse. I was bigger than Walt Disney in the eyes of these celebrating tykes. Of course, none of them had any idea who Walt Disney was, but they knew who I was. Jimmy Daddy, the Great Conqueror of Rocks!
But a terrible thing happened after I finished the fountain, installed floodlights to show it off at night, and got the idea of propping my feet up and resting on my laurels. The kids in the photo went through puberty, amassed zits and started running around with wild girls who had pierced navels and diamond-studded noses. Most boys quickly forget about fountains when they undergo regular exposure to semi-naked young girls with showy body piercings. So my fountain lost its audience. I also discovered a fountain in a wildly variable climate, overhung by massive pines, quickly gets unbelievably nasty. Pollen, pine needles, bugs and tadpoles turned Disneyland into the Okefenokee Swamp by the end of the summer.
The fountain could still be made beautiful, but only through steady and laborious maintenance. Because I was a novice fountain-builder I had not realized the importance of drainage. The bottom sloped, ever so slightly, toward the direction OPPOSITE the spot where I had positioned the drain. Pulling the plug out only meant I still had about an inch of putrid, pollen-colored, bug-infested water left in one end of the pool after all the water drained naturally out.
I remedied this by using a shop vacuum to suck the rest of the water out during cleaning, which was a nuisance. Also, I began spooning pool chlorine every week or two into the water to curb the bugs, kill the algae growth, and maintain some type of clarity. At my daughter’s high school graduation party last May, my personal Disneyland still sparkled.
Last month all of the surrounding pine trees were removed and I realized I now had an opportunity to correct my mistakes. The winter had been rough on my hand-built monument. The pool paint on the inside was flaking away, the edges around the top were eroding, and some flagstone facing I installed on the top three years ago was coming loose. I needed a way to correct the drainage problem inside, as well as to make the fountain “greener”, more “nature-proof”, better able to maintain its appearance with less intervention and maintenance from me.
The solutions I decided upon will be revealed tomorrow…. [To Be Continued]
© 2015 James Crawford