Today Richard and I laid two more flagstones for the patio-in-progress in the courtyard outside our bedroom door. At two flags a week, it’ll take a while for us to finish it, but we don’t mind. My time for house projects is limited to weekends and Richard’s energy is limited by the after-effects of four brain surgeries in the space of 17 months, his bi-monthly Avastin infusions, and the many-branched brain tumor in his right hemisphere. So we’re going at the pace that works for us: Slow.
We’ve worked out a good rhythm: I do the grunt work, loosening the dry soil with a rake, picking out the large rocks, screening the soil (that’s the screen Richard made for me in the second photo above, along with my two buckets for rocks, one for gravel for filling in between the flags, the other for larger cobbles I’ll use to edge garden beds), and roughly leveling the bed, which I do using Richard’s plastic level to smooth the surface. Richard rests, gathering energy.
When I’ve got the bed of screened soil leveled, Richard comes out and looks at the space and the available flagstone. Once we’ve agreed on a stone, he moves it into place, which may simply involve picking it up (if it’s less than about 90 pounds) or may involve a complicated (to me) dance of sliding and pivoting and maneuvering the flagstone to its resting place.
It’s hot, hard work. And there’s another complication: The Girls, the colony of harvester ants who set up housekeeping right smack in the middle of the furture patio. They’re understandibly not happy with our remodeling of their ground.
Harvester ants, often called the earthworms of arid-country soils for the sheer volume of soil they churn in digging underground nest tunnels as deep as six feet below the surface, with branching levels reaching six feet out, pack a painful sting. I hate to disturb them, but it’s inevitable. So we work around them as best we can, giving them plenty of time between flagstone-laying sessions to remodel the nest we’ve disturbed.
Seeing the patio take shape is such a thrill, as is seeing Richard eye the flags and cradle them in hand, on knee, or however he needs to hold them, depending on their size and awkwardness, and set them gently into place. Even with his impaired vision and other brain challenges, his hands know rocks as fellow journeyers in this life, “ambassadors of the Earth,” as he likes to say. They dance for him, like the beautiful flagstone grouping in the photo above, shaping a graceful semi-circle of patio around what will be a small bed of strawberries edged with daffodils and crocus, a bit of food for body and spirit just outside our bedroom door.
The kitchen garden is bursting with greens right now, so tonight’s post-patio-laying dinner featured fresh-picked collard and chard greens, cooked simply with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Here’s a recipe that will work with a variety of summer greens, including chard, spinach, collards, beet greens, and kale:
Simple summer greens
1 pound fresh greens
1 T olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
Wash greens, cut stems off (with chard, chop stems separately into bite-sized pieces). Cut leaves into half-inch wide “ribbons” and then chop crosswise coarsely. Heat olive oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add chopped stems (if using chard), stir to coat with olive oil, and sautee for three minutes before adding leaves. Add balsamic vinegar and stir again. Cover the pan and steam for five minutes. If you want to embellish them, add chopped dried apricots when they’re cooking, and sprinkle on toasted slivered almonds at the last minute.
We ate our greens warm with a farmer’s cheese and local-egg omelette (thanks, Maggie and Tony!) and curried rice. Yum!
One more thing: We’re headed to Hobo Hot Springs in Saratoga, Wyoming later this week, the site of our first and only date, to celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary. It’s a great excuse to celebrate being together on this extraordinary blue planet. Happy Anniversary, my love!