June 14, 2008
In the muck
It wasn't all work. We had time for a few games of bocce in the big shaded field that lies between the grove of oak trees and the curving line of white pines. We ate meals at the picnic table and sat by the campfire at night. I sat on the green bench by the water and wrote in my journal. I think almost everyone but my mother found time for a nap: all that fresh air made us tired.
But mostly, this few days at camp was a working vacation. My father had decided it was time to repair the dock. Boy in Black, Older Neighbor Boy, and I drove up to join my parents and my brother for the project. Boy in Black and Older Neighbor have similar personalities in that they are both easy-going by nature, and yet intensely single-minded when it comes to anything they are passionate about. They have snowboarded together for eight years now, and played music together for nearly as long. Older Neighbor Boy is as obsessed with biking as Boy in Black is with Ultimate Frisbee, and they are both willing to discuss these sports endlessly. I think every conversation we had during the car ride mentioned Ultimate or biking, with a few offhand comments about the music they were playing.
The dock project went as planned. My father had already chosen eight trees that he could use as pilings, the straightest trees he could find. He cut them down with his chainsaw, and his crew of workers dragged them out of the woods and pounded the posts into the marsh with a sledge hammer. The tricky part came next: my father wanted to replace the crosspieces underneath the dock and raise the dock a few inches. That meant we would have to lift the existing dock and hold it while my father nailed the crosspieces underwater. The plan was to put a long pole underneath the dock, and two of us would lift on each side, keeping the dock up while my father worked. This plan did not surprise me. I've done projects like this with my father my whole life, and my role always is holding stuff up or holding stuff down.
Our dock is in a marsh, at the edge of acres and acres of cattails. Mostly when we swim off the dock, we float as near to the surface as we can, using inner tubes or air mattresses. As soon as one person tries to stand in the water, it becomes riled up and filled with mud, a thick silty mix. As I stepped off the dock, I began sinking immediately into the muck, my feet getting sucked down lower and lower, the layers of decayed matter brushing against my ankles, then my knees, then my thighs.
You can find all manner of debris buried in the thick layers of mud: my brother pulled up weeds at first and then old poles and pieces of wood. Boy in Black reached down to find a long bone from some dead animal. He'd left his sandals on to protect his feet, but that turned out to be a mistake; when he tried to pull his long leg out, fighting the suction of the mud, his sandal broke. Working in the marsh always makes me think of a movie I saw once about animals getting stuck in tar pits.
So mostly, we stood in the muck, shifting back and forth to find a place to stand, and held the dock up while my father nailed crosspieces into place. My father's hammer was underwater the whole time so I have no idea how he knew what he was doing, but he seemed to get the job done. Boy in Black and Older Neighbor exchanged jokes across the dock every time anyone said anything that could be a double entendre. Each time a crosspiece was finished, we'd move farther down the dock, deeper into the water. As the shortest person, I was at a decided disadvantage, but being paired with Boy in Black meant that I didn't really need to do much lifting at all. By the time the job was done, we were all covered with mud and shivering with cold, but our mission was accomplished: the dock was above the water, set sturdily on new pilings and crosspieces.
That's my father's newly rebuilt sailboat at the dock. He took off the cabin. In the top photo, that's my father with the sledge hammer. My brother is to the left and my son to the right.
Posted by jo(e)