Cleaning (up) House – Part 2

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I was next able to visit the property in late October.  The optimism we enjoyed from seeing the start of cleanup had been tempered a bit by the fact that we had no visual progress updates since the last visit.  So I found myself anticipating this visit in part just to be able to get another dopamine boost.

About a third of an inch of rain had fallen at the end of the previous week. It was obviously welcome relief to the parched landscape, but had interrupted DKI’s schedule. They did not work on site that Friday as they were worried about the possibility of snow on the steep driveway.  They seemed to be taking longer than planned and this had only delayed them further.

Image of driveway surrounded by many fallen trees
This is what the driveway now looks like from the top of the steepest section

Still, by the time I arrived they had finished removing most of the debris. They were now focused on removing the concrete foundations and dead trees surrounding the house and garage.

Image of clean concrete slab
The pump house and water tank slab are now cleared of all debris

Though they were technically a bit behind schedule, their efforts were notable both for the good progress they had made, and for how they made difficult work look pretty easy.

Image of foundation wall with clean dirt at its base
The foundation wall is now all that is left of the house itself. The former entrance to the house is at top left, and the oak tree on the right is the one that was right next to the lower deck

For instance, to clear the area below the foundation wall (where the house itself once stood) required two excavators; one below the wall to remove material, and another above, on the driveway itself, to dispose of it.  Getting that lower excavator into position required navigating some pretty steep terrain.

Image of the driveway edge with steep dropoff for a shoulder
This steep slope is the “road” the excavator had to navigate (in reverse) in order to go from the work site back onto the driveway

Shortly after I arrived they were done using the lower excavator, so they needed to get it back up onto the driveway.  The terrain is too steep to drive up normally, as you might with a car for example.

Image of excavator backing up a very steep slope
If you’ve ever worked with equipment like this you know how tricky this maneuver is.

Instead you have to approach the slope backwards, and simultaneously use the shovel as both a crutch (for stability) and as a foot (to push the excavator up slope).  Without that extra push the excavator’s tracks just grind their way into the dirt and you go nowhere.  Lose the extra stability provided by the crutch and you risk rolling the (several ton) excavator over, on a steep hillside no less.  This is not a job for the feint of heart!

Meanwhile, on the driveway itself, DKI used the heavy equipment to collect and then dispose of the foundation rubble.  As I know from my experience with the Bobcat skidsteer, it is easy to take for granted the power available in those hydraulic cylinders.

Image of a pile of large boulder-size rocks and concrete chunks
Some of the rocks and broken concrete DKI collected to haul away

Imagine trying to move even one of those boulders by hand.  Or the tree trunks below.  With only manual labor it would have taken many hands, and many weeks.

Image of a pile of tree trunks and branches
They collected tree trunks and “slash” in another pile nearby

Here’s another example of the power behind those hydraulics.  That crumpled piece of metal below is actually the quarter-inch-thick steel door of the old Bobcat’s engine compartment.

Image of debris including a crumpled heavy steel door
The heavy steel rear door of the Bobcat, crumpled almost as if made of aluminum foil

Despite the power in these mechanical beasts of burden, they do still have their limits.  DKI’s foreman told me that he had to dismantle the burned-out hulk of our old Bobcat because it was just too heavy to lift in one piece.  That is why he had removed the steel door.

Image of rusted diesel engine block on pavement
The Bobcat’s diesel engine lies alone on the ground, bent and partially dismantled

For the same reason I found the Bobcat’s diesel engine lying on the pavement, all alone and partially dismantled.

Closeup image of a diesel engine partially dissasembled
A closeup of the underside of the Bobcat engine, showing the exposed crankshaft and piston rods

While the engineer in me found the exposed innards very interesting, it was also a bit sad to see the engine like this.  Prior to the fire it had been fully functional and running strong, providing the very same kind of power that DKI was now using to dispose of it.

Goodbyes Are Hard Too

Despite the welcome morale boost each step in the cleanup has given us, there is (for me at least) still a quiet but persistent sadness present whenever I visit.  I feel a nagging sense of loss here; the loss of something that can never be replaced, never undone.

I feel it acutely every time I see a new tree stump appear where a familiar tree once stood.  On a practical level I know the trees have to come down. They are dead (or nearly so). They can never again be the healthy green towers of shade that they once were. It was only a short few months ago that the landscape was crowded with them.  Now the few that remain standing are coming down too.

Image of driveway and oak tree with mountains in the background
A late afternoon overview of the driveway from above, with the oak tree still standing

Though I know it cannot be so, a big part of me still wants to believe that if only I let them remain standing they would bud again next Spring.  It hurts to see each one of these old friends come down.

Image of driveway and stump from above with mountains in background
Another overview of the driveway on the following day, with the big oak tree now lying on the pavement below
Image of felled trees lying across a rocky pathway
Nearly all of the trees that were above the path to the picnic area are now lying across it, or gone altogether
Image of foundation wall, dirt and felled oak tree
That oak tree that was next to the lower deck is now down too.

The feeling of loss is not confined to those majestic old trees either.  Familiar aspects of the house and property are now also gone forever, or disappearing with each day of the demolition.

Image of a clean but soot-stained cinderblock wall
On the day I arrived, the shop wall where the wood stove once stood was nearly all that was left of the garage
Image of a hillside with tree stump and cinderblock rubble below
And by the end of the following day the wall itself was down; the big oak tree above it reduced to a stump. Its branches are visible in the foreground
Image of bent metal tubes next to a pile large boulders
The garage and shop support posts which survived the fire have now joined the pile of concrete and boulders, awaiting their trip to the landfill.

One final task during my visit was to empty the 20 foot storage container behind the house.  Although it survived the fire, thick smoke found its way into the interior, covering everything inside with a heavy layer of jet-black soot.

Image of a metal storage container surrounded by charred trees
The blackened storage container is surrounded by dead trees, including a massive, broken old oak tree directly behind it

It had been mostly empty already except for some sturdy metal shelves, extra skid-steer tire chains and a few other parts for the old Bobcat.

Image of the sooty insides of the storage container
The inside of the container was not damaged by heat, but completely covered with soot

I pulled those things out of the container and stacked them beside the few items we’d salvaged from the garage’s shop area.

Image of several metal objects in front of a blackened metal storage container
The salvaged wood stove and shop workbench now stand in front of the storage container, along with some of the container’s metal shelving

After the container was empty I secured a plastic tarp over the items outside, in a feeble attempt to protect them from the long winter ahead.

The container itself will probably be one of the last things that DKI removes from the property.  Even though we really didn’t use it for the last 10 years, it will still make me sad to see it go. Kinda like the trees I guess.

Come to think of it, we didn’t really “use” most of those trees on the property either.  Yet like good friends they were always there for us.

That Reminds Me

As I started down the driveway on my way back home, this colorful Dogwood reminded me that Winter is just around the corner.

Image of a small Dogwood with bright yellow and orange leaves
A young Dogwood in front of the Trestlewood Chalet is putting on a Fall show

And sure enough, I see that there is more rain and possibly even snow in the forecast for this weekend, the first weekend of November.

That forecast has me worrying about the driveway again.  I sure hope DKI is finished by Friday!

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