the whole kit-n-kubota
1) Plant a row of trees (5’ cedars) between us and our neighbors on either side (not that we’re anti-social, just that it would improve everyone’s view, especially for one neighbor who currently has to stare at our large gravel parking area). The idea is to just dig a long trench, put the trees in at whatever spacing looks good, and re-fill the rest of the trench.
2) Dig drainage ditches around edges of parking area, and across the back yard.
16-year-old from rental company drops off orange Kubota tractor/backhoe, gives a 6-second lecture on how to work it, and drives away with a cheery wave.
Can’t figure out how to put tractor in reverse. Neighbor shows up to gawk. Finally realize the throttle pedal is a two-way – tilt it backwards and the tractor backs up. Back up tractor.
My friend Salvador and his son Julio show up to help. We pull string to mark the treeline. Between Julio’s English and my Spanish, we all make out okay, but I keep getting the words for ditch (sanja) and string (soga) mixed up. When I ask Salvador to tie one end of the ditch to a tree, he just grins.
Salvador uses the tractor to move a large pile of brush out of the way. In Mexico, he had owned an orchard – he knows how to run the tractor part, but not the backhoe.
Begin digging the ditch. I ran a backhoe a few times one summer in college, and didn’t do too badly – it’s like riding a bike, they say. I wait for the old skills to come flooding back into my hands. I wait in vain. All over the Seattle area, real equipment operators feel an unexplained sense of restlessness and discomfort. Dead ones spin in their graves.
Salvador finds my efforts too painful to watch, and finally asks if I’d like him to have a go. After about 5 minutes he shakes his head and gives up. I try not to take any satisfaction in the fact that he honked at it just as badly as I did.
Hannah comes out and watches for a while, then says that her nerves will not stand this and she is going shopping – she indicates it may take a substantial amount of money to relieve her anxiety about the boys and their toys digging holes in her lawn.
We have a 35-foot ditch, apparently dug by someone with a bad case of the Delirium Tremens. We start putting in trees.
Hannah returns briefly with cokes for us. She points out that there are too many people in the ditch – all three of us can’t work on a tree at the same time, so if I’m digging too, Salvador has to wait, and I end up paying him to stand there holding his shovel. I get back on my tractor to start digging drainage ditches. I hate it when she’s right like that.
I accidentally knock a 6-inch hole in the side of the shed. Brief moment of thanks that it was the shed rather than the propane tank, and more importantly that no one I’m married to was there to see and offer commentary.
Lunch time. By this time we have our kids, Julio’s little brother Josue, another neighbor and his two kids, plus Salvador, Julio, and me. We order pizza and stand around eating in clueless-suburban-homeowner camaraderie.
1pm – 3pm
I dig a hundred or so feet of drainage ditch in a creative pattern across the back yard. By the second hour or so, I’m actually getting the hang of the backhoe. I realize that part of the problem is that the hydraulic pressure isn’t adequate to do certain combinations of functions at once – you can’t lower the boom and extend the stick at the same time, for example. This is part of the reason the process looks like a grand mal seizure – it’s almost impossible to do some functions smoothly.
I reach the section of the yard where the water pipe comes in from our community well. If I break this water pipe, the two neighbors downline from us will probably get all cranky about it, so I hand-dig to find it. After about 20 minutes of fruitless search, a little voice urges me to just go ahead with the backhoe since the pipe is probably really deep. I recognize this as the voice of Satan, and keep digging with my shovel.
Finally find the pipe, mark it, and dig around it safely with the backhoe.
Salvador and Julio finish the trees – including a hand-dug row on the other side – and leave for the rest of that day’s jobs.
I finish all the drainage I had planned, and decide to try to tidy up some brush and old logs, etc. in the back yard. The only way back to that area is over ditches I’ve dug, but I figure the tires are big enough to roll over the open ditches.
I manage to get the tractor stuck in three ditches at once, canted at an impossible angle, nose pointing to the sky. The 4-wheel drive just keeps digging me deeper in, and caving in the sides of the ditches. I look around – if past history is any indicator, this is the perfect timing for a person’s wife to arrive home.
I use the hoe to pick myself up and out of the ditches. I redig the ones I caved in, and give up on the brush-tidying idea. Hannah comes home as I’m cleaning up the cave-ins – I do not confide that this is the second time around for these particular sections.
I finally figure out how to turn the seat around (you have to face it backwards to run the hoe) quickly and easily. Salvador and I had fought with it for 15 minutes, finally devising a complicated method requiring a screwdriver and much fiddling – turns out all you do is force it, and it swivels around fine. I turn it around a few times just because I can.
I hose the tractor off in the dark. Samantha walks up to opposite side of the tractor and gets sprayed in the face (I didn’t see her – really). She is not impressed.
40 trees planted, 150 feet of drainage dug, no death or dismemberment involved. Go to bed happy. The end.