Work on the Stream Crossing Begins

This is a view from the weir of the crossing point. Flow is slow but the water is high.

The crossing point is about 20 or 25m upstream from the weir, which I’m standing on as I take the photo to the left. A number of boards in the weir are used to adjust the level of the water. When the stream is high and the crossing difficult to negotiate by motorbike, people (mostly relatives of the owner, Billy), remove some of the boards. I don’t want them to. An additional function of the crossing is to raise the stream’s water level behind it. This will make it possible to stock it with more rainbow trout. However, judging from the low flow during the relatively short dry season, I think I’ll be forced to harvest most of them each year before the dry season begins and stock again afterwords.

The first gravel bags go down, the back-breaking work begins.

I wanted Billy to work on the access road and was determined to do the crossing myself. I’d paid Billy and the Cousin from Pakse to complete the job, including filling in between and beside the concrete strips with dirt and applying sod. I paid them for a truckload of dirt to make it easier. However, not only did the dirt cost more than they expected, the Cousin from Pakse had promptly lost this money, and his mobile phone, and then, to top it off, he contracted malaria. This is the kind of thing that happens if I’m not on site. . . So, here I am, being determined to do all the work myself (except for the concrete, which I’m allergic to).

This is the progress I made during the first afternoon working on my own.

I’d taken two boards out of the slot in the weir to lower the water level a bit. This exposed most of the stream bed nicely. The biggest problem was the fact that the gravel was in the wrong place. It should have been within a few paces of me at all times, but it was in fact located up the access slope at the top of the hill, and my crossing wasn’t. Another problem is that gravel is damned heavy. Each polypropylene bag was to be filled with a just-barely-manageable load of 6 heaping shovelfuls. I’d hoped to be able to load 3 bags at a time in the wheelbarrow, but as I haphazardly began down the access slope with them, I confirmed a number of the fundamental principles of classical physics, principal amongst them being inertia. And since inertia comes from the Latin word, iners, meaning idle, or lazy, I could see no reason not to unload a bag right then and there. My determination to do this bit of the project on my own would gradually succumb to iners.

Billy removed the last boards in the weir, lowering the water lever further and highlighting my remarkable progress from the afternoon before.

I was taken by surprise to see Billy walking about expectantly the next morning after pulling out the remaining boards in the weir. Communication is not always smooth between us. The day before when I was at my little retirement shack trying to encourage myself to do something, Billy was around so I asked him if the wheelbarrow was up the hill at his shack. He confirmed that it was. By the time I’d gotten my sneakers on and progressed as slowly as possible to admire the crossing site before getting at it, he’d managed to bring the wheelbarrow, a shovel, and other instruments of destruction all the way down the hill and had parked them neatly at the crossing. So, I was to begin my task by pushing these items back up the hill to where I needed them.

After a laying a few courses of gravel bags, we began filling the void between them.

Now, there are some very good reasons why I accepted Billy’s offer (at least that’s how I interpreted it) to haul bags of gravel down the hill. First and foremost was the fact that it allowed me to concentrate my full attention on the extremely important, delicate, in fact, task of placing the gravel bags. It takes a certain knack and a rather exceptional, if brief, burst of energy to lay a bag down in such a way that the top of the bag is folded under and it is abutted firmly against another bag. Billy, I reasoned, also had a lower center of gravity which would help him manage the load down the hill, and narrower hips that would fit better than mine between the handles of the wheelbarrow.  Oh, and then I remembered the most important reason which rendered me guilt-free– I was paying him.  And so it was that Billy would go up the hill to fetch a load of bags and return. It was my job to unload the bags from the wheelbarrow. After successfully maneuvering all two bags into place, I would sit down in the shade and drink beer, considering future placement points the whole time, of course, and wait for Billy to return with another load.

By the afternoon of the third day we'd finished laying all the courses.

We took the dirt from the bottom of the hillside beside the access slope. This is where, someday, my aquaponics greenhouse and mushroom cave will be, so it would eventually have to be dug out, anyway. Billy formed large piles of dirt quite adeptly with a hoe and I assumed the task of filling the wheelbarrow each time he’d come back from dumping a load. The digging site was far enough away from the crossing that I could sit down and have a few sips of beer while I waited. The beer tasted even better when I’d go and check the progress, pacing around on the freshly dumped dirt, packing it firmly. I did this while Billy attacked the hillside again with his hoe.

By late afternoon we'd finished filling and tamping so Billy started on the formwork.

Progress on the third day went quicker than expected. My legs were sore from the first afternoon of going up and down that hill, and Billy, who’d done it twice as many times, was hurting, too. He’d filled the last of the bags, 7 or so, that I’d brought with me and, while he was feeding his pigs that morning, I drove past them on my way to the market to see if I could get some more. They were still there when I returned, so I tried something, something that I’d considered doing from the beginning, but a little voice in my head had called me a pussy for it– I was supposed to be getting fit, after all. So, I loaded 5 bags into the back of my Chinese SUV and drove down the hill to the stream crossing and unloaded them there. Billy caught on quickly and soon I was ferrying bags full of gravel as fast as he could fill them. Iners, but we were both happy for it. That afternoon we finished filling in with dirt.

A six-wheeler delivers sand and gravel down the access slope. Sigh. . .

I couldn’t stay any longer and, like I said, I’m allergic to mixing and carrying concrete, so Billy was paid for three more days of work to get the job done. To my utter dissatisfaction, Billy assured me that we needed more gravel and sand to complete the project. I looked at the piles at the top of the hill suspiciously. I considered the fact that, eventually, more would actually be needed down there for other projects, so I agreed to getting one 6-wheeler with half a load of sand and half a load of gravel. An odd memory came back to me as I watched that 6-wheeler go down the access slope towards the crossing with gravel. It reminded me of when I was 20 years old and had walked 10 or 12 days along the Tokaido, the ancient route linking Tokyo and Osaka. I’d given up part way through, as I often do, and returned to Tokyo by bullet train, in about 35 minutes.

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