Monday, August 13, 2012

A concrete reason to be outside

A winding concrete path is a welcome addition

Simply Living
August 13, 2012

It may not be the most politically correct thing to admit, but I like concrete.  I like smooth concrete driveways, raised patios and winding paths that take me where I want to go without worry about fire ants stinging my toes. 
Twenty-one years ago, when we built our house, we surrounded it with concrete sidewalks.  Back then, we were young, our four children were little and everyone in the family except the baby was learning or already knew how to ride unicycles.  Riding a unicycle is difficult enough without having to deal with the bumps and ruts of open ground so Ralph and I agreed to install sidewalks thinking they’d be the perfect place in our predominantly unpaved, rural locale, to practice our circus skills.
For a short while, that’s exactly what we did.  However, as time went by, other interests took hold and our collection of one-wheeled cycles spent more time hanging from hooks in the garage than they did supporting the bodies of eager riders.For a short while, that's exactly what we did. However, as time went by, other interests took hold and our collection of one-wheeled cycles spent more time hanging from hooks in the garage than they did supporting the bodies of eager riders.
Nonetheless, our concrete pathways continued to get use. Every day we walk down them to tend to vegetable, flower and herb gardens planted in between the sidewalks and the house. They make a stable platform for a chair when I'm cutting my husband's hair and when our grandson comes over to visit, the concrete slab in front of the garage is an ideal surface to draw upon with colored chalk.
Still, I wanted more.
"What do you think about putting in a walkway to the lake?" I would periodically ask my husband in my most fetching voice. "Don't you think that would be a good project?"
His noncommittal response was always, "It would be a project, that's for sure."
We repeated this dialogue so often over the years it was as if our comments were etched in stone or, as I preferred to imagine, in concrete.
He'd say: "I don't know why we need a concrete path. I like walking over the grass."
At which point I'd reply: "Well, I don't. I'm the one who gets bit by ants, not you, and I don't want ant bites. I want a concrete sidewalk!"
I finally won. After years of unsuccessful campaigning, I got my wish. Ralph finally agreed to put in the concrete walkway. However, my husband won, too, because he was right. It was a project.
He labored during a good part of a week with a shovel, wheelbarrow and metal rake, removing sod from the pathway-to-be and placing it on barren spots in the yard. We then spent time laying out the design until the curved path was shaped just right and although we hired a crew to put up the forms and pour the mixture, we (meaning Ralph) wound up doing most of the cleanup — and there was a lot of it!
Concrete is composed of sand, stones or gravel mixed with water and a powdered form of cement that binds the other components together. It looks and feels a lot like mud (not that you'd want to put your hands in it) and like mud, it's messy. Instead of staying only within the wood-framed form where it is supposed to go, a substantial number of globs and splatters inevitably land on the lawn where it promptly turns into tough, rough-edged nuggets that would ruin a mower blade if left in place.
From an environmental perspective, adding concrete to the landscape is frowned upon mainly because it decreases green space. That may be true in commercial areas where a paved-over-paradise-and-put-up-a-parking-lot mentality all too often applies, but residential settings are different. I find that concrete walkways, raised patios and driveways add to the outdoor experience by providing comfortable, solid platforms on which to enjoy nature. I'm much more apt to spend time outside if I can do so barefoot and worry-free. Concrete pathways provide such an opportunity.
"So," I asked my husband after he finished filling in dirt around the edges of our new paths and I'd filled the last container with chunks of concrete detritus, "what do you think of the walkways now?"
"I like them," he admitted. "They were a lot of work, but they were a good idea."
Even more than I like concrete, I like it when I'm right!

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