Every spring on the Would-Be Farm, I go on rock safari. Not like it's a real challenge to locate stone –– the hilly landscape was created by glaciers and its only half a joke to say that the Farm's three most reliable crops are porcupines, burdocks, and rocks.
But in the spring, small boulders appear as if by magic in the middle of the fields. It looks as if a bear has come along and pried chunks of granite from the ground. Maybe cranky from the long sleep? Perhaps searching for grubs? What if it's a mysterious ursine ritual feat of strength? And, not for nothing, they've got a problem with you people!
But no, this is "frost heave" at work. A prosaic name for the kind of amazing thing that happens with sub-zero temperatures, wet clay soil, and rocks.
As anyone who has ever left a bottle of beer in the freezer knows, liquids expand on the way to becoming solids.
In clay soil, water tends to pool. A small bit water pooling between a rock and the soil around it will expand and widen the gap between rock and dirt. A cycle of thawing and freezing allows more water in, which widens the gap farther and farther until there is enough volume for ice to pop the rock (this one pictured about 45 pounds of lower-back discomfort) clean out of the ground.
The field doesn't care where the stone lands. Grass grows up –– and the next thing you know, you're clanking into the chunk of granite with some surprisingly delicate part of a large and expensive piece of mowing machinery.
Smart money says to relocate the thing before the grass hides it.
Enter the Bobcat. This summer's unexpectedly large project involved culverts and ditches (that thrilling tale to be told another time) and rental equipment. Because the cost of a week's rental is the same as four days, we ended up with a small diesel Bobcat for a week.
Only a couple of frost-heaved (frost-hove?) rocks appeared over this past winter, but the rockiness of the Farm seems nearly endless. At least four outcroppings of pink granite lurk around Base Camp, just waiting to catch a blade on the weed-whacker or trip a distracted walker.
After attending to the thrilling culvert and ditch issues, we still had a few days custody of the equipment. Rock safari went into a higher gear: we cleared the rocky path to both old orchards, we dug up inconvenient boulders, we nudged large stones into more desirable spots.
We both learned that operating a mini-excavator is as mesmerizing and addicting as any video game. Only when you look up, there's a wall, or a set of stairs, or something that will be scenic in a season or two.
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