Friday, June 7, 2013

Day 26 - Building a Fire Pit


I have never built an in-ground fire pit. While this is not something that would normally make a list of challenges and events I want to pursue, it is a new experience I have put off for some time. After my family acquired a lake house a few years ago, I made plans to put in a fire pit in a gathering area on the lower level of the property. I thought such a feature would make one of the most secluded and beautiful parts of the property into a central meeting place for family and friends using the house during the summer months. My father agreed, and rightfully tasked me with taking on the project given the idea originated with me. Over the first two summers we owned the house I put off the project and procrastinated on creating a design, despite the fact the materials sat readily available during that entire period. Eventually, I thought, I would get around to completing the project, but I was in no hurry to make it a priority.

Knowing the fire pit project had been delayed for some time, I used my ongoing “I have never…” experience to give me a little motivation to tackle the fire pit project. With a trip to the lake house planned for this weekend, I started planning and designing so I could dig and build the fire pit tonight. Realizing this was ambitious given our expected 6:00 pm arrival time, I recruited the help of two visiting friends, Patrick and Edgar, to help ensure I could make the most of this new experience and complete the project before I ran out of daylight.

The evening began with our trip to the lake house. After some delay getting back from Toronto this afternoon, I knew it was unlikely I would be able to get everything ready for the trip by the time of our expected departure. As I pulled into our driveway I glanced at the car’s dashboard clock and realized I arrived home with less than one hour to get everything in order before Patrick and his other half, Angelica, were expected to pick me up for the trip. I rifled through my car gathering my bags in a hurried state before I jogged to the door and fumbled with my keys to unlock it. I opened the door with a heightened sense of urgency as internally compiled a list of things I needed to accomplish with the 50 minutes I had remaining.  A sudden sense of relief struck me when the door swung to a rest and I saw neatly stacked supplies, food, and other trip essentials along the opposite wall of the room. Rachael had taken it upon herself to prepare nearly everything we needed to make the trip, including organizing my laundered clothes so I can quickly put together another travel bag. Stated simply, she’s awesome.

I spent the next 30 minutes tying together the few remaining items that needed to be packed before Patrick pulled up to my house. We loaded up his car and proceeded to pick up Angelica who had just returned from an appointment. With knowledge Rachael would be driving up to the lake house later that evening, the three of us started the journey to Green Lake, periodically plotting our fire pit plans along the way. We talked about the expected arrival time of Edgar and his girlfriend, Massiel, and formulated rough ideas of how the fire pit would come together knowing the outcome was uncertain given our inexperience with such a task.

It begins...
A drive of little more than an hour found us pulling into the lake house driveway. Excited to start our project, Patrick and I quickly unloaded the car and tracked down the tools necessary to build the fire pit. Shovels in hand, we descended to the lake house backyard’s lower level along a trail dissecting the forest surrounding us. We stopped before the area I thought most suitable for the in-ground fixture. With anticipation, we finalized our plans for little less than five minutes before I walked to the project’s chosen location and plunged my shovel into the soil. Still wet from rain earlier in the day, I was delighted at the ease with which the earth could be moved. Patrick enthusiastically approached the location from which I had just scooped a brick of sod and immediately began chopping lines into the grass to mark the space needed for the base and walls fire pit. Minutes later a hole in the shape of a large square started to appear. We paused briefly to acknowledge the progress already made and continued digging further. Less than 30 minutes from beginning today’s adventure, we were well on our way to making the lake house fire pit a reality.

Careful, Patrick...

Patrick and I continued removing chunks of grass and soil from the hole for another 30 minutes before deciding it was time to haul the large concrete squares that would serve as the fire pit’s base down to the property’s lower level. With sunlight fading, I climbed back to the upper level of the lake house property and located the blocks stacked along the side of the shed sitting in the corner of the driveway. I grabbed one of the concrete squares and slowly slid it to one side of the stack. The low sound of stone grinding stone as it moved told me the block was likely a heavier weight, so I carefully manipulated the block until I could grab it comfortably. With my hands in place I lifted the block skyward, immediately taking note of the stone’s surprising weight. Acknowledging the placement of dozens of blocks was needed to complete the fire pit, I knew the challenging portion of the event was just beginning.

Laying the foundation...
Together Patrick and I took turns climbing the hill to the blocks and carrying down what was needed to set the base of the fire pit. In between trip we leveled soil, placed blocks, and made adjustments to the size of the hole to accommodate the size of the concrete. The physical effort caused sweat to start beading on my brow as I moved stone and dirt to level the fire pit’s base. In minutes my hands and knees were covered in earth and burning from the abrasive texture of the concrete in the palms of my hands.

Another 30 minutes had passed by the time the base of the fire pit was in place. We knew we had to quicken our pace as the light began to fade slowly into dusk. In turn, I gave Patrick a brief explanation of how I thought the remaining part of the fire pit would come together. Given the vague nature of the hasty explanation, Patrick stated he would let me continue working on the structure of the fire pit while he would haul the smaller concrete blocks for the fire pit walls down to the property’s lower level. Agreeing his approach was likely our best chance at maintaining a degree of efficiency, we began focusing on our individual tasks.

The base is down...

Slowly, the walls of the fire pit started to rise in alternating circular patterns around me. With each block Patrick dropped before me, I moved and slid the concrete into place, backfilling the gaps in the stone with the soil previously removed from the hole. Patrick outpaced me in his efforts, ultimately leaving him with little more than to observe my rookie efforts at building the walls of the fire pit. The sounds of night began to emerge more loudly as I worked more rapidly to ensure I could complete the project in time. My focus narrowing, I barely recognized the sounds of new voices coming from the driveway up the hill as Rachael, Edgar, and Massiel arrived to the lake house. I was committed completing the task before me and I knew the clock was against me.

The walls rising...

Patrick periodically checked in on me as the group socialized and got acquainted with the lake house. The group would casually come down to see how I was doing on my project, with me apologizing for my distracted state each time they approached. I continued, moving blocks and soil in a now-developed rhythm as sweat saturated my clothing. I could see the end. I just needed the last traces of sun to stay with me long enough to make it happen.

Almost there...
Everyone began gathering around me as the fire pit neared completion. Statements of concern over my ability to get the project done before dark increased in frequency as I kept working. I was determined to complete my project, and I wanted to get in done in time to use it. Seeing the work left to be done, Patrick and Edgar sprang into action and began moving the pile of soil on the lawn into the tree line. As I placed the last concrete blocks in fire pit walls, they both moved rapidly to fill in the last gaps remaining around the exterior of the fire pit. Together the three of us worked around one another in movements so clean they almost appeared choreographed. With minutes of light remaining I packed the last handfuls of soil back into the ground and stood up in the middle of a circular concrete wall. We were finished. The fire pit was built.

Finished!
My hands and legs caked with soil, I stepped up to the ground around and looked down at the completed fire pit. My task complete, I assessed my work one final time before taking note of the tight feeling in my battered hands and the heavy feeling of my filthy, sweat soaked clothing. I was a wreck, but that state did not fill me with a sense of discomfort. Instead, and feeling of accomplishment rose in me as I trudged up the hill toward the lake house. I had just tried something completely new with little-to-no comparable experience, and, with the help of some good friends, I made it work. The only thing left to do was to put my creation to the test. So, I cleaned myself up, grabbed some beers, and lit a fire to relax with some good friends.

Breaking it in...
 Today’s “I have never…” event seemed simple on the surface. I didn’t intend to take a lot away from the experience, but I was surprised to find the degree of achievement I obtained from our efforts. Though I may have limited experience with many things, today proved to me I can successfully tackle any new task under heavy constraints if I truly apply myself. Today also showed me what it means to have good people in my life. I don't think many people would find the idea of getting filthy moving soil and concrete a good way to start a "vacation" weekend, but my friends offered to do just that in the name of supporting my "I have never..." goals. In fact, they didn't bat an eye at the idea of committing several hours of work to my project at the start of the weekend. It takes good people to do something like that for a friend. I'm a lucky man in that regard. Sitting around the fire tonight was the best way to reinforce everything I took away from today's experience. Another day has brought me another new experience in which to revel, and that is more than enough to keep me moving forward.

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