Scott Omelianuk digging in his backyard
Photo: Michael Lewis
April 2012

"Are you sure you want to do that?" my wife asked me.

"We've got to do something," I replied, unraveling a roll of contractor bags and sinking a shovel into the soil of the yard.

This was late last summer, when Hurricane Irene was threatening and my city's officials were saying the storm surge would roll right up the river road, turn the corner, and funnel right down our street. And because ours is a neighborhood of townhouses, with garden-level doors under front stoops and windows right down to the ground, everyone was worried it wouldn't just be our mortgages underwater.

Some of my neighbors had sandbagged their entries, and when I heard the sanitation department was going to collect the bags after the storm, I had an idea. As you may know by now, that's often where I run into trouble. Anyway, I had no canvas sacks or sand, but I did have a rise of ground in our small backyard, maybe a dozen feet in each direction, that grew more weeds than grass and that we had wanted to bring down 12 inches or so to the level of the gravel patio. "It's the perfect excuse to start, and we won't have to pay to get rid of the dirt," I said to my wife. "It's genius!"

"Yeah," she said, "that or the change in the barometric pressure is affecting your brain."

With the brunt of the storm just hours away and a mist in the air, I started to fill bags. She turned to go into the house, and as she did, she said, "I just hope you know how to finish what you start." You can probably guess how this ends. I ran out of bags before I ran out of soil, and, six months on, my excavation remains incomplete. Finishing what you start, it turns out, is a lot harder when the frenzy of disaster preparations gives way to increased demands at work and the needs of a newborn. "Weeds would have at least been green," my wife pointed out the other day, and I knew right then that there was only one way to finish my landscaping project. Here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to smooth out the bottom of the hole and lie down in it and see if I can't pull some soil back over me. Visitation isn't necessary, but, if you're so inclined, flowers would be appreciated. Maybe seedlings instead of cut blooms. After all, they might take root, and I gotta make the backyard look good somehow.

P.S. Not all landscape projects have to end the way mine did. Case in point: the project featured in Stretching a Small Yard. Lots of great ideas, and not one of them requires a tomb.
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