Let’s see – too warm for skiing or skating, too cold for swimming, still a little chilly for kayaking, kinda muddy for backpacking – shoulder seasons are a challenge for outdoor enthusiasts, and when I get restless, which is to say most of the time, I fall back, sometimes literally, on my old, favorite standby: moving rocks.
Friends and family familiar with my fixation have learned to feign herniated discs and other disabling injuries whenever I ask, seemingly innocently, if they can spare a few minutes to help with a small task, since they realize their assignment likely would be to hold a lever upon which is precariously balanced a 750-pound boulder while I adjust the angle of the fulcrum – or worse, to expose their fingers to a bone-crushing mishap while placing cribbing beneath a teetering monolith.
So I have learned to work alone, often employing an elaborate, Rube Goldberg array of pry bars and winches – ever mindful of Newton’s First Law of Motion, that a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force.
I paid particularly close attention to this dictum the other day because I was moving boulders down a steep hill – at least I wasn’t attempting to mimic Sisyphus, the mythological Greek king who upon his overthrow was condemned to repeatedly roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down.
As my father used to say, I may be dumb but I’m not stupid.
But rolling boulders downhill can be perilous if you want them to stop before inflicting injury or damage.
In my case, I was moving the rocks to extend a wall that borders the road, and I had two concerns: One, that a runaway would barrel into the side of a school bus or worse, the pleasant older woman who walks by every day; or two, that the out-of-control boulder would continue across the street and slam into my neighbor’s house, where a crew of workers has been laboring for months performing extensive renovations.
And so before initiating my rolling maneuvers I carefully constructed a series of rock dams – big logs buttressed by flat rocks.
I’m happy to say that my system worked flawlessly, though one wayward chunk of granite, roughly the size of a Maytag washer, nearly hopped over the barrier.
I also have learned, sadly from experience, not to position myself downhill of any of the weightier boulders.
Years ago I made this mistake and wound up with a broken ankle. Less than a month after that foolhardy maneuver I managed to climb Mt. Washington while wearing an air cast, but given the choice I’d prefer to hike with all my limbs intact, so I now wisely position myself uphill when rolling rocks.
Anyway, the rocks are now more or less where I want them, and I simply have to arrange them appropriately.
And so now I draw on another Greek – not Sisyphus, but Archimedes – for inspiration: “Give me a lever, and a place to stand on, and I will move the world.”
I’ll settle for a few rocks.