Spring at my house is like a duel in an old western. My husband wields the Home Depot catalog, packed with tons of stuff for DIY backyard projects. My weapon of choice is the Crate & Barrel catalog, loaded with staged backyard idylls that make me want to reach for the lemonade pitcher.

Funny thing is, we don’t really have a back yard. We have land behind our house; in fact, it’s nearly three-quarters of an acre. But we don’t use it; it’s inaccessible.

Our old farmhouse sits atop a mountain that precipitously slopes westward at a 45-degree angle into dense woods. By Memorial Day, the unforested land between the house and the woods is waist-high in weeds.

From up above on our deck, we fantasize about yanking weeds, terracing the slope and planting perennial gardens. We envision rambling stone paths and an iron bench at the threshold of the woodland.

Our daughter could kick a ball the length of a soccer field if we grew grass on the flat part. There’s a perfect spot for a brick patio near the forsythia right behind the house.

“How about we hire someone this year to deal with this land once and for all?” I ask my husband, knowing my pistol should be cocked.

“Why should we hire someone when we can do this ourselves?” he retorts, his back stiffening.

“Because these projects take forever,” I whine, adding, “and too many remain unfinished.”

“That’s the beauty of our home — it’s a work in progress,” he says, smiling.

Progress, to me, is hiring someone to tame the land while I buy patio furniture. Progress is watching deity-like men put up a stone wall in three days because they are on the clock.

My husband likes to putter, tinker, tool and fiddle. Deadlines are an approximate concept. Sisyphean tasks are therapy.

This spring, I agreed to let him tackle our “hill.” I promised not to rush him, even though I know a landscaper with an earthmover could shred the weeds, groom the hill with top soil and spread grass seed in 72 hours.

In return, he gave me his blessing to hire a landscaper to build a stone wall and patio at the back of our house on a squalid patch of rough earth where nothing grows.

Operation Hillside Rescue got under way a few weeks ago.

We (and by “we,” I mean him doing the heavy lifting, me cheerleading) started by deconstructing a mound of bad fill at the top of the hill that had been dumped several years ago by a shady contractor. My husband alternated between a rake and a hoe to scrape away layers of asphalt, chunks of concrete and other construction debris before he finally encountered anything an earthworm could live in. At the first hint of real soil, he said, “Ah, the good earth.”

He kept at it for days, combing through soil and tossing large rocks beyond the tree line. He worked until sweat soaked through his shirt and his jeans were caked in mud. He used his rake and sometimes his gloved hands to sculpt the small patch of hill, as if he were molding a piece of clay.

Little by little, an eyesore turned into a tri-level tiered rock garden where he planted boxwoods, woodland shrubs and annuals.

“Good job,” I said, gazing upon his work. “It’s amazing what one determined man can do.”

“I’m just getting started,” he said.

Our hill is expansive. But my husband’s patch of triumph has motivated him to change into ratty clothes every night after dinner and get back on the job.

One recent evening, I sat on the ridge while he pulled away layers of weed-pocked, degraded soil. In the course of an hour, he unearthed shards of a ceramic cup, a rusted horseshoe and parts of an old wagon wheel.

For 150 years, the former denizens of our house viewed the hill as a dumping ground, or at least as an inhospitable piece of earth. I had to doff my cap at my husband, who believes that he single-handedly can move a mountain.

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TINA TRASTER writes the 'Burb Appeal' column for The New York Post and "The Great Divide" blog for the Huffington Post. She is a city girl who has turned her efforts to social commentary on life in a NY-metro area suburb. She is not afraid to "out" bad actors, annoy neighbors, take on bumbling town officials or challenge anyone who messes with her bliss. She lives with her husband, young daugther and four cats in an 1850s reclaimed farmhouse on a beautiful mountain precipice.

Traster is at work on a memoir called Burb Appeal.

You can reach her via email at [email protected]

7 responses to “Hill of a Job”

  1. angela says:

    i know what you mean by an “inaccessible” huge backyard. my parents have something like an acre, and it’s completely empty. my brother and i tried to convince them to dig a pool or build tennis courts, but they weren’t having it. now it’s just a big piece of land my dad has to mow all the time.

  2. Erika Rae says:

    There is just something about unearthing artifacts on your property. My husband actually found a rusted out katana not too far off the back of our property. So cool.

  3. Haha, oh man, do I know all about this duel. But my fella is always digging up some cool thing in our yard (or the scary basement, or the terrifying attic) so I don’t have my gun cocked half as much these days. Thanks for this, T!

  4. Matt says:

    Yard work. Ack. We moved into a house in the ‘burbs with a huge back yard when I was 9, and taking care of it immediately became my sole, compulsory responsibility. I’m pretty sure I’m a dedicated apartment dweller now because of it.

    There was a big dead spot in the lawn where no grass would grow. Neighbors told us it was because the previous owners had a bomb shelter installed under there, but my parents would never let me try and dig it up.

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    Sometimes all you need is that one win under your belt and bam! It’s all gravy from there.

  6. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Hat’s off to your hubby (and you – cheerleaders are people, too!). I’ve got an annoying disconnect going on. My home is on a typical, postcard-sized plot of land – easy to get to, obviously, but no room to landscape, grow food and have room for the kids and dog to play. We also own forty acres – three hours away, 4WD access-only, no water (yet – need to drill a well), no electricity, plenty of room but nothing else. If only I could put the two together….

    And Erika Rae, a katana? That is cool! Scabbard and all or just the blade?

  7. Art Edwards says:

    “Sisyphean tasks are therapy.”

    Wow, such tasks require me to go to therapy.

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