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Clearing the Walls

Michael Giacopassi

Posted on November 06 2018

I have a different idea of the perfect vacation compared to a lot of people.

I’ve sailed from Panama to Colombia on a 43 ft sailboat with 9 other people, trekked the Inca Trail for four days sleeping in tents along the way, drove around New Zealand with nowhere in particular to go, visited Big Ben National Park – the largest park with the least number of visitors and stayed in an old Airstream in an even older ghost town at the edges of the park and slept in my car in Acadia National Park.

My most recent vacation took me to Block Island. I approached it as a working vacation – not office, corporate, day job work, but physical labor, outdoors, sun on your back, wind in your hair type of work. My friend recently purchased some property with a cottage and carriage house on the island which is located off the coast of Rhode Island. I had gone out for day trips before, but this would for a full week of solitude and hard work.

We had drawn up a tentative TO DO list that needed to get done over the coming months and years and I took it as part challenge and part wish list. I flew out Monday afternoon – flying takes 12 minutes in a Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander or an hour on the ferry – no debate about that.

Monday afternoon was rainy and drizzling but I knew the skies were clearing for the remainder of the week so I sat tight, ate some food looked forward to the week that would be.

The first item to tackle was an old foundation. The moment I saw it I knew it was destined to be a sunken dining room. Block Island is notorious for nonstop wind coming in from the ocean so I thought a sunken outdoor dining room with three rock walls would provide a nice respite to the constant whirl of wind and possibly allow for some hurricane lamps and candles around the dinner table at night.

The coverage was thick. New growth prickly vines tangled amongst old and dead prickly vines. Weaving together to form a quilt of thick coverage which made even reaching the rock wall labor intensive. The vines reached out, above and over the wall requiring me to move from the front to the back again and again to free the tangled mess of vines.

Slowly the rocks revealed themselves. All the while a gentle pulling needed to occur as to not topple the rocks from their resting place. A simple and aggressive approach of wildly flailing and ripping at vines would have dislodged the placed rocks and added additional back breaking work to my already impressive workload.

Once you release the vines from their tangled web around the rocks you need to cut them down and remove them from the walls and the area. The idea is to make room so the mowers can come and get as close to the wall as possible to keep the vines from re-growing up and over the walls again. A constant mow will keep them at bay and even turn what was once a thatch of vines in to grass.

Once the foundation was freed it was time to tackle the long wall. Somewhere in this space of thorny briars was a pass through to get to the other field without having to walk all the way around. My goal was to find that first and work from there. The wall was much harder than the foundation which did have some rock exposed. The vines along this stretch felt like they grew on one side, went over the wall then back in to the ground. No beginning, no end.

Using a combination of loppers and a weed whacker with a circular saw attachment I tackled the wall. First the loppers, going in and cutting any big green vine I could find. The pulling and tugging away from the wall to determine the points still holding firm. The I would fire up the trimmer and simply go at it, waving the saw blade back and forth, back and forth trying not to ding up against the rock themselves.

Then I do some more vine pulling and look for what remains and attack again with the loppers. This process is repeated, repeatedly until there is nothing left for the vines to grab on to and they break free of their earthly bonds and in to the pile of brush for removal.

So that is how my week went. I woke up early and hiked through some woods or walked along the beach for an hour or so. Came back and fixed up a quick breakfast of fried eggs and English muffins. Then I would go straight to work, pulling, tugging, cutting, tearing, whacking and removing the overgrowth.

I broke around noon each day – simply using the sun and how tired I was to estimate the time as I never kept my phone on me. A quick lunch of left over pasta or salami and cheese and then back to work. More vine and back destroying work till about 4 when I would head back out to one of the wooded trails that eventually leads down to the ocean.

Back home after an hour or two of walking around. I shower, eat a small dinner then get in to my book and whiskey. The carriage house I stayed in had no heat so I kept a small fire going in the fireplace each night in the bedroom. Reading, whiskey and a fire – simple things to close out each day of honest work. It is so simple, but so satisfying.



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