Clefting The Rock Of Ages

THE REAL DIRT

December 27, 1992|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

I found the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs. It was buried in my front yard.

It's the Rock, all right, the giant slice of outer space that crashed to Earth and creamed T. Rex. That meteorite landed right on my lawn. It's been buried underground ever since, waiting for some poor soul with a shovel to try to dig it up.

That's me.

I didn't set out to find the Rock. I discovered it by accident, while digging a 3-foot hole for a fence post. I don't like planting fence posts. They never bloom or bear fruit. I'd rather plant vegetables. But my wife wants a fence, and a wall of zucchini won't last the winter.

So I grabbed a shovel and dug in.

The shovel sliced easily through the sod. The topsoil was soft and giving. I enjoy digging holes in early winter: The ground, mellowed by autumn rains, has a springlike suppleness just before it freezes.

I plunged ahead, moving dirt at a furious pace. Even Katydid the dog, who digs craters in her effort to find moles, was impressed. She stood by the hole, head cocked to the side, pawing each shovel of soil for signs of furry life.

Breathing heavily, I worked on.

Gasp. Gasp. Clank.

Gasp. Gasp. Clank.

Uh-oh. I stopped digging and peered into the hole.

Twelve inches down, the ground was solid rock.

Now, I've wrestled rocks before, and won. In fact, in 20 years of gardening, I've yet to meet a rock I couldn't move. I've rolled boulders out of the garden the way kids roll snowballs into snowmen. Around rocks, I'm no sissy; I'm more like Sisyphus.

Some people tell fish stories. I brag about the biggest rock I ever landed, a 4-footer I pulled from the asparagus trench. What a beauty! I would have mounted it on the wall, except the wall would have collapsed.

I saw this rocky problem as a minor setback, nothing more. I set about widening the hole at its base, to locate the edge of the rock, its Achilles heel. All I did was expose more stone. Again, I expanded the hole. The rock kept growing, to 2 feet around.

Now, I had a problem. The hole was scrunched between a pine tree and our property line. To widen it further would hurt either the tree roots or our neighbors' feelings. The only other option was to chop through the rock.

Like some ancient gladiator, I gathered my weapons -- er, tools -- for war: an ax, a pick, a mallet and an 8-foot iron bar. Let the battle begin.

Pick flailing, I charged at the rock. The pick's handle broke immediately. I grabbed the ax and began hacking. It hardly made a dent. I felt the rock was laughing at me.

Undaunted, I grabbed the iron bar and jammed it against this slab of stone, as if harpooning it.

"Hold the bar," I shouted to my wife, Meg, who had come outside to help. Then I raised the heavy mallet to pound the bar. I was going to drive a stake through the heart of the Rock From Hell.

Wham! A small piece of rock flew out of the hole. Bam! Another shard broke off. Damn! The mallet missed its mark and hit Meg's leg instead.

The doctor says she'll be fine in a week or two.

The day after the accident, I returned to examine the rock. It was almost intact. A closer look revealed colorful streaks of red, white and black. It was a darn handsome rock, and I began to respect its tenacity.

"Perhaps I should name you," I said. "Gibraltar, perhaps? Plymouth? Alcatraz? Prudential?"

And then I saw it -- a tiny fissure that ran the length of the rock.

Quickly, I placed the iron bar on the crack and drove the mallet home, once, twice, three times. The rock exploded in jagged chunks.

My victory was bittersweet, at best. Suddenly, planting the fence post wasn't as important as paying homage to my adversary.

I gathered all the pieces and weighed them. That rock tipped the scales at 300 pounds.

The rock put up a good fight, but I'm still undefeated. Of course, my wife walks funny and I'm having back spasms.

But it was worth the effort, even if it did put my marriage on the rocks.

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