Perhaps the desire for level ground is what is wrong with our relationship to a round world. Do any other creatures need level? Having once spent six months with a pick, shovel and wheelbarrow making a level platform in hard rock on top of a hill to the east, I can attest to the effort required to make level in the mountains. Doing it by hand was an attempt at sensitivity but I suspect that regardless of how it's achieved; level is incompatible with treading lightly.
The teeth clenching resolve required to tear up the ground to make level around my tent came from a fleeting moment of gritty conviction that level ground was necessary if I was to make sense of the site. Such is the imperative of decision making. If I had to list the three most important factors that led to this decision they would be: first, that this spot is mostly bare ground with no trees to cut down, just a few grasses. Second, it has an ideal north eastern aspect with morning and afternoon sun; and third, having inhabited the site, worn paths give me a template to work with.
Level can be elusive. To find it, I used my intuitive feel for level in the rough cut, and then for rigour, a simple but accurate - water level. A water level is easily made from a couple of metres of clear 12mm tube joined to a garden hose. The length is filled with water and some red food dye added for visibility. Each end of the clear tube is attached to some form of post and a string-line run between the water levels. You then measure down to the ground to see how accurate your intuitive feel is. As it turned out, mine was about 300mm out over 20m (that's not so good).
Rather than doing it all by hand again I borrowed a dear friend's old Bobcat. He bought it from an opal miner at Lightning Ridge. He told me that opal mining is something you do between breakdowns. The same is true for levelling. Hydraulic hoses rub till they leak gallons of hydraulic fluid everywhere and metal parts come adrift. Usually the initial sympton is abrupt failure. Finding the cause can be quite an intellectual challenge. If you can't fix it you're stuck. One afternoon a bolt came out of the right hand bucket arm. There seemed to be nothing to screw it back into inside a welded and impenetrable housing. A neighbour, Max, knows a lot about machinery and came over the next morning to help. After an hour or so we started shaking our heads by way of concluding that it was beyond us. We began talking about work-arounds and what would be a more repairable set up for such a machine. At the same time we removed a grease nipple and began prodding inside the housing again. We then discovered something that moved. With the help of a crowbar under the bucket we soon had the housing lined up with the bolt and found that the bolt was intended to pull what was a hidden bush into the arm. Problem solved.
Learning to operate the Bobcat is a bit like learning to play the pedal steel guitar. You have levers in each hand and pedals for both feet. But eventually you begin to think the action rather than the combination of level and pedal. No wonder the Bagwan Rashneesh had ballet dancers operating the excavators when they were building their underground city. Phase 1 was to strip off the fragrant top soil and stock pile it for place making and repair.
The grit I complained about in a previous post was the sandy soil covering an outcrop of ancient (150 million years old) sandstone beneath the level of my campsite. I was hoping for a form of degraded sandstone that crumbled away and this was exactly what I've found. The layer has been exposed, levelled and what waas removed used to make a level platform for my workshop. It's orange to white in colour with a clay-like consistency that packs down beautifully.
Resolve is important when everything is a mess, when the various piles become mountainous and doubts arise. But after the chaos and mess, the land forming gets quite precise and the flow of the place more definite. A sense of place begins to emerge from what was perceptible only in the tracks of my daily routines. In its final stages when the machinery is silent and the main tool is a rake, it becomes place-making. There's a sense now of how the new ground sits in the landscape. Ironically, it's the curves and undulations that anchor it all and provide the most pleasure to the eye. To reward myself for being able to sit and look out from a kind of level terrace I put one of my old concrete bird baths in the grassy view. When connected to the spring, there was the sky - reflected in a perfectly level disk of water. Now I keep looking to see if the birds will use it...
After dark it's still cold enough to wear hat, jumper and a coat - but the days are milder. Crickets are filling the nocturnal silence and a night bird is calling. Now, when I write at night, there are moths in my face. Three emu appeared one afternoon and a colony of saw fly larvae. Beautiful orchids are appearing all over and the ubiquitous fire-loving Darling Pea is about to flower.