Thursday, March 05, 2015

"We'll Just Fill It Back Up"

We have a problem with our two level sandpit, a relatively slow motion one of which the adults in our community have been aware since the day it was created, especially since we decided to place the cast iron water pump at the top of the hill. 

When our original truck load of sand was delivered three years ago, it was dumped from the parking lot above, creating a long, steep dune that amply filled the upper level, leaving the larger lower part mostly empty. The original plan, I suppose, was for some of us adults to help move it on downhill. We had arrived at the "work site" with shovels, but upon a moment's reflection we agreed that gravity, water, and playing children would, over time, do the work for us.

Over the past three years, we've watched the upper level act as a feeder to the lower, the former slowly emptying as the latter filled. We had taken to replenishing sand a few dozen bags at a time, emptying them, of course, into the upper level, but it never appeared to make much of a difference. By the time this school year started, the lower level was nearing the top of the rounds of cedar from which we built the sand pit. 

During the past three years, I've had many conversations with the other adults about ideas for creating some sort of conveyor or pulley system that would somehow motivate the children to move the sand uphill as part of their regular play, but we've not yet come up with the right idea. In the meantime, we've occasionally rallied the kids into sessions of filling the wheelbarrow and/or wagons for the purpose of countering erosion, but those have been projects for a day, hardly sufficient for dealing with a lower level that was, as of last week, piled more than a foot higher that that cedar rounds, meaning that a steady flow of sand was now beginning to invade our playhouse and garden areas.

Yuri's dad Bill has served as Woodland Park's repairs and maintenance chief for the past couple years and he and I have had any number of conversations about the situation. We had a work party planned for last weekend and had determined that one of the main tasks was moving a massive amount of sand back uphill. To support this effort, Bill took over the workbench during class time to assemble, with the help of the four and five year olds, a "track" for the wagons that would make hauling the sand uphill a little easier. It was no conveyor or pulley system, but it had the undeniable charm of being a solution that would actually work.

On Saturday, we probably expended, among ourselves, a good 12 adult work hours filling wagons with sand and conveying it back to the top. By the end, the upper level contained a heaping pile of sand that buried the pump's Rubbermaid cistern completely and reduced the most downhill section of the sandpit to a good foot below the tops of the cedars. 

Later that day, when Jonah's mom Larissa told him what we'd done, he said, "We'll just fill it back up." And he's right, of course. And, in fact, as children discovered the change in landscape this week, among their first missions was to fill the new big hole to make a "swimming pool."

Even as we hauled sand uphill, some of the kids were working on filling up the new "swimming pool." That pipe in the middle is the "drain."

Fortunately, on Saturday, Oliver and Mateo, brothers who stopped by on their way to a different park to play, wound up spending a half hour or so watching the adults at work on the weekend, and they had been part of the team that helped Bill construct the track in the first place. It had looked like something they wanted to try so their idea was to reinstall the track on Monday so the kids could continue the project.

So we did.

We're still noodling over a conveyor or pulley system, but in the meantime, we've figured out, for the time being, how we're going to pretend, as humans have always done, that we can "control" the forces of nature. They'll keep filling it up and we'll keep digging it out.

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