by David Duchesne
When I was about three years old, my father bought a building lot for our first and only house. The foundation was soon laid
and the sub-flooring finished. The walls and the roof followed and before long, the house, our first and only house, was ready to receive our family of two growing
boys and a newborn brother for both of the boys. In the haste to get the house up and ready, the yard work at the rear of the house was neglected. Nothing was put
into the back yard except the scraps from the house. Our back yard was a swamp when my Dad bought the property and it was still a swamp. My father took great pride
in telling us how he had bought the lot from the town for a mere ten dollars. Even if that wasn't much money in the early days, he got more than he bargained for in
Playing outside in those days was hard, especially since my baby brother took so much of Mom's time. To pass the hours, I would stand on the
stool by the kitchen window and look out to the back of the house. If I looked to the right, I could see the rusty hulk of the town arena looming gray and rusty.
Straight across the swamp was a glorious field of grass waiting for my curiosity. Lurking in the depths of the green sea of grass beyond, there had to be all kinds
of bug life. I could see butterflies flitting amongst the wild flowers. Swallows swooped with mouths ready to feed on the abundance of bugs.
When we did
get out with Mom keeping a close eye on us, we had to stay out of the back of the house. The natural curiosity of boys was going to have to wait before we would be
able to get into the stream and muck. For now, my challenge was to reach out to the wonderful field beyond the back yard.
One morning after I had assumed
my regular spot to check out the grassy field beyond, a shadow darkened the side kitchen window. The rumble of a motor in the driveway shook the kitchen. A big truck
was backing down the driveway. The window on that side of the kitchen filled with flat nosed boys. The huge vehicle stopped with a hiss of air. The box of the dump
truck began rising. When it was about half up, the driver reached out of the cab and yanked on a rope to release the load. Red dirt crashed down the little hill into
the swamp. In moments the full load had tumbled into the back yard and the truck pulled away while the back of the truck lowered to a level position.
This ritual continued each day for a couple of weeks. Every other day or two, myDad and Mom would park us at the top of the pile with our little cars and shovels to
play in the mountain of earth as they spread the dirt about the back yard. They filled the space nearest to them with a couple of feet of this reddish earth. The next
morning what they had spread had all but been swallowed up by the ravenous bog. It was only after a week of hard filling that the swamp began to lose its appetite.
At the end of the second week, a different truck backed into the driveway. As it made its way down the driveway, it was very clear that there was
no dirt in the box behind the cab. The back of this smaller truck did not tilt as the others had. It had a different load - cement tubes, big ones. As they were
unloaded, Mom made us count them, "one, two, three right up to ten."
"What's that for?" queried my brother.
"Those are the pipes that will
help dry out the back yard so you can play there."
We watched as the cement pipes were rolled carefully into the ditch that now ran through the middle of
our yard. Workers from the town put them end to end until they reached from the edge of the arena property to the other side of our yard. We would later spend hours
putting sticks into the stream where it entered the gray pipes and it would come shooting out the other end.
A couple of days later the red dirt
trucks returned. Their loads grew at the bottom of the hill despite the fact that Mom and Dad worked every night to spread the load and cover the mud and sludge.
As I stood peering out the window, a back yard was taking shape. The big, gray pipes soon disappeared under the red dirt. We would soon be able to cross over
to the beautiful field beyond.
The rains came and some more of the red dirt got sucked into the quagmire. More trucks came but this time the soil
was black andDad only put a thin layer over the red stuff.
It was June and the hill into the backyard was smooth and the swamp was all gone, covered with
rich black earth.
"You'll soon be able to play back there. Daddy just has to plant grass."
By mid-July we were cut loose to explore the
now green yard. We ran, tumbled down the hill and if Mom was with us we would venture into the beautiful field to catch grasshoppers and butterflies. Sunny days
warmed the field and the lawn in the back of the house greened and grew. Then it rained.
The back yard reverted to its former state - swamp. Mud squished
under our feet occasionally creating insurmountable suction on our boots.
Long, hot summer days returned with every sunrise. The ground dried, the green
field beyond turned brown and the short picnic walks stopped. Flowers thatMom had planted had shriveled and died. The hedge that was supposed to have grown anywhere,
didn't. Only the hill in the back yard stayed green. The lawn so carefully sown and trimmed died. Little did we suspect that the red dirtwouldn't allow anything to grow.
Many years would pass before I would discover that the fill for the back yard was muck left over after extracting radioactive materials from uranium
ore. The refining process at Eldorado Mining and Refining - the Radium, as it was called, left small traces of useable ore in what was rejected. As technology improved,
less and less was left in the dirt. The backyard was eventually reclaimed by Eldorado and replaced with really black dirt.
"Do you glow in the dark,
Dad?" my daughter asks.