Friday, May 15, 2009

Carved in Stone

Lisa hit me with a moment of clarity on Sunday. She looked at the back corner where pond excavations continue. Last fall I finished digging out the 1933 cement pond that had been completely covered and hidden. This spring I have been digging back three feet around the pond so that I can control rainwater run off and divert it around the pond. I will use retaining wall blocks and try to build an integral bench into one side by reusing some of the cement blocks I recovered from the Front Street house that was torn down.

Anyway, as I've been digging I've hits lots of rocks in the dirt. I took a bunch of those rocks and washed them off. I told her my plan was to build a waterfall at the back of the pond and hide the retaining wall with the stones. I got a pump to place in the pond to take water up behind the rocks and recirculate it. She cocked her head and looked at me and said, "You want to build a grotto don't you?"

I hadn't really considered that, but I should have. Grottos have a mythical place in my memory. One of my grandfather's friends, Matty Hatz, spent years building grottos in his backyard and elsewhere. I vividly remember his waterfall when I was a child. In the town park in my grandparents small town is an enormous grotto statue that Matty built too. At my grandparents' church is a grotto that a local woman built after taking her ailing daughter to be miraculously cured in Lourdes, France.

In our neighborhood growing up was a sign in a house on Summit Street advertising the World's Smallest Church Grotto." Sadly I don't think it is still there.

But perhaps the most striking memory is looking at old photos of grandma's. Being farmers during the depression they hardly ever took time off, but if they did take a trip it was always to the same place, the West Bend Grotto. Officially known as the Grotto of the Redemption, it is pretty amazing. Started by Father Mathias Dobberstein (another "Matty") in 1912 he worked on it until his death in 1954. His assistant and also another priest continued work. The grotto today draws 100,000 visitors a year, not bad for small town Iowa. Lisa and I finally made it there in 1993 on RAGBRAI.

So on the small chance I run out of other projects here I can always keep expanding a grotto around the pond.

My brother, Jim, told me last year he wants to build a grotto in his backyard too.


Jimbo said...

Yes! The difference is that you'll actually do it, though.

Mike said...


Why don't you come up this summer and apprentice with me?

Mike said...

Mike, the grotto you refer to is still there, but it's a block over on S. Governor, not on Summit. Some friends of ours own -- and are restoring -- the the property.

Rob said...

Is it wrong that I immediately thought you and Lisa were thinking of the infamous grotto at the Playboy Mansion? Err... yes, it's wrong!

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

Nice. It seems that the concrete in yours in in decent shape - or have you already patched the cracks in it? I'm coming to think that that's why ours was filled in.

Mike said...

So many comments!

Mike W- yes, Governor St. I don't know why I typed "Summit" I'm glad to hear it's being restored!

Rob- I went and googled "playboy mansion grotto" hilarious! Now you make sure and look at the West Bend one.

Chris- The cement is in excellent shape, there was a hole made deliberately in the bottom when they filled it in. I patched that last fall and it seems to hold, along with everything else. I'm watching your work too.

Sandy said...

What an awesome idea!