As I work on my new Artist & Builder website, I revisited the building of Rex's steps. It still chokes me up, and reminds me of the power of material things, and writing, and images, and the working with one's hands to give meaning to the ordinary.
First, remove the old staircase, the lattice work under deck, then the fascia boards.
Old, rotten-bottom posts removed as we jack up the porch with a very old school jack.
New treated posts installed with steel post-header ties (the old were toe-nailed).
We also compromised on the anchor -galvanized steel angles at the back of each post, then each post backfilled with course gravel.
I found this blue-spotted salamander, Ambystoma laterale, under the plastic near one of the posts. Trying to get it out, it only climbed in deeper, so I let it be. I wonder how it keeps dirt out of those bulging black eyes.
The treads were notched around the posts.
I fitted the post notch with a small piece of cedar to fill.
The different shades of cedar on a cloudy day.
While it was a marathon effort for him, Rex made the journey out to see the finished staircase. The following afternoon, I found him sitting on them. I don't think I will get as much joy out of doing these projects without him there to appreciate it. Things need to be done, to be sure, but his glowing appraisal makes it worth the extra effort. As I had to leave to get back to work in NYC, not two days after I wrapped up the work on the staircase, I knew I could be seeing him for the last time. He said to me "you have value, remember that." Seems like such a simple thing, but it chokes me up. Rex was motivated to get the staircase rebuilt because his elderly friends were having trouble climbing the old set when they came to visit. I suppose, then, that a staircase could be a last wish. It's a way to extend oneself beyond the boundaries of life and death, a courtesy to those friends who will thank me for the effort and good work, at his house, soon enough.