Native Son: My Little Pyramid

Following my own advice right now…”When you don’t know what to write, just start writing…anything. It will eventually come to you, and you can just delete the gibberish at the top…or not.”

Some folks walk through this world unaffected…and it amazes me. They can stand before the Grand Canyon and walk away unchanged. They can stroll by the 911 Memorial in New York City and not give it a second thought. They can look up at a mature sequoia tree and simply say, “Okay, that’s a big tree.”

Not me. My mind soars and my senses overload when I am in the presence of these things. How can others not feel the same way?

Thirty-five days ago, I stood before the great pyramids of Chichen Itza, in the Yucatan of Mexico. Yes, there were loads of tourists swarming all about. But in my mind, I stood there alone with the massive stone structures, my mind boiling away like a crawdad pot at a Cajun reunion. Didn’t climb them, and only touched a few of them, but I felt them…and still do.

Ancient, flat-topped pyramids at Chichen Itza provide inspiration for garden features today. Click image for larger view.

Ancient, flat-topped pyramids at Chichen Itza.

Back at Chandor Gardens, a group of Arizona Cypress out in the parking lot went down in late February’s ice storm. Once the roots were all pulled out (thank God for tractors!), I decided I needed to berm up the island bed a bit because the soil was very shallow. I headed off with the tractor to the compost pile for a scoop or two of our own third year compost. One yard of compost later, I decided to go for another. Two yards later, inspiration hit me. Seven yards of compost later, I could visualize it.

The next day, I explained to a rather bewildered community service guy how I wanted this big mound of compost shaped into a flat-topped, angled-sided pyramid. I also explained the importance of the right mindset. This was not a brainless exercise in futility; this was an art project. Sure, there was physical work involved, but it was the groundwork for something unique and beautiful. After getting him started off in the right direction, I headed off to the stone yard.

Continued Below


To a guy like me, the stone yard is not three acres of assorted rocks; it is a world of possibilities. I imagined each of the different types of stone forming the hard veneer of my compost pyramid. Finally, I encountered three pallets of richly textured, rusty orange stone…this was it. The texture looked like veins, or maybe fossilized tree branches bulging up from the bubbled surface of the cut stones. I wondered where this wondrous stone was harvested, and what kind of exotic name it carried…”Rusty-Vein Adamant”…”Jurassic Cobblestone”…”Ripple-skin Shale…or maybe even “Thor’s Tombstone.”

“Brick Rock,” said the stone yard guy.

I said, “That’s impossible. It doesn’t look anything like brick. Are you sure?”

He said, “Yep. Brick Rock…from Oklahoma.”

Flabbergasted by the underwhelming moniker, I had no choice. I went all Shakespearean on him, “What’s in a name? That which we call Brick Rock by any other name would appear as sweet.”

He stared at me blankly, then said, “Sooooo…you want me to load it on the trailer?”

“Let us not wait a fortnight or commence to wild goose chase! All the world’s a stage and I’m not possessed of forever and a day! Let us forego the snail’s pace and proceed with haste!”

“Sooooo…does that mean you want it loaded on the trailer?”

“Hark, young knave! To load or not to load, that is the question. To thine own stone be true. Create not much ado about nothing,” I said, pausing for effect before adding, “Make it so.”

“Now that I understand,” he said with a smile, adding, “Aye aye, Captain.”

I arrived back at the garden to find the sculpting of the compost pile almost completed, but with no sign of the community service guy. He had done an excellent job of the basic shaping, so it only took me a half-hour or so to finish the detail work. (I later received word that the task almost killed him, so he left early.) And though I was offered assistance with the installation of the stone veneer, I opted to work alone. I know myself well enough to know not to let others help when I’m still building a singular vision…it just irritates everyone involved.

I decided to assemble the stone veneer without tools, simply jig-sawing the pieces as is into this pyramidic puzzle. This worked stunningly well until my selection of stones began to dwindle on the third side, forcing me to be a bit more imaginative in my composition…and get a rock hammer involved.

Stonework is like graduate school; you’ve got to keep pushing on until it either all comes together or it all falls apart. And, like grad school, you never actually completely finish every little detail; you just piece it all together the best you can until the deadline arrives…or you die in the process. (You also learn that the overuse of semi-colons eventually irritates the editors; life is too short for such balderdash.)

End of the first day of construction. Click image for larger view.

Seven hours later, before me stands a monument to Mayan inspiration and Git-‘er-done execution. I spent the next day trimming it out and chinking the large gaps. The day after that, I got some help with planting, resetting the bed borders, and cleaning up the mess.

Puzzle pieces come together.

No drawings, no measurements, no set expectations. I just had a vision in my mind and dove in like a dog chasing a rabbit. Pretty much organic and instinctual. I used a rock hammer to shape a few pieces near the end, but most of the task was letting the stone guide my hands where to place them.

Stone detail and hand-carved accents from Mexico.

The Pyramid Project nearing completion.

I don’t tell you this story for any sort of glorification. I tell you this story to remind you to have faith in yourself, follow your dreams, and go forward with what you have on hand. Chances are good it will turn out great. So plant that garden. Build that house. Sail that boat. Kiss that girl. Fish that lake. Visit that friend. Paint that wall. Love that puppy. Write that novel. (Hmmm…Neil’s probably mumbling, “…finish that article…”)

To paraphrase Jack Kerouac, “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that dadburn mountain.”

I might add, “…or build one.”


I need a road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come and speak to your group sometime. I’m low maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town to small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Come out and see me at Chandor Gardens! Located in the heart of Weatherford’s Historic District, Chandor Gardens is the perfect place to get away and enjoy the simple pleasures of life that can only be found in gardens. Call 817-613-1700 or visit for details.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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