Building a Deck from a Bird's Eye View

by David Stephenson

My major project for COVID was increasing the size of our 20 yr. old deck from 8 x 7 to 10 x 10 to hold a screened gazebo so we could sleep under it during the summer.

Just like so many things we used to take for granted before Shirley started to mentor us, I used to see my deck as a bunch of boards. Now, needless to say, I see my deck as a metaphor for life!

Here’s what I’ve learned:

• Of course, above all, I learned to embrace expectancy, not expectations. I expected to get the materials in a few weeks after ordering them, not three months later (because everyone else had the same idea at the same time about doing a building project). I learned to see beyond expectations that might be dashed and concentrate on my overall vision.

Be grounded in reality. I wanted the existing deck to be level and all the angles square as a starting point, but they weren’t, so I had to be flexible and adapt my plans to the actual situation rather than the ideal. LESSON: If you’re inflexible about the conditions you encounter, you’ll just be disappointed.

Have a firm foundation If you ain’t gotta firm foundation on a deck, it lands on the ground — BAM!! I had to master that part of the project before I could get to the more creative part, which required literally and figuratively building on that foundation, adding new skills as I went.

Use beginner’s mind. At a critical point in the framing, I needed a crew of 10 burly men to help me get a recalcitrant beam squarely against the house. Not having said men, I had a total burst from the blue: I drove my son’s truck close to the beam, then cranked my car jack between the bumper and the beam: voila, it worked perfectly, pushing the beam against the house. Don’t have a clue where that idea came from, but I seem to have a lot more of these seeming bolts from the blue now that I’m more open to inspiration.

Carpe Diem! I despaired because I’d counted on reusing the old pressure-treated wood for the decking, but it was constructed so that was impossible. We didn’t think we’d qualify for the first round of COVID payments, but when we did, I switched instantly to using high-quality recycled plastic decking. Later, I was going to cobble together my own railing system, when, unexpectedly, another COVID check came and allowed me to buy a system.

Seek allies to your commitment. For some reason, I didn’t seek those allies. Did the whole project totally by myself. So, as you can see, the deck may be nearing completion, but I still have more to learn!

I honestly don’t think I could have done this, or enjoyed it as much, before our group began. I was constantly thinking creatively throughout the entire process and kept my eye on the prize the whole time. The next time I face what may seem like an insurmountable obstacle, I’ll just remember the deck!

A Poem by Emily Dickinson

The Props assist the House

Until the House is built

And then the Props withdraw

And adequate, erect,

The House support itself

And cease to recollect

The Augur and the Carpenter –

Just such a retrospect

Hath the perfected Life –

A Past of Plank and Nail

And slowness – then the scaffolds drop

Affirming it a Soul –


Participants' Reflections:

  • Thank you for your sharing. Very masculine! Just being a part of this group certainly expanded our decking. As you talked about making sure the foundation was there, and thinking out of the box and whatever else you described, it made me realize emotionally and in sharing with each other, we find our foundation over and over, return to our core, and think out of the box in many ways. I’m feeling that right now in a high Covid area with all of my closest friends vaccinated, and yet I have to pull out my masks today. It’s challenging to know I have to return, to trust being as flexible as when you had to wait on all the materials. This helped me. Thank you.

  • I appreciate your reading today. I am personally experiencing this as a result of Covid, as I’m part of a community planning services and providing leadership. I have to think totally out of the box. I needed the reminder that you said about patience, expectancy, and the pleasure that came from the whole experience. I tend to go to no pleasure, all work. Thank you.

  • Over and over I hear we learn from every experience, no matter the experience. I think it’s a great example of something you did by choice building your deck. It could have been arduous and littered with problems, but you rose up to a bird’s eye view and looked at it metaphorically. That has helped me so much with circumstances and situations in my life that are painful. I feel the pain. I respect my emotional needs, and remember to look at the bird’s eye view to see what is there. This is a great example of something challenging you faced looking outside the box.

  • Thank you. I appreciate you sharing your building story with us. I think what you’re saying is we think outside of the deck. We’ve talked in the group a lot about tools. You used literal tools and practical tools. The tools we’ve learned to use in this group are not hammers and screwdrivers. They certainly are practical tools we can use in our emotional lives, spiritual lives and so forth. I thought about how marvelous it is no matter how old we get, we can keep our brains active, healthy and creative. Then I thought about neurogenesis and maybe that enabled you to be creative in your process. It’s comforting to me I can still feel creative and it feels so good to create in the skillet or in art. Thank you for sharing your creativity.

  • Wow, what a wonderful poem and reading. I love how you had bullet points. A beginner’s mind is something I go back to often. I look up to my father and brother and admire how they figure out how to manage. So often over the last year and a half I’ve had to rise to the occasion and deal with managing a large house on my own, the land on my own, and I’m doing it. I’m grateful as it made me more responsible. The Dickinson poem talks about the home having a soul. I am my house. I am my land. I have grown through the process taking on the responsibility.

  • Thank you for your reading. What it reminds me of is another topic we had recently, paying attention to our intention. I’ve had this intention lately to purge out belongings. I want to stay on course. Thank you for your encouragement. You stayed focused on your intention by sharing a great example and the inspiration.

  • I hope you all have a gentle day, find yourselves looking at the bigger picture. Raise yourself up to the bird’s eye view and know choosing words, we can shore up our foundation or we can limit it. By using words, setting an intention, visualizing, by wanting something greater, better, more solid builds a sturdier foundation. All of it helps, all created by our words we choose and our belief systems. Have a gentle day. We will be here tomorrow.

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