Let’s hear it for our heavy equipment operators, who perhaps have left their mark on our shared landscape more than any architect or landscape architect or designer or engineer. These drivers of massive machinery are capable of filling wetlands, redirecting drainages, transforming chaparral to pasture, and creating entry into areas hitherto inaccessible, transforming in hours natural systems which may have taken millennia to evolve.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, though some of the scars made upon the land by those big-bladed behemoths have been tragic, and irreparable, but it is certainly a powerful thing. It is land-sculpture on a grand scale, and many of the operators who paint those strokes in such dramatic swathes across our landscapes are, indeed, creating lasting art with the most challenging of implements – for the view from atop a piece of heavy equipment can be a very narrow one, and its rumble and roar can drown out the best of intentions. Also, these giants paint with the broadest of brushes, and are ill-equipped for subtlety and nuance, those linchpins of true art. They are designed to move large amounts of material in short periods of time and progress is measured in cubic yards, the hallmark of their success too often being quantity rather than quality.
It takes one hell of an operator, with years of experience, to drive one of these machines rather than being driven by them. An operator who knows when less is more, and who understands the intrinsic integrity of material left in place. An operator who can work around valued trees rather than plow through them and who can read and work to the existing contours of the terrain rather than lay down new and foreign forms. And perhaps most importantly, an operator who can take the time to listen to the designer, and understand the concept, and who can keep a vision of the end result intact while being pounded for hours behind the controls.
But given the amount of damage a big piece of equipment can do in a short bit of time, the best insurance in the world is having a spare set of eyes on the project – preferably the designer’s eyes. So if a big piece of equipment is going to on one of my projects, I want to be there as well. That way, if changes or decisions need to be made we can make them together – because at the end of the day, the buck will stop with me.