A Labor of Love

July 2020 | by rebecca stewart | photos by kristin hartzler

It’s been 10 years since a FedEx truck pulled into the Amestoy family’s driveway with a “pallet of stuff” that was a surprise to the lady of house (Christine) because the man of the house (Brian) might have “forgotten” to tell her he had officially decided to embark on an adventure that would ultimately create heaven on earth in their backyard.  

That first pond that Brian created in their backyard was borne from a lifelong fascination with water and an affinity for hard work, both of which he credits his mom for inspiring. They had a pond in their backyard and “it was one of the only chores I enjoyed doing, digging a pond for her. It was haphazard, it wasn’t much of a pond, but we enjoyed it and I always told myself that when I had my own place, I was gonna do it.”  

And do it he did.  

The 2010 pond installation began in early spring and was finished sometime in August and managed to be built at almost no cost (just the liner and package itself), thanks to work connections. Though, “finished” might not be the proper word, as both Brian and Christine would tell you, their backyard, this pond, is a project with no true completion date. His is a mind that doesn’t stop imagining what could be, coupled with a body that has no inclination to sit still. 

And so it grows… 

From the first pond came the addition of the “upper pond,” which grew from a desire to change the space from lackluster landscaping, which Brian’s brain looked at and immediately thought, “Let’s put a pond in!”

While the addition of the upper pond wasn’t as grand as Brian had imagined, it did plant the seed for the addition of the deck spanning between the two features, creating an expanded gathering place for family and friends.

A place to gather & eat  

The concrete patio area has been a part of the Amestoy’s backyard space since they built their house; over the years, Brian has – through trial and error – created this space that invites people to sit and stay a spell. Much like the three little pigs, the pergola went through three prototypes before he landed on what you see now, the option that has proven to have the best staying power.

The outdoor dining table was also built by Brian and has special significance, as it was created out of old wood from the second floor of the former Action Electric shop (a business Brian started at as a journeyman and now co-owns). Both the table and his raised garden beds were built from that repurposed timber. 

The bar/barbecuing station, like the pergola went through several transformations before Brian determined the concrete top was the best bet for surviving Montana’s tough winters. Once again, Brian did his research, made a mold, and with the help of friends and his sons, hefted into place that slab where many an elbow has rested as they visit with the chef while he barbecues. 

Serenity now

From the beginning, Brian has filled his pond with fish, adding turtles to the mix in recent years (though, the Amestoys have discovered that turtles are surprisingly good climbers, so they don’t always stick around). Those fish and the soothing sounds of the water are what start Brian’s days off right. Each morning he goes out on that patio, feeding his fish (who, he laughingly explains, tend to be more open to his friendship than the turtles), appreciating the fruits of his hard work. And he’s not the only one who loves to feed those fish… 

Lessons learned along the way  

When Brian began this labor of love a decade ago, he was coming into the project relatively green. He was going off information he’d garnered from being in the trade and seeing other peoples’ projects. He recalls, “So, I had an idea, I knew the premise of how to dig your hole and have your underlayment and your rubber liner,” he knew enough anyways that it would last nine years before developing a hole.  

When asked if he ever considered pulling the plug on the pond rebuild, taking the hole as a sign to pack it in, Brian instantly replies, “I could never.”  

While the 2019 pond rebuild was harder because everything had to be done by hand this time around (everything was finished around it) and the realities of being 10 years older settled in, he knew it had to be done, despite the battle he was in for. The updated pond saw the addition of a turtle cove and a bog, which included adding bottom filtration that fills up the bog, supplying the plants with nutrients.

Despite it being harder this time around and utilizing the helping hands of his youngest son, this work is Brian’s great escape, his opportunity to decompress, and ultimately all of the hard work is worth the final result. He has created a sanctuary not only for himself, but all who enter his backyard.  

He likes to say, “I’m not talented, I’m a hard worker. I tell the kids that all the time: you can do a lot of things if you work hard.”  

Favorite Feature  

The pond, Brian notes, gives something no matter the time of day – the visual aspect during the day, the sounds at night. Then there are the lights in the trees that add a festive air to the most ordinary of evenings. But it’s the fire pit that Brian loves most. It’s the gathering of everyone around that space, simply being together and talking.  

The Amestoy’s backyard has been host to a marvelous variety of gatherings over the years, from large family reunions and annual 4th of July festivities to smaller family gatherings of dinner, s’more roastings, and game nights. When you walk into this oasis that Brian has created, it is as if a weight is lifted off your shoulders as you take in the sights and sounds, no matter how many times you’ve experienced it.  

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