Sunday, July 12, 2015

Tools and Trades

I’ve been trying to simplify my days, get rid of obligations and demands that complicate my life. It’s hard.

We live in a place that is remote and poorly served by simple things: dependable utilities, roads that grow potholes faster than weeds, trees inching closer to buildings as the land beneath loosens in the constant rain. It takes its toll on creativity. Just keeping up with routine maintenance is taxing.

For the last several months we have had almost constant rainfall. Not overwhelming (though we’ve had a few big ones), but repetitive, daily rain. Hay is simply rotting in the fields. When it is dry it stands shoulder high. But it is never dry enough to cut. When you cut it wet, or cut it dry and it gets wet before it can be baled, it really isn’t good for much. Ours has turned brown, struggles to stand up by mid-day, gets rained on again about nightfall and is serving only as habitat for deer, a bear or two, maybe a fox or coyote family, and birds. Usually by now, we’d be thinking about a second cutting, but this year it looks as though we won’t really get a first one.

We aren’t dependent on our land for our livelihood, but we do like to make use of what we grow. This year we’re back to our basic crops: rocks and trees. Of the two, we prefer the rocks. They come up by themselves and don’t rot perceptibly if left alone. The trees, especially the ones within twenty or thirty feet of the buildings, do take a bit more effort and a lot more surveillance than rocks. The game is to stay one or two limbs ahead so we maintain our sense of living in a natural environment without losing a roof or a wall.

While we leave the rest of the land in a natural state, we keep the areas around the house and outbuildings clean and neat. We’re not particularly compulsive about it: I cut grass only where we want to be able to walk easily, and to make it possible to see (and avoid) the snakes that control our wild rodent population, for instance. Still, it takes time and tools to keep things under some control. And the equipment takes maintenance.

We have a small tractor we use to mow trails and pathways, a tool with multiple heads that can cut trees branches, trim hedges, and cuts grass where the tractor can’t go. A somewhat larger tractor is useful for taking equipment to where it is needed, and bringing trimmings to various piles to compost. There is a truck that seldom leaves the farm, adding about 300 miles a year doing snow removal, road grading, log hauling and the like. All of that requires maintenance and sometimes repair. And there is a chain saw and a log splitter to convert the trees into the eight or ten cords of wood we burn in a year. When I’m not cutting and splitting, I’m getting ready to, it seems. There is no lack of things needing attention. I suspect that if I ever completed my “to do” list, I’d really not know what to do with my time!

Except, of course, that all of that takes away from my writing time. Every morning, after a walk that might take us (one or two dogs and I) around the fields or up on the ridge behind he house, and enough food and coffee to fire up my internal machinery, I come here to the small room where I write, and try to take up where I left off the day before. It is also where and when I take care of business other than writing.

Opening whatever story I’m working on finally begins the part of the day I protect most carefully. Right now I’m working on what I hope will be the final re-write of a novel I have written (according the versions in my file) five times. I think this last re-write will be the version I mark as “final” when I write “The End.” It is a story I feel is important to tell, and I want to get it right. I’m not ready to talk about it yet, because that is a sure way of not finishing it. I learned early on that talking a story is the same as killing it.

It’s a different kind of harvest, and maintenance is just as important here at the desk as it is in the barn or shop or house. The difference is that there is only one tool I can use.

It’s called “imagination.”

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