Labor Day, Every Day

September 6, 2011 § 4 Comments

Labor Day began as I have come to believe all summer days should begin: Chores, followed by a dip in the pond. Run, jump, splash, and float back the shore to clamber out, laughing and cleansed of the night’s slumber. Rye watches from the bank, saying the water is too cold, but the rest of us take the leap, and emerge feeling as new as the morning.

What follows is not much different than any other day. The rain is hard for a while, so we clean the house, which has been sorely neglected over the past weeks and months of summer. I do not particularly enjoy living in a messy home, but I also do not particularly enjoy spending time indoors when it could be spent out. Penny feels the same, if not more so, and therefore our house is perpetually cluttered and dusty, and no more so than during the months of April through October. I have almost come to accept it, although I admit there are times when it feels oppressive. But not oppressive enough to tilt the balance of my efforts toward the interior of these walls. Still, for the next few days at least, the mess has been vanquished.

Later, with the rain still coming, we head back outside to move brush from the shores of the pond, then to pick blueberries, then to plant our autumn salads in the greenhouse, then to split firewood, and so on. I do not mind working in the rain, not once I’ve warmed to the task before me and sweat has risen on my brow and back to mix with the water from the sky. It’s a good feeling, to be alive in the elements: The sound of the rain hitting the leaves above me and the ground below, the chill that gathers along my spine if I stop work for more than a minute or two. Even the mild discomfort of my clothing weighted by water. All are reminders of my humble place in this world, and for some reason, I am comforted by these sort of things.

My need for physical work seems to grow more urgent as I grow older. Sometimes this concerns me, because of the near certainty that I will someday be rendered unable to do such work. Hopefully, this will come via the force of aging, but I cannot discount the possibility of accident. There is no shortage of risk in so many of my daily tasks. Chainsaw, tractor, falling trees: The trifecta of rural tragedy. I try to keep that in mind but of course from time to time, or even more often, I forget. Still, it is a risk I gladly accept, because of course the alternative is riskier still. My body and spirit cannot seem to tolerate inactivity, although at times it seems crucial that they learn to do so, in lockstep with the inevitable decline of my physical being.

For now, however, I can revel in my capacity for muscle-driven work, which has actually increased over the past decade. I am nearly 40 and I am stronger now than I was 10 years ago, or even five. Credit this to the slow unwinding of my writing career,  still a necessary and valued piece of my life, but which does little to satisfy the need to feel my body and mind at work upon the land. To have this need, and to be able to fulfill it, is one of the greatest blessing of my life, and I try not to take it for granted.

§ 4 Responses to Labor Day, Every Day

  • sylvia says:

    My great-uncle Jasper was 96 when he died in a tractor accident. He was alert for about an hour after the tractor turned over and one of his last statements was “Gosh darn it, Dovie (his 94 year old wife), I would have like to have gotten the upper field turned over before I left”.
    His brother, Mac, died 2 years later at the young age of 88 when one of his great-grandsons dropped a tree the wrong way. *His* last words were “I should have gotten around to the younger generation and taught them how to handle a chainsaw.”
    These two wonderful gentlemen died doing the things they loved, in accidents, yes, but after years of lovingly tending mountain land in Georgia and raising strong, healthy families.
    You and I should be so lucky.
    Labor on, Ben

  • Ben Hewitt says:

    Hi Sylvia,

    Thanks so much for those stories. They speak of lives well lived and great humor. Jasper was on our short list of names when Rye came along.

    Take care, thanks for reading,
    Ben

  • Dawn says:

    There’s a quote out there somewhere attributed to George Bernard Shaw, words to the effect that the body was created to be used, not saved “for good”, and that he hoped when his time came that he would have used his body up through active living and hard work.

  • Jim says:

    Ben,

    Really liked this post. It made me reflect on some of the lodestars in my own life; my grandfather who did similar work to what you talk about until he was nearly 90 and my father (78) and uncle (74) who still yield their chainsaws with nearly the same vigor I remember when I was 10 or 11 and reluctantly went along (wasn’t given a choice) to yard wood, pick potatoes, and learn the value of hard, physical work. I’m now grateful for those lessons this trio imparted.

    I’m now 49, in the best shape of my life, mainly because of some positive changes I’ve made, health wise, but also because I don’t shy away from the physical labor required to maintain my five acres, albeit considerably less than your manse, but still allowing opportunities to use the muscles I still have.

    Also loved Sylvia’s two stories.

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