Dealing with change

Yesterday the heat wave broke. It never rose above 50°. The wind, carrying rain, was gusting up to 30 mph, so it felt colder as I trudged through the pasture, snapping insulators on posts. After days in the 90s with sweat-soaked clothes and hair, suddenly I was shivering in my thick jacket and wishing for my winter coveralls and gloves. This is weather in the mountains, and I expect it.

Other changes are harder for me to cope with. A few years ago I read Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures, a fascinating memoir of growing up with autism. I realized that if personality were charted along a continuum, I would score closer to the autistic end than the flexible one. I am about as far from a free spirit as you can get. I am soothed by routine and tend to be agitated by new things. “I like ruts,” I’ve always said.

When I was small I used to cry when my mother rearranged the living room. I’ve worn my hair the same way since I was ten years old. This spring I bought new glasses and to my dismay my old frames weren’t available. The optometrist’s assistant, who knows me, helped me find the closest thing and then said, “But just think, in five years this will be the frame you don’t want to change.” In 2004 when my friend Sue suddenly fell ill and retired after decades in the job, a new business manager was hired. I liked her, but it took me a long time to stop circling and bristling internally like a wary dog because she was Not Sue.

Yesterday Leon started working for me on the excavator. I had to make an effort to keep myself from resenting him for being Not Allen.

7:00 AM. Where is he? Allen was always early. 7:30. 8:00. 8:15. I was just driving out to move the sheep when Leon drove in with his wife, a smiling, attractive woman. We all shook hands. They were both pleasant and friendly. I found myself wishing for Allen anyway.

Don’t be stupid. I know this aspect of myself very well and know I have to push through it.

Leon spent the day working on finishing the stumping in the back acres, the third of the big field that stretches behind the pig pen. Watching the boom and bucket, I could see that he wasn’t as gifted as Allen but was perfectly capable.

However, unless I stood in the corner of the south pasture, I could not see him, and with the cold wind, I could not hear the excavator, either. So periodically throughout the day I drove out or hiked out to check on him.

The first time, Leon returned my wave and politely turned off the engine and stepped down from the machine. It took a few minutes for him to realize that my concern was not about his competence but about his health and safety. Once he grasped this, his brow cleared and he smiled. “My wife is like that, too.” After that we’d just wave, I’d return to fencing, and Leon continued stumping.

He is making giant windrows of pulled stumps and boulders. Our plan is that I will trade my second paid week with the excavator for a week with a bulldozer, and using the ‘dozer, Leon will push these piles to join the giant berm along the south edge of the field. It won’t be pretty, but it should be functional, and it’s the only solution I can afford.

Here he is working in the poplar brush. You can see how “popple” jumps up practically overnight. In May this ground was clear.

At coffee time — Leon drinks orange soda — in the morning and mid-afternoon, I drove out in the splattering rain and brought him fresh chocolate chip cookies. Leon sat in the excavator cab and I sat on the excavator tracks, eating cookies and getting to know each other a little.

He is a very nice man, proud of his many skills. (In addition to being a retired heavy equipment operator, farmer, and cattle inseminator, he apparently bakes a mean strawberry-stuffed angel food cake.)

It’s not Leon’s fault he’s Not Allen. I imagine in another week I’ll have adjusted to the change and will be happy he is Leon.

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