I’m sorry I haven’t been posting. I’ve been working hard, often not finishing evening chores until after 7:30 PM, and have been too tired.
Sunday night I came in from chores, sat down, and slowly unlaced my boots. DH looked at my vacant expression and said in concern, “I think you’re over-training.” He has been an athlete since he was a child and all his metaphors are sports metaphors.
This one was apropos because Sunday was the Ironman triathlon here. Our roads were closed from 6:30 AM to 5 PM. This race, which attracts contestants from all over the country, is an enormous hassle for local residents, especially those of us living along the main highways that are shut down. However, the triathlon brings in tremendous revenue for our small town so it is something everyone puts up with.
I was moving sheep in Betty’s pasture at 6:15 in the morning and then spent the day at the farm. Since I wouldn’t be able to get home I packed my meals and extra clothes.
D had lent me his dump truck for the day. I had mentioned to him how helpful it would be, on a day devoted to picking rocks, to throw the rocks into a truck and then to be able to lift the bed and dump it, rather than spend the energy to grunt each rock twice. D had dropped the truck off Saturday afternoon.
I was busy painting at the time. One of the problems of summer is that there are so many projects crying out to be done at once, and meanwhile the animal chores, with milking, mowing, watering, spreading manure, and moving fences, take twice as long as usual. After four or five hours of barn chores every day it’s hard to squeeze in big projects.
It is especially easy to overlook projects that are not appealing, like picking rocks. This is a job that needs to be done. Wherever the surface is smooth, I can mow. Where it is rocky, I have to weedwhack. Mowing is much, much easier and much, much faster. But pulling the rocks is tedious, hard labor and the result is invisible. Definitely not an enticing prospect when you’re pressed for time.
However now D had lent me his truck and I was committed.
It’s odd: I associate all the guys with their “things” so strongly that when they let me use them it is as if they are with me. When my friend Tommy stopped working at school after eighteen years, he left me his old Carhartt jacket. It was too full of holes to bother with, he said. I wore it happily until it disintegrated. Mike has given me old gloves, ditto Allen. I wear them and think of those friends as I work. Now the truck sat there, reminding me of D.
I had finished all my barn chores by 9:30, feeding the milk to the pigs, and sat eating my breakfast on a boulder. The sun was hot and I took off my boots to dry my sweaty socks. The geese wandered over.
Andy and K, my Pilgrim geese, are purely ornamental. They serve no useful purpose on the farm. They simply make me smile. Now they paced around talking to each other and pulling weeds as I ate my homemade bread and a chunk of sharp cheese.
I could hear faint cheering from the race on the highway. I wiggled my toes and thought complacently, What kind of a nut swims 2.4 miles, bikes 112 miles, and then runs 26.2 miles? Then it occurred to me that perhaps some people might think I was nutty to put in three hours of barn chores before breakfast.
I glanced up at D’s truck. D is a kind person but impatient. In my mind’s ear I could hear him growling, What are you waiting for? Get moving! I was smiling as I packed up the trash from my breakfast and assembled my tools.
I planned to start at the top of the property and work my way down. I had my weedwhacker (to uncover rocks in the undergrowth) and the 4-foot pry bar that Jon and Lucy gave me for Mother’s Day.
I hadn’t realized how much physical work the job would be. Of course there were lots of softball-sized rocks that I simply tossed in the truck. However many more were rocks the size of a loaf of bread. I could lift them without a problem, but prying them out of the ground, squatting, and heaving, over and over, slowly wore me down.
For the bigger rocks, eighteen inches or so across, after levering them free of the soil, I bent low and consciously tried to lift from my knees, to spare my back. Then I would stagger over to the truck with the dirty rock clutched to my stomach, heave it up onto the high tailgate, and finally push it back from the edge.
By lunchtime I was slick with sweat and grimy with dirt. I was arranging my lunch (more bread and cheese) in the hot sun when I realized that with the road closed I was assured of perfect privacy. I stripped off my clammy underclothes, rinsed out the sweat with the barn hose, and laid them out to bake dry on the scalding hood of the truck. I sat barefooted on my boulder in my jeans and t-shirt, eating lunch, and by the time I’d finished my dessert granola bar and the last of my quart of water, the clothes were dry and I got re-dressed.
The work was very, very slow.
Also occasionally painful. Working with rocks means skinned knuckles and mashed fingers. The rocks were grinding the skin off my palms. My biceps began to quiver. Toward the end of the day I went to do the usual two-handed lay-up with a ten-pound rock over the side of the truck and my left arm gave out unexpectedly, shredding my elbow against the metal mesh sidewall.
The trick to perseverance is to distract yourself by thinking of something that will absorb all your attention. I decided to plan my funeral music. This is an old family game; my mother would always tell us she wanted this piece of music or that one at her funeral. It wasn’t morbid: it was an expression of her appreciation — her way of saying, I really like this.
So, as the hours ticked slowly by and I lifted and heaved, I chose my three hymns. (Three was enough, I thought, though maybe I could sneak in a couple more as an organ prelude and postlude.) It was hard to whittle down my favorites but I came up with:
1. All Creatures of Our God and King (St. Francis of Assisi, all about nature and rejoicing — here are the tune and lyrics.)
2. How Great Thou Art (also largely about nature and rejoicing — one may notice a theme…)
3. Amazing Grace (not only is it beautiful, not only was it part of the funerals of both my parents, but it’s always nice to have a song that everyone knows).
4. I decided I’d have Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of Pie Jesu for my prelude and Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring as my postlude. (When I was a child, family friends from Trinidad used to play the latter on steel drums, and the beauty and joy of the music would lift me right out of my seat. A nice tune to go out on.)
Over supper that night I told DH that I’d figured out all the music for my funeral. After almost thirty years he is unsurprised by my eccentricities. “Great,” he said mildly. “Email ’em to me.”
But the rocks went on and on.
Whenever I am faced with a long, dull task I give myself benchmarks to shoot for. I’ll get to this point by this time. My predictions for rock-picking had been wildly off the mark. I didn’t reach the 10:30 AM goal until after 6 PM. I was less than 1/2 done with the job.
I decided to dump the current load of stones before starting evening chores. I drove the truck out to the back acres and backed it into the edge of the woods. Then I tried to remember D’s exact instructions for lifting the dump box. Push in the clutch, lift the PTO handle, throw the dump lever forward, was that it? I’d made D repeat it for me twice. He had rolled his eyes but had done so. I attempted this sequence. Nothing happened. I tried it again. Nothing. I couldn’t even lift the PTO handle.
Well, this was certainly humiliating.
I called D on my cell phone. No answer. I tried Allen. Allen had been working all day and was tired himself, but remained as patient as ever. He coached me through the sequence I had been trying. I did it all again. Nothing. Arrgh.
I abandoned the truck in the back field and staggered in to milk and do chores. I was exhausted.
In the end, of course, I called Mike, who met me at the farm at 7 AM yesterday on his way to work. I felt somewhat better to see Mike, too, struggle with the PTO. Finally he hauled on it with both hands, got it in gear, and dumped the rocks.
D had said he would pick up his truck on Monday afternoon after work. Oh, gee! This meant I had another day to battle rocks! I told myself how lucky I was, and how grateful. My body, however, was stiff and protesting.
By the time I finished morning chores yesterday, it was raining. I put on a rain jacket, but soon realized that I would be just as wet from sweat inside the plastic jacket as I would be from the raindrops, so I shucked it.
The only difference on this day was that instead of coping with dirt, I was dealing with mud. My jeans and t-shirt were soon smeared and soggy with cold glop. My hands slipped on the gritty, muddy rocks.
I pulled and heaved rocks for six hours, making a total of fourteen hours over two days. By now I had no thoughts. My brain was hardly functioning any more. I was so tired I was trembling in both my arms and legs. When D called at 3:30 PM to say he was ready to be picked up to get the truck, I barely kept myself from exclaiming, “Thank God!”
On the ride out to the farm, D asked if I’d been able to finish the job. I made a noise that was half a sigh, half a snort, and admitted, no, only about three-quarters. I said I might want to borrow the truck again someday — maybe in a month or two, when I’d recovered. D is much younger than I am. He chuckled heartlessly.
I had explained the difficult time I’d had with the PTO. When I drove him out to the truck, D hopped in, fired it up, and immediately lifted the box to dump my second day’s ton of stones. He was laughing at me from the cab as he held up one finger. Whether he was indicating “on my first try,” or “only one hand,” or “I’m number one,” I had no idea, but I couldn’t help laughing back.
He drove off and I headed straight for the bottle of Ibuprofen.
Though the job isn’t done, I pulled hundreds, maybe thousands of stones. The ground is cleaner. Progress has been made. And I’d never have buckled down to it, if I hadn’t had the dump truck. Thank you, D.