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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Productively Unproductive

Unproductive as it is, here’s how I do it.

I clean, gas-up and bar-oil the chainsaw then load the cart with the necessary tools:  chainsaw, pruning saw, lopper, helmet, protective chaps, blue-tinted roundup, paint brush, acrylic gloves and leather gloves. 

I pull the cart 3/8 of a mile to the far east hedgerow.  Donning leather gloves, helmet and protective pants, I bushwhack into the hedgerow, find  the demon bushes, cut them down with whatever tool works, yank them out in pieces, load up the cart, haul the cart to the brush pile and toss them on.  

All this is repeated for 3 to 5 hours, load after load.  Then, paint brush in my acrylic gloved hand, I seek out the fresh cut stumps and paint their rims with blue-tinted roundup.  

Finally, I load up the cart, pull it 3/8 mile and unload everything back into the shed. 

There!  That’s how I try to eliminate the demon shrubs: 80% buckthorn, 15% honeysuckle and 5% cedar.  Doesn’t sound very productive does it?  In fact, yesterday all my efforts resulted in 30 feet of cleared hedgerow.  Less than cleared actually, I removed a few more from that section today.   There are other methods.  A few years back we basal sprayed each demon shrub and just waited for them to die.  We could hire a skid-steer to chew them up and then dab the stumps.  We could even hire a crew to cut down the entire hedgerow, extending our eastward view into the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area and create more desirable habitat for grassland birds.  Any of these methods would be far more productive---as measured by demon shrubs eliminated per hour---than my method.

So I why do I do it?  Because I'm learning to be productively unproductive.  

You see productivity is measured in terms of output per units of input.  And I’m not arguing with the metric.   My aha here at Home the Land has been to question the definition of output.  What do I really want out of this project?  Is it merely the elimination of demon shrubs?  I could settle for that.  And I have for most of my life.  And what has that gotten me?  Just the usual outputs: a stack of demon shrubs, a painted room, a mowed lawn, blah, blah, blah.   I didn’t leave my good life in Minneapolis and build a whole new life just for blah, blah, blah. 

I came to improve my health, my vitality.  And right now as I type, my body can certainly feel the pulse of the day’s effort: hauling the cart, cutting, yanking and tossing shrubs, all make for a whole body workout.  Navigating the hedgerow jungle requires balance and coordination.

I came to engage my creative energies.  Within the jungle of hedgerow trees and vines, determining which shrub to cut when and how to do it best is an ongoing puzzle.  Not to mention going back and finding each and every freshly cut stump in order to dab them with roundup.

I came to have fun.    And believe it or not I can’t wait to get going each day.

I came to feel connected to the Land.  Today I was so thrilled when I removed a huge buckthorn patch to discover the wonderfully large oak hidden behind it.   Who knew?

I came to connect to the divine.  I can find no words to explain how today’s effort connected me to the divine as much as did.  I need my brother Steve to write a song. 

When my goal is merely to get the task done, then it’s just that: work.  But when my goal is to increase my vitality, my joy, my sense of community, my feeling of connection, my sense of the divine, then I call it something else:  living.    So I’m learning to define the output of my efforts not as blah, blah, blah work but as vital, joyous, community-filled, divinely-inspired living. 

And today, by this measure, I was extremely productive.  Productively unproductive.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

To Believe in Abundance

I should be more careful what I ask for.  I just might get it. 

“Stop!” I begged.  “Please stop!” 

And they did.   Finally.   Gratefully.  They did.    The rains finally stopped.   But not until all records were smashed.  12 inches above normal March through May.    Linda’s brother, and his fellow farmers, didn’t get all fields planted.  A first according to the old timers. 

What no one knew is that someone had now turned the faucet off.  The ground would crack.  Dust would smother the roadside trees.  Crops, drowned in the spring, would eventually wither.  It wouldn’t rain again, not a really good soaking rain, for the remainder of the summer.   

Not until last Saturday night.  Hallelujah we got an inch.  A whole, blessed inch.  Oh to watch the birds on Sunday morning.  So happy!  Bluebirds zigging and zagging, splashing when they could. 

And just as buoyant, Linda and I.  “The shed tank is nearly full again!”  Meaning the above ground 250 gallon tank which catches rainwater off the shed roof.  Our irrigation source!  Now down to our last few drops, we were rationing.  Not a pretty sight for our river birch, Kentucky coffee tree and especially the poor witch hazel.  Parched and burnt she seemed in the dusty soil. 

So I’m ordering two 200 gallon catchment tanks to tuck behind the shed and planning a 500 gallon “pond” to harvest rain off the yoga loft roof, the only section not drained by our 5400 gallon household cistern.  How silly of me, I finally realized.  There’s no shortage of rain, only a shortage of imagination. 

Or perhaps I’d experienced a shortage of belief, belief in the abundance.   And I’d just failed to harvest that abundance.   Next year we’ll harvest 5 times the water we caught this year.  And why not? 

 If I’d only paid more attention to the pond.  He fills to overflowing every spring, then drains down in the summer.  But never, not ever even close, to running out.    The pond believes in the abundance. 

I’m getting there.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Preparing II: Colonoscopy

Two days before your colonoscopy
Original instruction:  Do not eat whole grains, leafy green vegetables, nuts, peas or foods with seeds.
Honest instruction:  Consume a diet, so low in fiber and goodness, so high in Twinkies and Wonder Bread, that you will surely contract the very cancer for which the colonoscopy screens.

One day before your colonoscopy
Original instruction:  You must be on a clear liquid diet (liquids you can see through), examples include white grape juice and coffee.
Honest instruction:  Caught you, didn’t we, you coffee-thinning penny-pincher!  Coffee you can see through?  No, you say.  You brew a sludge, thick and oozy as the good Lord intended.  And now you’re merely confused, wondering if a banana-Snicker bar-peanut butter smoothie qualifies as clear.    Well quit complaining and slug down a caramelized quart of high fructose corn syrup and a slippery side of green Jell-O. 

6PM before your colonoscopy
Original instruction:  Prepare 4 liters of GoLIGHTLY® and drink half.  The solution will cause you to have many bowel movements.
Honest instruction:  Prepare 4 liters of GoALL-NIGHTLY® and drink half.  Bowel?  Yay!  Movements?  Nay!  ‘Tis naught but a steady stream.   No straining.  No flexing.  No sphincteral contractions.  Dry as a prune, you will be soon.

Sleeping hours night before your colonoscopy
Original instruction<No instruction>
Honest instruction:  A night of fitful sleep awaits.  Dream first of the half-way mark inscribed on the GoALL-NIGHTLY® jug.  Then morph into a Ken Burns-induced nightmare of our country’s terrible north-south divide, where the remains of the blue and the gray spill onto the grass.  Prep?  Civil War?  Prep?  Civil War? Prep...

Morning before your colonoscopy
Original instruction:  Drink remaining 2 liters of GoLIGHTLY®. 
Honest instruction:  Rise at some god-forsaken hour.  Pretend to drink remaining 2 liters of GoALL-NIGHTLY®.    Practice lying to doctor about consuming it all rather than gleefully dumping down sink.

On the way to your colonoscopy
Original instruction:  <No instruction>
Honest instruction:  If your drive is longer than say 30 seconds, consider a diaper and changing table.

At the Hospital
Original instruction:  Your nurse will conduct a mini-health assessment, including prep results.

Honest instruction:  Smile brightly, nod and say “No problem.  Just followed instructions.”

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Today looks and feels as summery as summer can be.  Yet I ache.  Bobolink is gone!  If you don’t know bobolink---that beautiful, bubbly bird of the deep grass----then watch this celebratory video.  According to the books, they’re already finding their way south, far south, to the deep grass of Brazil and Argentina.  Ridiculous to come so far for a 3 month visit, just long enough to fledge their little ones.  And sad.  I so remember looking forward to their arrival, their song, like the laughter of drunken bells.  I do understand they have a long journey ahead including a Caribbean crossing amidst the hurricane season.  Not to mention a new life without a north star.  They have much to prepare for.

Two weeks ago I hauled 4 full trailers of wood---cut but not split---from my neighbor.  Keith and I worked out a good price for both of us.  He’s been cutting up fallen trees ever since building their home in the woods 2 years ago.   While I could certainly harvest my own wood, it seemed more the neighborly thing to do to take some of his off his hands.  He’s got more than he knows what to do with.  And it fits our values.  We believe less in self-reliance and more in community reliance.   Yet for me the real driver is a dull ache I feel.    Yes, the masonry heater is extremely efficient.  Still something inside says “better have enough wood”. 

And if it weren’t bad enough that bobolink left me, he took Rose Breasted Grosbeak with him.    Can there be a more beautiful bird at the feeder?  And speaking of bird feeders, when grosbeak left everyone else quit coming.  Even goldfinch.  Only hummingbird remains, guzzling sugar water as he too prepares for his next adventure. 

Linda put up a dozen jars of apricot preserves, two dozen of peach, and now, as I type, she’s sweating away over all the late arriving tomatoes.   To thrive year long on the food we and our neighbors grow, we are learning to preserve the abundance, preparing for the scarcity ahead.

Last Saturday I stared up the driveway, anxiously awaiting the arrival of my brother Steve and his family.  Suddenly a cool northerly overcame the sultry afternoon.  Without stopping to wonder why, I rushed inside the shed, grabbed my splitting maul and marched to the big wood pile.  Swish.  Thud.  Crack.   What a great feeling as I stacked the first splits into the wood bins.  Minutes later, when my brother’s van eased down the driveway, his boys jumped out and soon four of us joined in the testosterone-induced ritual.   And though summer has returned, I’ve kept it up.  Splitting.  Stacking.  I just can’t seem to help myself. 

Like bobolink and rose-breasted grosbeak, I feel an urge, a dull ache.  Beyond the warmth and the green, something awaits.   Whatever it is, I feel a need to prepare.