Presence of Mind

My work season has hit and I am finding myself really unhappy about it. I am happy about the things work affords me, but I have to trick myself into actually doing it, which essentially doubles my effort. So I take a number of small breaks.

This afternoon I intend to take the dogs on a good walk before the rain sets in tonight, but before we get started I am distracted by some projects in the yard from over the weekend. “Yard” really is not the right word for my property: rather than manicured or even scaped, this is land around my house that I’m encouraging back to a natural, wooded state. Of course I’m selective about what grows in this “natural” habitat. Weeds and blackberries and the encroaching English ivy are all torn out; salal and Oregon grape are perfectly welcome, and from there I’ve repatriated a number of the ornamental pines and rhododendrons planted by the previous owner. I’ve added a beautiful shrub rose bush, and two eucalyptus trees which are not the least bit native to the Pacific Northwest.

The yardwork is actually a necessary response to my recent septic repair, and as I am grading out topsoil and wondering about moving things out of my drainfield, my mind becomes caught up with thoughts about The Unexpected: I did not see septic repair coming at me, though I have been keeping an eye on my roof—I live alone, I am not particularly handy with home repair (though I may be better off than a lot of women) and unchecked, my mind begins to ruminate on the need to be more prepared. I was once a landscape laborer, though, and as I move a bit of gravel from the driveway to the re-set garden stairs, I think of how happy I am, directly working on things like this. The immediate, physical tasks keep me in the moment and offer very satisfying small achievements, sometimes many in a single day’s effort. As opposed to the other work we humans have fabricated for ourselves, jobs that are largely trumped up employment all based around human-created reality. Because the 9-5 did not exist, it was apparently necessary to invent it.

I wonder if at this point in my life I am becoming one of those middle-aged women who is always working in the yard—no one ever seen with her, no garden parties or evenings in these yards, just one sternly focused woman with dirt on her hands. I have never aspired to this and the thought is yet one more alarming thing I can add to the jumble in my head: future repairs and unforeseen household perils, work avoidance, impending age.

I gather the leashes, hook up the crew, and head out of the gate before things get any worse.

It is a beautiful windy afternoon. The dogs and I are ruffled by the gusts and breeze, and once we get out onto the road, dirt and compacted gravel, we find that big branches have already been downed, and we are swirled by a sharp, fresh scent of blown evergreen. I love wind, but living out in the woods, I’ve developed a new anxiety that strong weather means the power going out. It happens regularly enough and sometimes long enough that it’s becoming an effort to enjoy the natural intensity and not get dragged into worrying about whether I have enough candles, or if I’ll have the ability to make a hot cup of coffee when I get back home.

We walk down a road where the high cedars and fir give way to the cleared land of a small organic farm. They do a great business for their size, providing produce to a number of good local restaurants and several regional farmer’s markets, offering a weekly subscription service and special orders at the holidays. From the road we can see the chickens along the side of a small hill, free ranging. They are beautiful: caramel-colored chickens, large buff colored chickens, some that look like black and white checks; the sun shoots down through the cloudcover, illuminating their very red combs. Unconcerned by the wind the chickens are all comfortably pecking at things under a big-leaf maple. A section of farm fence cordons off the next area, home to perhaps fifteen or twenty heirloom turkeys. I love going past the turkeys, natty in their plumage, ridiculous and curious. They’re not entirely filled out yet, sort of young adult turkeys the size of bowling pins doing the famous turkey noises as they turn to watch me and the dogs coming along the road, some of them approaching the fence to get a better look at us.

The new-autumn wind picks up but the chickens and turkeys don’t care—a few of them lift their telescoping necks and peer into the gust. What does a turkey think, as it wanders through the grass on a windy afternoon in early October?

And with that thought I am struck by a message for the group of us—a gift from these charming, doomed birds to me. It is a beautiful autumn afternoon, wind in cool surprising drafts, sunlight on the grass and on ourselves, and it is worth everything. It is what we have. I collect the dogs and go on with my walk, on into the moment.

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About Kathleen G. White

Kathleen White is a writer living on the edge of Puget Sound and sizing up the discrepancies.
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