Thursday, July 07, 2011
Happiness, come back a while
It’d be nice, when attempting to live a back-to-the-land lifestyle, to have a trio of men to perform each of these essential tasks: electronics, mechanics, and plumbing. Someone proficient in electronics could help with circuitry, soldering, and wiring; a mechanic could fix cars, small engines, lawnmowers; a plumber could help with heating, septic systems, drainage. Who can imagine a family with all three of these skills? No one.
I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by families that are different than mine. My grandfather focused all of his life on books, theory, and theology, as though the world of ideas was what mattered, not the world of things. He spent his life waking at dawn to write, most of his life in an office. The story my grandma tells, was that when she asked him to dig a hole in the backyard for some tomatoes, he dug the spade in, looked at her, and said, “Why, Joan? Why?”
My grandfather from the other side, who carpeted his garden with scraps from his living room to keep down weeds, who built a tomato trellis out of old electrical cord, who composted styrofoam and meat scraps, so that he had to keep the raccoons away with a .22, who never had garbage pick-up in forty years, so that he burned his old tires cut up into his basement furnace, was much more in touch with the physical world. The last meal my grandmother cooked for me, two years before her death, was ham, scalloped potatoes, braised chard, sliced tomatoes with mayo, zucchini bread, and ice cream with raspberries. Four things came from their garden.
The two sides of myself at war: my grandfather the intellectual and my grandfather the pragmatist. I spend half of my day locked up in my office, with books and papers piled around myself, and the other half picking cucumber beetles off my squash plants (we’ve determined they’re cucumber, not potato beetles), weeding the beets, heading basil. Maybe I can get them to peacefully coexist. I always end up immersing myself in the world of things, the world in which I’m much less comfortable. Biking, sailing, farming… All of those things require the ability to respond to sensory data. But that’s the point. It’s a challenge. And life’s no fun without a challenge.