Rendered Fat Content


Frédéric Bazille - The Little Gardener (1866-1867)
"I feel most myself when I'm immersed within that alluring somewhere else."

I emit a sound very similar to that expelled by an Olympic weightlifter pressing five hundred pounds whenever I stand up after a long day gardening. This groan does not accompany any particular discomfort. I'm not in pain. I feel a little stiffness in my back, sure, but I feel more grateful for than regretful about this sensation. It means something. My muscles, too long accustomed to exile's idleness, seem to be waking up and they ache with satisfaction. I cannot seem to help myself. My right hand, the one that wields my hand plow, goes a little numb sometimes, but quickly regains sensation. It has yet to hamper my two and a half typing fingers. Normal neuropathy. I filled the enormous yard waste two-wheeler about a half hour after last week's collection and I have at least a half bin already backed up for next week's load. I'm dumping some yard waste in with the regular garbage just to rid myself of it. I some days prey for a pickup.

I fancy myself an old fashioned gardener, my one more recent concession having been an electric mower which I've been borrowing. I remain still frozen at the prospect of actually owning one.
I used to mow this yard with a 1911 push mower, but the lawn grew too lush in my absence for me to work that thing through it anymore. I have a cadre of hand tools, some older than me, that I absolutely swear by. The spade that The Muse insists has seen better days, the one with the wobbly handle unsuccessfully stabilized with generous applications of epoxy over the years, still works much better than the tin one The Muse bought to replace it. I bent that blade when I attempted to cut through some sod. My turning fork features a snaggly tine, bent a little by a memorable holly root I was removing. I eventually won that contest. My anvil pruners fit in my back pocket if I don't mind my pants slipping down my ass when I drag another muck bucket load of trimmings out to the curb. My beloved hand plow, the single finest gardening tool ever imagined, stays close whenever I'm digging. I cannot imagine living without it.

Until last week, gardening entailed schlepping around a muck bucket, filling it and emptying it innumerable times through the day. I'd halfway decided to buy a wheelbarrow, though they take up so much space and are, as a class, ungainly, more useful for zooming a grandkid around the yard than for actually moving anything heavy or bulky since each load requires a lift in and they offer little leverage. I stumbled upon a preying mantis-looking cart, one specifically designed to move a muck bucket across a barn, and bought it. It's utterly transformed my gardening. Even The Muse loves it. We were sieving compost into a muck bucket mounted on it. No heavy lifting needed. I pulled the cart around collecting hydrangea prunings into the bucket, no schlepping required. I even used the cart to transport a bale of peat from the car across to the garden. My hand truck's retired. I used that cart to schlep a dozen stupid concrete pavers across to stash behind the garage. I noticed last night that I was still groaning whenever I stood up, but I also noticed that I hadn't pulled anything. Not yet.

I enforce a fairly strict ten pound weight limit on myself, in acknowledgement that hurting my back could bring an abrupt end to my primary form of recreation. I roll big rocks without lifting them. I ain't no Charles Atlas. I think twice before shoving, too. Last week, I moved three cubic yards of bark mulch in an afternoon without once straining myself. I groaned like a Russian gold medalist every time I stood, but I had not hurt myself. I suspect without knowing that one's real work will always remain the most dangerous. Immersing myself within anything I really love doing seems to disable the old supervisor, perhaps because love induces a semi-unconscious trance. The foreground obsession easily overshadows the usual background misgivings. It's easy to startle back into awareness not having noticed that twelve hours disappeared while I was under. Overwork often seems like over-playing, not like working at all. In the thrall of work I love, I feel above and curiously distant from myself, as if it were happening to someone else and I, merely amusedly observing. I feel most myself when I'm immersed within that alluring somewhere else.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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