Spring and fall are especially busy times for us. Spring chores are expansive, as we join into the greening of the land; fall chores require us to help put the land to sleep. But there are other cycles at play, especially as we age. Being more aware of my physical limitations, I pay more attention to what I am actually doing, as I tick tasks off the list.
Initially I created the chore list bit by bit, remembering or seeing things that should be done. I had to soften the “shoulds” (my superego) so I didn’t override my wellbeing. This year our list ended up 15 tasks long, but some of the tasks, like cultivating the garden, were big ones, involving several smaller tasks. I have used this “macro listing” to make things appear more doable and to motivate myself. We all have our particular ways to use a list to self-organize.
THE CHORE LIST
Our list included many tasks: putting linseed oil on new cedar shingles on the old Métis cabin, finishing staining our walk-out deck, bringing in more wood, checking out-buildings for mice, emptying compost bins for reuse, cleaning windows to maximize solar heat, draining cisterns and bringing in pumps and hoses. It included repairs on our greenhouse damaged during high winds, so it was ready for spring use, finishing digging up carrots and potatoes and then cultivating. It was also time to have our septic tank pumped out, which must be done every two years, even with a septic field.
There were some non-negotiables: hauling water for our in-house cistern, no longer being refilled by rain, getting the snow blower on the tractor, installing winter tires and re-graveling the road, which eroded from a 3 inch, half-hour downpour last summer. I left the “must do’s” till the end, probably another way to motivate myself to get as many things done as possible.
The chore list is a “wish list”, for you never know how smoothly any task will go. When I went to put the snow blower on, I found the front PTO wasn’t working. Completing this task involved driving the tractor to the local repair shop, with my spouse driving behind me in our car. The repairman found mice had gotten into some wiring. Bought 25 years ago by my long gone father, the tractor is back in operation.
A few tasks had to be dropped; it was too dry to burn brush left after cutting firewood from dead or fallen trees. Even so, I’m still not sure how we got all these chores done. I’ve always tried to do “one job at a time” as a means to keep my energy from being diverted by worrying about what’s to come. The chores never seem so “big” to me if I stay focused on what I am presently doing. Nevertheless, I felt satisfaction as we got closer to the bottom of the list; the end was now in sight.
CLUSTERS OF CHORES
Before I could settle into winter hibernation and refocus my energy back to community involvements, I had a big “ah ha”. My awareness shifted and the separate tasks began to merge. I realized that some chores dealt with entropy; shingling, staining, clearing, cleaning, etc. We were obviously doing lots of seasonal work around food-production; preparing the soil with compost, storing food in our pantry-root cellar, emptying the cisterns used for watering. And several tasks were about winter access to our place; road repairs, snow blower, winter tires, clearing brush, etc.
Such “groupings” made me more aware of my relationship to the tasks. This transformed the chore list, as something I no longer had to mentally shoulder as a seemingly endless list. It put tasks back into a context of the activities that shape the quality of our life. Mental compartments collapsed, which felt more wholesome, with far less pressure. But my revelations weren’t yet complete; another reorganization of my awareness was occurring.
THE MIRACULOUS ELEMENT
Discovering one’s inherent relationship to natural systems and the community of life is part of our spiritual awakening; a source of ethics, mutual respect and the protection of life. This awakening can come from any aspect of our lives, even from something as ordinary as reflecting on our chores.
As I was clustering the chores into themes like entropy, gardening and winter access, I began to think about water. The extremes of water were fresh in my mind because we had huge rainfalls and storms in the early summer and then went into a drought. I went back to the list of 15 chores and found “water, water, everywhere”! The cedar shingles came from trees needing water to grow, and were being used to stop water from getting into the old log cabin. My repairs to the greenhouse were essential for it to hold warm water moisture to help grow more abundant cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.
I used water under pressure to clean the deck. I stained it with a new water-based product that has replaced the oil contaminants contained in traditional stain products. All our cleaning and washing depended on us having water. Without rain water in the outdoors cistern I couldn’t clean the windows. Without the soft rain water in our in-house cistern we couldn’t have such refreshing, lathering showers, or make tea to start our morning. Our domestic water ends up in our septic field.
I was draining cisterns, hoses and pumps so there wouldn’t be any damage from freezing, so we could continue collecting and distributing water next year. Our compost bins were filled with plants grown with water, and the compost needs water to break down so we can re-nourish our soil. Hardened by the drought, the soil was more difficult to cultivate, but this was essential to ensure that snow water melt sunk in for spring-time planting. Harvesting gigantic carrots and potatoes showed how plentiful the water rainfall was during the growing season. We never watered the garden once this summer, that is, until we had to water to get the carrots out of the drought-packed soil. The newly-arrived slugs taking small chunks out of our root crops showed that other life forms are also adapting to the extreme water cycles we now face.
The fire wood wouldn’t be here without water. The road repairs were required because of huge June downpours of water. We need our snow-blower because the winter water (snow) blocks access to our house. Yet we have to haul water if we don’t get enough snow melt off our metal roof over the winter months; we use about 400 gallons of water a month to cook, drink, clean and flush toilets.
MAKING THE LINKS
The cycles of water and life are all wrapped up with our domestic and seasonal chores. Our life in all its glory and its ordeals is continually shaped by this. We simply must realize and embrace this interconnection in all its manifestations if we are going to be able to “begin again” and get back on a sustainable path. Our dominant energy and industrial systems are creating climate change and this is changing hydrological cycles, right down to our back yard. Our ways of life are going to remain vulnerable until we reestablish a balance with the life-creating systems that come with water. As I finish this piece the subways in New York are starting to fill with the record-breaking surge of Atlantic water from super-storm “Sandy”.
Most surely water can’t do its “magic” without the other elements – fire, earth and air, which all must be respected. Our daily lives, ongoing chores and common wellbeing are wrapped up in this. Our political and economic elites quickly need to relearn the basics.