Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yoda and the Woodpile

Little House Behind the Backwoods part 2----Lessons From the Woodpile.

After doing all of the things I wrote about yesterday in part 1, it occurred to me that at no point during the day did I have a worrisome or negative thought. I didn't fret about getting older and having no hair, teeth or health insurance, I didn't stress about my bank balances, and I didn't give the socio-economic-political condition of the planet a second thought. All that passed through my mind over the last couple of days was doing each task efficiently through to its' completion and then moving on to the next chore. And when I went to bed I was happy and content with myself and the world around me. Which made me wonder......did our grandparents and great-grandparents have time to be depressed? What did they do in a world before anti-depressants were advertised as regularly as shampoo and modes of transportation?

Except for four population centers, Maine is about 95% rural and has been since long before it became a state in 1820. Up until the outbreak of WWII most of Maine's economy was based on agriculture and sea harvesting. A typical day for the average man of the house would begin by getting up while it was still dark, feeding the livestock, milking the cows if he had any and they almost always did, go into the fields and work 'til lunchtime after which he returned to the fields until the sun began to set and he headed home for a hardy supper. Once he'd eaten he go out to feed the livestock and milk the cows again before turning in for the night. During and between the planting and harvesting seasons he was also responsible for cutting wood for heating and cooking, building and repairing anything that needed it, maintaining all tools and 'machinery' if he were fortunate enough to own any, and when time allowed, be a husband, father, and child of God. A typical day for the average woman of the house began pretty much the same way. Up before the sun to load and light the stove to cook the breakfast that would sustain the menfolk until lunchtime. After washing the pots and dishes and before gathering the eggs and separating the cream from the milk, she'd begin the arduous process of laundry--hauling water--cold for work clothes and nearly boiled for under garments, bed linens, and 'store bought for Sunday' items. Soaking and boiling, agitating over a wash board in lye soap, rinsing and wringing, then hung out to dry. Since this took a great deal of time to accomplish she usually did it in shifts so she could also prepare lunch and dinner--cleaning and peeling vegetables from the garden she tended herself, roasting, baking, seasoning, and stirring. Pots and dishes scrubbed it's back to the next phase of the laundry--but not before giving the house an overall sweeping and tidying. A wee bit of ironing some of the clothes that have dried with a two-pound pyramid shaped wood stove heated chunk of metal and a lot of elbow grease. Somewhere in the midst of all this activity was the occasional need to play referee or nurse to squabbling children. Depending on the time of year she may be busy canning, pickling, and putting up preserves. A well stocked larder and root cellar was the pride and measuring stick of every woman. In the evenings after clearing away and scouring pots and dishes from supper, she took up her needle and thread and attended to the never-empty mending basket while listening to her husband's account of his day and plans for tomorrow. It's getting late and kerosene is dear so off to bed they went.

Everything was done by hand then. There were no washers and dryers, no electric stoves or microwaves, no dishwashers, no coffee makers or food processors. No refrigerators or freezers. Indoor plumbing was a luxury that city folk had. Few people could afford tractors so they either hitched up a horse or pulled the plow and carts themselves. They also harvested produce by hand and the sweat of their brows. They used scythes and rakes to mow and bail hay for the cattle and other livestock for the winter. The 'simple life' was never simple, it was a lot of hard, back breaking, muscle ripping work. They didn't give much thought to wondering who they were or why they were there. They were who they were where they were. It was called life and they lived it the best they could. Some made out better than others but the cycle of life kept on turning and everyone had a shot at being a success at least once in a while. These were our ancestors of only a few generations back and they are worthy of our remembrance and appreciation. Not to mention our respect for what they endured and achieved.

Somehow I just can't imagine that anyone had time to be depressed. And even if they were they didn't have the time to dwell on it. I'm sure they had their share of alcoholism, domestic violence, and suicide. I've read plenty of historical novels and biographic accounts. What I'm discovering about me-myself lately is that when I'm in the thick of physically involved labour outside in the brisk Autumn air, I feel completely disinclined to inventory grievances or problems--real or hypothetical. Could be the air, could be exhaustion. Whoever said a job well done need never be done again didn't work with nature or much of anything else come to think of it.

I've finished all the clearing, pruning, chopping and stacking I needed to. I kind of dread not having more to do for fear I'll go back to being a curmudgeon. Then again, next to skiing and ice-fishing, being a curmudgeon is one of Maine's favourite winter past-times. If there's a prize, I'm a contender.

1 comment:

  1. You have said this so well and so meatily. I am about as inclined to physical labor as you imply that you are, but I do think that our minds do better when we are doing what other animals do to stay warm and fed. Not for nothin' do we get endorphins from physical stress.