One More Thing

If I had a blog, today I would write about the challenges of putting bliss before obligation.

Day 5 - September 26 The Golden Hickory

September 27
The Golden Hickory

It is happening already. Just days into my 90-Day Photo Project and I find myself squeezing in my daily photo shoot so I can get on with the items on my perpetual “to do” list. This morning, I was hurrying up the stairs after morning chores when the radiant glow of hickory leaves caught my attention. The tree, growing along the lane, was perfectly framed by one of the windows in the Great Room; a living portrait of autumn’s grandest days. My arms were full of a hodge-podge of mail, books, my tablet, not to mention the cup of coffee I had clutched in my “free” hand. My camera,of course,  was downstairs on the kitchen counter. For a moment, the thought of setting my burdens down and retracing my steps just to get one photograph seemed overwhelming. I was tempted to forge on and come back for the picture later in the day, but then I caught myself uttering the catch-phrase I use all too often: “Just one more thing, then I can do what I want.”

On the surface, it seems quite benign to delay gratification for just a few more minutes in an effort to get more “productive” things done, but this is an insidious downward spiral from which there is no escape. Once I’ve done that “one more thing,” another arises, then another and another, until the day is gone and my time for bliss has been pushed back another day, another week, another month.

One of the things I like about my 90-day project is the way it moves my bliss from an option to an imperative. If I am true to my goal of taking one really good photograph each day, then publishing it with a meaningful blog, I can’t delay this gratification. The Ego can’t push it back indefinitely by leaving a trail of minutiae with which I must deal before I spend time doing what I enjoy. There is comfort in knowing I have a solid resource with which to fend off the Ego, but there is also a bit of tension when I have to make choices about what to cut from my day to make room for my bliss. This is unfamiliar territory and I worry what will happen when “want to” and “need to” collide.

Sitting here on the patio this afternoon, listening to the last of the migrating hummingbirds chattering at the feeders, I wonder if  I have my priorities backwards. What if I changed my my work ethic, to allow soul-nurturing work to take precedence over more practical tasks? While bills have to be paid and groceries purchased, perhaps I could squeeze those in after I’ve enjoyed a day full of photography and writing. There is some precedence for this line of thought, penned by Henry David Thoreau in 1837: “The order of things should be somewhat reversed; the seventh day should be man’s day of toil and the other six his Sabbath of the affections and the soul – in which to range this widespread garden and drink in the soft influences and sublime revelations of nature.”

I will use the rest of my Project to experiment with this new way of life; to see what happens if I put the needs of my soul before those of the world. I don’t know what I will find, but I have hope I will gain freedom from the tyranny of “One more thing.” More reports to follow….

The Joy of Self-Delusion

My Little Red Hen House

My Little Red Hen House

If I had a blog, today I would write about cleaning the chicken house. This is no slap-and-dash, sweep-and-dust undertaking.  This semi-annual event is pitchfork-wielding, back-breaking, good old-fashioned farm work.

Essentially, there are three phases to cleaning the chicken house: The Preparation, The Endeavor, and The Recuperation. The first phase, The Preparation, takes four to six weeks. During this time, I attempt to drum up motivation for this onerous task by constructing a tissue of lies, similar, I imagine, to those employed by women who have decided to have a second child. It goes something like this:

  • It won’t hurt as much this time.
  • It will go faster this time.
  • It won’t take as long to recuperate this time.
Inga, The Silver-Spangled Hamburg

Inga, The Silver-Spangled Hamburg

The list goes on, but you get the general idea. Once I am happily lost in my delusions, I am ready for Phase II: The Endeavor. This phase takes four to five hours. I use the tractor to dislodge the solid “material” under the roost and use the bucket to transport the dirty straw et al to the manure pile in the barn lot. After I clean under the roost, I tackle the feeding area. Chickens are notoriously messy eaters and, as yet, I haven’t been able to curtail their feed-flipping. Under the straw by their feeder is shovel after shovel of discarded feed. I would try to recycle it, but chickens “drop load” where they eat and I wouldn’t feel right giving them dirty feed, so I heft the stuff into the tractor bucket and off to the pile it goes.

After the feeding area comes the watering area. Chickens are fairly tidy drinkers, but some water inevitably seeps into the straw and forms a fetid layer of oily black goo that weighs more than concrete. This is the hardest part: Lifting a ton of nastiness while holding my breath. Ugh. Happily, after the gooey straw, I get to the back of the chicken house and am dealing with loose straw that is just slightly dirty. This part goes faster and, since my shovel-loads are lighter, I use the pick-up truck to deliver the straw to the manure pile. I load it high, then have to unload it with a pitchfork in the barn lot, but that part isn’t too bad. The worst part is the sheer volume of material that accumulates in six months. How do I keep my spirits up? You guessed it: I sprinkle my thoughts with bonus delusions:

  • I’m sure I only have one or two loads left (when there are fifteen).
  • I don’t have to finish today. (Of course I do have to finish, because I won’t be able to walk tomorrow).
  • My knees always sound like this (when I get in and out of the tractor six million times).
  • My hand will quit going numb in a few minutes (or after a week of wearing a carpal tunnel splint).
  • Nausea is absolutely normal in these situations.

It keeps my mind busy while I work and, in time, the project is complete. Then I move on to Phase III: The Recuperation.

01202012 111340 copy webIn contrast to the previous two phases, Recuperation is all about honesty. I have worked hard and now I deserve everything I want. For a few days, sometimes up to a week, I have the perfect repartee to the annoying voice of common sense. The voice says, “You should eat a salad for dinner,” but because I cleaned the chicken house, I can silence it with, “Yes, but I burned 8 billion calories today. Ice cream it is!”

“You should get up at 6:30 and get a jump on the day,” becomes, “I cleaned the chicken house. I need my rest. How about sleeping until 9:00?”

“You really need to dust and vacuum,” is rationalized into, “I need to take care of my knees. I should spend the afternoon watching movies.”

I can get a lot of mileage out of this and, in the process, I allow myself the freedoms my ego says I don’t deserve. It’s a lovely interlude in my otherwise structured life.

Bliss

Bliss

As evening settles in on The Greenwood, I walk down to the chicken house to close the girls up for the night. I peek through the window and smile as I see the girls scratching in the straw, singing the “Happy Hen Song.” Like a new mother with a babe in her arms, the blood, sweat, deception, and tears it took to get here are irrelevant. I’d do it again in a heartbeat because it is an act of love; love for the innocent lives that have been entrusted to me. In the end, the only motivation I need is the image of my sweet little hens reveling in their lovely house. Here’s looking at you girls. I love you all!