I must remember, there’ll be days like this. – Van Morrison
Today I spent hours putting branches through our chipper-shredder. This involved four separate items of apparatus on my head: ear plugs, headset sound mufflers, a face mask like the kind people wore during the SARS scare, and safety goggles, which kept fogging up. I feel daunted by loud whirring blades – I’ve used chain and table saws a few times, and while I was comfortable while actually operating the tool, it was years between uses and each time I had to work through my apprehension all over again. But the chipper-shredder turned out to be no big deal, just a giant blender, and I was happy to be outdoors, doing something outside my normal routine.
It was slow going. Sometimes I fed a couple of small branches at a time, nice and even, and sometimes I got impatient, shoved in way too much, and had to work it for awhile, which made for a challenge: adjusting the pressure, pulling some branches back, pushing others down harder, advance and retreat, levering from the left and right until the whole thing gave way like a logjam, the primal satisfaction of release.
Today, I performed a noisy, tedious chore I’d been dreading, and had an extraordinary day.
It was warm for early April, and my mind wandered like a grazing cow. Often my experience of being alone with my mind for extended periods of time is like shaking a pot of anxiously popping corn, but it was as though the earplugs and sound muffler worked on the inside as well, suspending me between past and future, unconcerned with either. Instead, there was the stand of fir trees keeping watch over our back yard, the cool air brushing the back of my neck, my sturdy boots and capable arms.
Afterward, I felt pleased and mildly virtuous, reminiscent of the time I changed the spark plug on my lawn mower. You’d be amazed at how often you can work that piece of information into casual conversation on a Saturday afternoon. “Yeah, I finally mowed my lawn. Was gonna do it yesterday, but I had to change the spark plug.” Or, “I better hurry home, I need to mow before dark, and I still need to change the spark plug.” The variations are nearly infinite. This is not my favorite part of myself.
A forest of branches, hailed down during winter windstorms, is now a tidy pile of stuff we can use. Is there any better definition of a good day? I think of all the times I’ve tried to make an experience or event feel special and emotionally satisfying – to create a memorable moment or hour or weekend. Today, I performed a noisy, tedious chore I’d been dreading, and had an extraordinary day.
I had a good day today because I wasn’t impatient to go on to the next thing, or to transition from work to leisure.
Dancer, musician and author Gabrielle Roth wrote in “Maps to Ecstasy,” that the position of the mind is the most important sexual position, and I would have to agree – the mind calls the shots pretty much everywhere, including while operating heavy machinery. I had a good day today because I wasn’t impatient to go on to the next thing, or to transition from work to leisure. I didn’t stand over myself like a stern parent supervising a distracted child. I wasn’t watching the clock for the end of a workday, or longing for more favorable conditions for my life, or to be a better person. I just wanted to persuade the twiggy branch to tuck down enough to get caught by the rotating blade, and each time, eventually, it did, and I was grateful, and that was all it took to be happy.
Julie Quiring was overjoyed to discover the practice of gratitude can shift her focus from an inexhaustible list of insecurities and anxieties to an inexhaustible list of the gifts and privileges she experiences every day. She lives and writes on Whidbey Island in Washington’s Puget Sound.