I hate yard work. I have always hated yard work. My house is surrounded by a fairly large yard, which I really enjoy having. But the maintenance and upkeep? Yuck. I know, I know – everything is about tradeoffs.
I have always been a bookish sort and can spend hours upon hours reading and learning about things, usually punctuated by the kind of mental meandering the old timers called woolgathering. And more recently, writing about things too.
Which is not to say that my life is completely sedentary and academic. I have also spent a lifetime fascinated by mechanical things. I have found that there are few things that give me a sense of accomplishment and well being like diagnosing and fixing some mechanical object that was broken or not working properly.
A couple of weeks ago I spent maybe an hour and a half under the hood of my 11 year old car. It had not been running smoothly and some research indicated that the one-per-cylinder coil packs were the likely culprit. I ordered the parts (and some new spark plugs while I was at it) and got to work. There was a learning curve (why, Honda, must you bury the spark plugs so deeply in a hole that they are difficult to get out?) but I licked the problems and buttoned things up. I have spent the last week reveling in a car that runs every bit as smoothly as it did when brand new.
But yard work? There is no diagnosis, no skill. Just pure, dull, stupid labor. There always seems to be green stuff where there is not supposed to be green stuff, and it has to be ripped out. And at the same time, keeping green stuff where there is supposed to be green stuff is also a problem. Which makes no sense. It would be so much more efficient to dump mulch on the bare spots in the yard and to let the weeds flourish around the trees and bushes. But no, the rulebook of life (and the Mrs.) says that we can’t do it this way.
My last few months have been difficult ones. I have been in a tough stretch at my day job where certain things demand to be done, which leaves little time for other things that need to be done but are less urgent. My brain acknowledges the truth of “never let the urgent crowd out the important” but some things are urgent for a reason and must be attended to.
You know that icebreaker question “So, what do you do?” There have been periods of time when my joking response is to reply that I am a fireman, putting out little blazes on my desk all day long. This spring has been one of those times. One side effect of too much “emergency response” is the lack of the kind of tangible accomplishments that I thrive on. To make a list and check things off scratches me where I itch and makes my world a happy and satisfying place. Constantly putting some things off as I attend to one emergency after another does the opposite.
Which brings me back to yard work. Things were looking scraggly and Marianne was growing weary of pointing these areas out to me. It is not as though I have been doing other things outside – I retired from cutting grass a few years ago, so I rarely stray from the driveway when I am outside at my house. But the weather was nice, rain was forecast and I had some time. So out I went to weed a couple of areas and to trim a bush that was in dire need of a leafcut.
As I knelt on the hard ground (wondering where the little green foam pad that makes this job so much more pleasant had gone) I formulated my plan. With a tool to loosen the soil, I attacked each weed one by one.
A better gardener than I am would know what each of those weeds is. I recognized a couple of them like the wild violet that has become my yard-nemesis and plain, ordinary grass. I wondered why grass grows so well here but cannot seem to survive in a spot six feet away where other grass is all around. Wouldn’t its little grass-life be fuller with lots of little grass-friends? I thought about transplanting it but decided that it would be futile to make this plainly anti-social grass fit into grass-society, so into the bucket with it. Yard work makes me harsh that way.
One by one those weeds gave in to my efforts. The big tall ones with the yellow flowers on top had shallow roots, making them easy to pull. The dandelions with their long taproots were another story. I think that I may not have seen the last of most of those.
It eventually occurred to me as I got halfway around the (former) mulchbed under the tree that this job was providing exactly the kind of visible, tangible accomplishment that my psyche had been aching for. What started out green became brown, little bit by little bit. Every weed became a problem which was solved. The crabgrass required a different approach from the little creepers that came up in a long string. By trial and error I figured out the best way to approach each kind of weed and I picked up speed as I worked my way through.
As I got around to the end some thoughts emerged. I noticed that when working on my car, I had been completely focused on the job itself. Things like which wrench to use, whether to do this step ahead of that one and so on kept my full attention. I cannot recall anything else on my mind as I did the job. Perhaps this is why mechanical work is so relaxing to me.
But pulling weeds gave my mind a little freedom to wander. The job took some focus, but not too much. I realized that I was getting a good feeling from the work I was putting in and that once I had actually gotten started, the whole thing was fairly painless. Except for the part about my knees on the hard dry ground. I also remembered how satisfying it is to look at a mulchbed that looks the way it is supposed to look. Or at least the way it is supposed to look as it waits for me to buy some mulch to spread there.
I also reminded myself that doing something I don’t want to do can actually be good for me. Just as going to the gym for some exercise pays dividends for the body, accomplishing a simple but unpleasant task can pay dividends for the mind and the soul. And as with almost everything else, getting started is actually the hardest part of the job.
I still hate yard work, and I don’t suppose this will ever change. But hating it doesn’t mean that I can’t learn something from it too. Which is a good thing because there is still so much of it to do.