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05/12/2006 Archived Entry: "Gardening, trail-building, and being a good carrier (again)"

PRACTICING BEING A GOOD CARRIER. I was so proud of myself yesterday. I planted potato sets, carrot seeds, and two apple trees, and transplanted tomato plants. Then I hauled several buckets of gravel and rock waaaaaaay down to the bottom of my work-in-progress backyard trail. Ah, spring. It's so damn much work.

Gardening has never exactly been my forte. Um, that's an understatement. It's more like plants shrivel, die, and turn black the moment I turn my evil gaze upon them. But what kind of preparedness maven can't even grow a tomato? So this year I built raised beds, shared a 20-ton load of stable compost (anyone wanting horse manure for the next 10 years can probably get it from me), and tried again. This time, I even fertilized the ungrateful little veggie-monsters. (Plants are such spoiled brats.)

If this experiment works, next year I'll expand to onions, asparagus, herbs, and perhaps a nut tree or two. I already planted strawberries in late March. Through some miracle they're still alive and blossoming. Could it be an omen? Or could it be that I was gone for the entire month of April and never once looked upon them with my laser-like Gaze of Death?

Work on the trail continues to be the real learning experience, though -- an experience at once physical, creative, and spiritual.

A GPS unit, loaned to me by The Pyramid Man (Hi and thanks, Pyramid Man!), tells me that my backyard trail is shorter and doesn't descend as far as I'd guessed. With luck and the help of the local Yard Guy, I'll add another 2-300 feet this summer, but right now, it's a "mere" 150 yards long.

But before you go casually tossing around words like "mere" ... the GPS unit also tells me it's got an average 19 percent grade.

Going up and down it for a little walk makes the sweat run. Going all the way to the bottom of it with buckets of gravel for trail surfacing or buckets of rock for building a retaining wall is ... urgh. And there's no way to get down there except on foot. Or by helicopter. The trail is too twisty, narrow, steep, and filled with steps to access with a wheelbarrow, garden cart, or ATV. Some clever person suggested sliding construction materials down on a series of chutes, but this good idea was cost-prohibitive and impossible given the terrain and vegetation.

So buckets it is. The prospect was so grim that, after surfacing the upper 1/3 of the trail, I just stopped & spent almost two years dreading the rest of the work. This year I decided finally to get rid of that heap of gravel in my driveway. I'd finish surfacing and shoring up the bottom 1/3 of the trail, no matter what it took. (The middle third is flat, but it's a swamp, temporarily bridged with a raised walkway of boards. A real walkway over the swamp is next year's project.)

I've always been an impatient person. Always in a hurry -- even though that's often meant rushing to get nowhere or accomplish nothing in particular. I work in bursts and enthusiasms. I throw myself into something. I work fast and hard. Then when I get bored or tired I throw myself back out of a project just as impulsively as I threw myself in. But that doesn't work here.

A few days ago I tried that. I loaded up a bucket with about as much gravel as I could lift and headed downtrail. It took 15 minutes to get to the bottom, after much stopping and shifting and balancing and nearly falling off the boardwalk into the swamp. My legs were bruised from the heavy bucket banging against them. I hated every second of the chore, managed to surface one single step, and thought, "Bloody hell. I'll never be able to do this."

Then I remembered The Pyramid Man and what he told me about "being a good carrier."

You know how sometimes a casual remark or a single statement you read at just the right moment can resonate through your life far out of proportion to its seeming importance? When The Pyramid Man told me that one of his greatest skills was "being a good carrier," it had that effect on me. The moment he explained what he meant -- doggedly, patiently, slowly carrying life's various burdens -- I knew both that I wasn't a good carrier, and that being a good carrier was every bit as valuable a skill as he thought it to be.

Since then, I've reminded myself (especially when tackling hard or scary projects) that being a good carrier will get me further than my impatience and enthusiasms. I've reminded myself of that often while practicing The Artist's Way program. I've reminded myself of that while trying to recapture old creative skills. Or when looking around my yard and feeling miserable because there's so much to do and so little money to do it with. I always want to do more and bigger and better -- and then I get frustrated when my efforts aren't good enough.

So after that one bruising labor with a macho-weight bucket of gravel, I reminded myself to be a good carrier. I said, "Okay, maybe it'll take 10 years to finish that trail. But if you don't approach it wisely, it'll take forever because you'll give up."

So now I'm making just two or three trips a day. In each hand I carry a bucket containing one feeble little gallon of gravel and one rock about the size of two fists. When I first looked at those buckets I thought, "That's ridiculous. Surely I can do more than that."

But with a load that light, I can practically run up and down the trail. In just a handful of trips over a couple of days, I got five steps surfaced and a good start on a retaining wall.

And better yet, I feel so good when I'm down there that I sit on my newly graveled steps and think, "Hm, I'll bet I could turn that portion of that little streamlet into a pond. All it would take is some black plastic sheeting, maybe five or six buckets of gravel, and 30 or 40 rocks. I can do that. Easy." That's an amazing feeling, after two years of dread.

I'm excited about building the trail again. Gratified at watching it grow. Thrilled about future possibilities -- even when I know they mean much, much more "carrying."

I think about the screenhouse I intend to build down there at the trail bottom in a place where two tiny streamlets come together and babble their way down a deep declivity. I want the screenhouse to bridge that declivity, thrusting out over the spot where the two streamlets join -- sort of a poor woman's Fallingwater House. I want to put a copper firepit and a cot in it and sleep down there on warm summer nights. Or in spring or fall with rain on the roof joining the sound of the cascading streamlets.

I had that vision the first time I saw that place. But until this week, the idea always seemed impossibly far away. Now, who knows? Maybe it will take 10 years. But if I can transform my impatient, rush-rush-rush self into a good carrier, it'll happen.

Breaking a lifetime of habits is challenging, especially when you've reached an age when you might feel well entitled to become "set in your ways." But it's fun. Invigorating. I feel more vivid as I change. I love the sense that I'm growing -- that I'm not just creating a trail down a difficult hillside, but that I'm continuing to create, and re-create, myself, continuing to find new value in being alive.

Posted by Claire @ 01:22 PM CST

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