Brainy Bookworm or Suburban Lumberjack?

Took two trips to the dump and I haven’t bagged it all yet.

For a few years, in the late 1970s, plaid flannel shirts were all the rage in teenage fashion, at least where I lived, outside of Baltimore. I know I had more than a few of these beauties, but the one I remember most fondly was white and red and black and had snaps in place of buttons

I haven’t owned a shirt like that in thirty plus years, but my husband still has one or two that he pulls out of his closet on cool Fall days, although he is partial to chamois over flannel, and having touched (washed) both, I question why all clothes aren’t made of chamois. The softest material on earth.

And on those cool days, usually on a weekend, my husband might be found wearing his flannel or chamois shirt in our yard, cutting back the trees, pruning the rose bushes, unearthing some sapling that began as a blown seed and has grown far bigger than our tiny yard space allows.

If you know us at all, you would expect to see him out there; less likely would you expect to find me. I’m probably curled up by the fire, reading a book. Or, um, doing some important housework.

I grew up in a family that stayed inside during hay fever season, which often meant early Fall. I wasn’t particularly allergic and loved the outdoors, but I don’t have a single memory of one of my family members gardening or even mowing a lawn. Even when they couldn’t afford it, they found somebody else to do the landscaping because it wasn’t worth it to do it themselves; why should they risk days of burning eyes and constant sneezing so they could spend a morning pushing a piece of metal back and forth through the grass? This was long before Claritin or Zyrtec. Known allergy medicines put you to sleep, which wasn’t great consolation when the allergy season lasted for weeks or months at a time.

Imagine my shock that first time, many years ago, when my husband asked if I’d help him in the yard. If I could just bag up the clippings, cut (or saw) the tree limbs into small enough pieces to move them . . .  that’s all he asked. So, being young and game and completely caught off guard by the request, I followed him around the yard, picking up, cutting up, stuffing into bags. It wasn’t hard work but it was very physical work and I learned that first year that the long sleeved flannel shirt had value beyond its “lovely” aspect. Thorns can rip through your skin if you aren’t careful and certain species of foliage can cause some people of a more delicate nature to break out in a rash that covers all exposed skin.

That was at least fifteen years ago. Every year around this time, we do what we did the year before: he trims, prunes, pulls and I cut, saw, bag. I’m not about to let a little rash and some blood stop me from doing the work. To this day, I go out there resistantly, but I always end up feeling great when the work is done. When I finish, I am sweat-covered with dirt-in-the-fingernails despite wearing gloves, and my eyes itch and burn and I can’t stop sneezing (I developed allergies later in life – damn genetics)

Sounds fun, huh?

The allergies are not fun, but I get why one would risk the discomfort for some time out in the yard. I learned something important about myself. I like outdoor physical work. I will risk allergic symptoms in order to get the job done. I would rather suffer lower back pain and sore muscles after the fact than not do it at all. And there is Advil, after all and hot showers and cold water to drink.

The discovery came not just from the picking up after my husband trimmed. That first year, I wanted him to pull out a Forsythia bush that was bright and cheery in the early spring but far too big and situated so that it blocked the walkway into our back yard (the woman who lived here before us loved gardening but landscaped her (our) yard as if it were five times larger than it was; we’ve had to pull out a lot as her small saplings grew into mighty big trees that have pushed our fences into our neighbors’ yards.) There was no way to pass through the gate and into the yard without being attacked by that Forsythia bush, even when it was trimmed back as far as could be done. By the time I made the suggestion, though, my husband had been working for hours and was ready to put down his implements and take a shower. Maybe next weekend, he’d said. Or something like that.

The next day, while he was off at work and I was taking care of the baby, I realized that I didn’t want to wait until next weekend. I wanted to pull that bush out myself. The baby took long naps (2 and ½ hours, twice a day–lucky with the first child, not so much with #2), so I took it upon myself to begin excavating after I put her down that morning. I had no idea what I had in store, but learned quickly that pulling out a mature bush was some pretty demanding physical work. You had to go down deep. Roots do not like to be dislodged from their comfy place in the ground

Hard work, yes, but I LOVED it. Time flew when I was hacking away at that bush with my shovel and clippers. I had to clean up and get the baby, and found myself counting down the minutes until she’d go down for another nap so I could get back out there and dig. And when I finally got the bush out, and had chopped it into pieces and tossed it in the truck to go to the dump, I felt the kind of deep joy I feel after a successful writing session, or a good workout, or a meaningful discussion with a friend. But even better was the way I could feel it in my muscles; how after the bush was gone, I still had the reminder in my body of the work that I had done. The pain was also the satisfaction.

One of the greatest things in my life has been the discovery of parts of myself that I hadn’t known existed before, especially those parts that seem so out of character based on the image I’ve developed subconsciously over the years. Brainy bookworm is only one way to describe me. Suburban lumberjack is another.

How about you? Have you discovered things you enjoy that you never would have expected and maybe never would have tried if somebody else hadn’t pushed you to do it?



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14 thoughts on “Brainy Bookworm or Suburban Lumberjack?

  1. This member of your family has unfortunately found reasons not to be so active as I was as a girl. From a family where my dad and uncles built things, used tools, repaired cars, and generally puttered, I married a bookworm/sportsfan. (You may have heard that your grandfather on that side of the family took his car to the gas station to have new license plates put on every year, before we simply added a new date sticker.) Congratulations on your new-found interest. Now, Sara, I have both allergies and a very small front garden, so if you are ever in town…

    1. I’m not sure I knew that story about the license plates but it doesn’t surprise me. I loved that man but he was not a worker bee by any definition. I wish I were going to be out your way soon but it probably won’t be for awhile. Is your front garden a kitchen garden or flower or both?

      1. It is a “fill this space with attractive low-maintenance stuff (preferrably perennial) and weed and trim it so that the neighborhood association doesn’t send us a letter” front garden.

    1. Impressive. It does feel good to move your body and to know you’ve accomplished something. Where does one do a race of 802 stairs?

  2. At first I was going to say:

    Well, shoot…I’m sure there must be something, but I can’t remember a single thing that I discovered I liked after being pushed into it. I wish it was possible to tag memories for easy searching.

    But then I remembered:

    Oh, yeah…math!

    1. Oooh! Tagging memories would be cool. Or maybe not. There are many things that should not come to surface, at least in my life. Math’s a good one AND you’re doing something with it. Nice work!

  3. I’ve always loved physical activity for the simple fact of how good it makes me feel. In younger days it was about the determination to prove that my twiggy body was merely a facade concealing secret strength, and my toothpick arms were actually lethal weapons. I still admit to feeling that way, except that now my motivations are a little bit more about defying age related cricks and creeks. (I shall not surrender!)
    Wonderful post, Sara.

    1. I feel like the physical activity I’ve done in my life has always been organized and for the purpose of bettering me (get strong, be part of a team, lose weight, reduce stress). I guess that’s why the outdoor work feels so different for me. I’m doing something that may be good for me but that isn’t the reason I am doing it. See the difference or am I splitting hairs?

  4. I love to be out in the garden and find it so meditative. Even the weed pulling and digging up of dead/diseased/poorly placed plants has its own peacefulness to it. Maybe it’s because I’m outside or maybe it’s because it’s one of the few times during the day I am on my own that makes it so peaceful. The only exception I make is having to deal with blackberries. I. HATE. Them. Passionately. Not eating them, mind you, just the plants. Insidious bastards that invade the yard and are impossible to banish.

    The thing that I did that surprised me was kayaking. I have a friend who is really into it so she talked me into kayaking when we went camping in the Tetons. I was super nervous at first because I really stink at swimming (despite numerous attempts to get better at it). But once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed it. So glad I tried it. I’ve gone a few more times since.

    1. I love kayaking too, as long as it is in calm water; I’m not the rapids type. We have an insidious ground cover plant in our yard (can’t remember what it is called) and there are days that I avoid going in the backyard for fear it will take over not just the yard but the house and my family and the neighborhood and and and…

So what do you think?