I study Buddhism, and perhaps some of my ideas about the worth of valuing the present time has driven me to my choice of working almost entirely with hand. On the other hand, I retain a healthy fear of moving blades and flying balls, which is why I excelled in neither woodworking nor sports. Anyway, I’m a bit of a hermit and enjoy passing successive days in comparative silence working on my endless list of landscape tasks, aware of the subtleties of the world around me while I saw down small trees with a double-toothed hand saw. Me and my handsaw, pruners, and poler cutter manage most of the vegetation on the property. I do rely increasingly upon motorized wheeled vehicles, such as my power wheelbarrow, rototiller, and two mowers to save my back. However, I still posses a push mower and I am not above edging with shears. The cheap electric string trimmer that I bought last summer has a 10-to-1 ratio of time spent fixing the line feet to time actually trimming something. Its failure seemed almost to prove something to me about the implicit value of work done by hand.
So I work in peace and quiet most of the time. I am, remember, surrounded by 20 acres in a rural community with only a partial view of one neighbor, so isolation is easy. I work in the rain, in the freezing cold, and in the rare instances of hot sun. I don’t mind at all. I like the feel of my body heating up on a cold day as I take my hand saw to a small sapling. I like clipping blackberry canes with my hand shears. I’ve leveled entire swaths of the nasty vines this way; it gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I patiently cut limbs from a ladder, then carve them into pieces to decompose in piles on the ground, or place them on the fall burn pile.
Anyone who has known me is aware of my signature lack of patience for most of life’s impositions. Yet for this work, I find both patience and peace.
The men in my life seem to have little understanding for this curious approach to otherwise boring tasks. My father’s excavator is a favorite tool for accomplishing most anything, including tree removal that a chain saw could just as easily accomplish. I spend much of my time here attempting to re-educate my father and his associates, showing them how to avoid tearing up the soil, explaining why heavy equipment under tree roots is not advisable, describing how to prune properly even with an electric pole saw (which later died in action while my hand saw keeps going), and emphasizing the reasons why it is important to leave native vegetation intact. I have been called crazy, and had men shake their heads at me as I refuse the help of heavy power equipment. Whether or not they respect me, the well-trained among them now know to inquire as to whether ‘something is planted in there’ before falling a tree or taking on a mowing project. I know this place in detail now; I know what natives grow where, where the rock piles are, the nurse logs, the remnant yews and hemlocks. I protect them all.
My next project: revitalizing the orchard. My father planted three plum and two apple trees in the late 70’s in an area that was once open but has now grown over with Douglas firs. All are now decrepit, poor produces, and two of the plums are over 30 feet tall. Besides contemplating their replacements, the recent removal of two firs for firewood has now opened up space for about seven new trees. With this has come the realization that I now have an excuse to buy more plants. I can hardly wait.