It’s close enough to spring to have a “to do” list now: expand the vegetable garden, paint, repair and re-roof the shed, put in firewood for next winter. Rebuild the shed chimney, where, years ago, previous owners had it lopped off at roof level and covered the hole with a simple — but now failing — repair of hot tar over heavy canvas.
It all sounds like a chore, but it isn’t.
Sure, working the mattock through the clumped yellow grass of old pasture will be hard physical work, a blisters-on-hands afternoon that’s not likely to be improved by the inevitable arrival of blackflies. And yes, I’ll have to find my way through the buried slabs of shale and the occasional boulders, each one found by that particular ring of the pick-point, both the sound and the accompanying vibration along the hardwood handle and into the bones of my arms.
But it’s what some used to call honest work: you’re tired at the end of the day, and you don’t feel guilty for taking the evening off.
Our four-year project of stripping siding, replacing clapboard, replacing trim boards and painting the house is done now, finished last autumn, though there will always be touchups. The beauty of this year’s work is that all of it is short jobs, four or five full days at the most, with some that can be done in an afternoon or less. Even some that can be done in the rain.
Plant another apple tree. Find a new home for the raspberry canes, now that the old patch has taken everything it can from the last patch’s soil. Rent a trailer to finally haul away the old siding and the random leftover roofing and the mysterious bag of cement inside the shed that, over years, has made a stone fossil of itself inside the paper that once held it in shape. (The cement has hardened off and doesn’t need the paper’s help any more.)
I know that, at the end of each job, I’ll be sweaty and tired and probably frustrated. Weeds will try and conquer the onions and the potato plants, and there will always be too much rain or too little.
But I like it so much better than bearing witness to the petty and the bitter, and so much more than watching those around me — skilled writers, bright minds, inventive and curious people — trapped in a cycle of ever-increasing workload and ever-decreasing job satisfaction. I like it so much better than dealing with the intentionally poisonous, those who take to the social media world under the banner of free thought and the claim of making things better for all, but do so by choosing to selectively attack and personally injure others — judge, jury and executioner in 140 characters, without ever asking how they would feel if they found themselves in similar crosshairs.
I’ve spent a career being threatened — it’s just part of my job — but it’s never been as effective and unnerving as it is now, especially when done by anonymous accounts that vanish in the night, or when it is delivered by electronic despots who don’t really want to discuss and debate, but merely issue edicts publicly announcing your failings or sheer stupidity.
So I’m making a list, checking it twice, knowing that the best thing it holds is between its blue-inked lines, in true job satisfaction.
It’s a list that’s lucky to be incomplete at the end of the summer, and even as fall turns back to winter.
But that’s all right, too.
The best things in life are rewarding work to look forward to, and results to look back at.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.