Work That Means Something

kindling1Today I was carrying some cedar kindling from the bed of the Scout into the outbuilding and stacking it up for winter. This is a final step in a long process. I ordered a 10 cord load of cedar logs some years ago so I could process them on my sawmill as I needed them for building projects in the Estivant Pines. This summer I’ve produced the materials needed to get started on a bridge over a creek up in the pines. This is a big job I’ve been thinking about for many years. Several weeks ago, about 5 of us met up at the pines and got a couple of sections of the bridge constructed.

Making all that cedar lumber generated a lot of cedar slabs. I was in a hurry to get the lumber made, so I just let the slabs pile up. Today I started stacking them on my sawbuck, cutting them with the chainsaw, splitting them and tossing them into the back of the Scout. When full, I pulled it over to the outbuilding and started stacking. I have a lot more cedar to cut for this project, so there will be lots more cutting, splitting and stacking before winter sets in. I have to admit I do several double takes as the lovely pile of kindling grows. Starting fires in the winter is so much easier if a good supply of dry kindling is available, and I now have several years worth tucked away.

As often happens with me, while I’m doing this mindless sort of work, I start telling stories to myself. I reminisced about my childhood in a suburb near Lansing, Michigan. I had a bike and some buddies in the neighborhood, but my Mom seldom allowed me to play with my friends. There was TV to watch, and the dishes to help with after supper (how I hated that chore!), but one thing that stood out in my memories was how disconnected I felt from the actual economy of the household.

Both my parents lived on acreage when they were children. There were cows, chickens, a big garden, hay fields, and barns. The families were larger, and everyone was expected to help. When the hay was cut it was stacked in the barn, and it fed the draft animals and cows all winter. Milk that was gathered twice each day wound up on the dinner table. Eggs fresh from the hen house, and sometimes the hens themselves wound up on the supper table. There was very little mystery where the food came from. The work that the children did during the day manifested itself into a plate that was passed around the supper table. I think this sort of household economy was the norm when my parents were growing up. Many of the things consumed by the household had little or no component in the money economy.

kindling2Fast forward to my childhood where there were no livestock or draft animals. The house was heated with fuel oil, which fed a mysterious machine in the basement. We kids gave little or no thought to this machine. It never failed to do what it was supposed to do, and we were always warm inside the house. Hot water came out of the tap, again fueled by a mysterious machine in the basement. Food came from the grocery store, which my Mom prepared for the one family meal we had each day, supper. We youngsters were told to help with this or that chore, which we reluctantly did. Doing so often interfered with a rerun of The Beverly Hillbillies, or Gilligan’s Island. Almost everything we did depended on money, which was my Dad’s responsibility to bring home. Again, this was largely a mystery to us. We knew Dad worked, but the connection between that and the food and warmth we enjoyed was largely a mystery to us.

Perhaps this is why a simple project like working from cedar log to lumber to slab to kindling is so satisfying for me. Perhaps I missed something fundamental when I was growing up; the connection between labor and comfort, and the fact that my labor was necessary for the functioning of the family. I was sullen when I was asked to do any chores, I think, because I saw no connection between what I did and a tangible benefit to myself.

I went on to wonder if raising children in an environment similar to ours produces “better” children? Are they more confident that they can take care of themselves? Do they understand that no matter what happens to them in the “real” world, that there is always a place that is warm with food in the cupboard; a place where their labor would be welcomed? I think I’ve lived my life with a distrust of money. I’ve lived such that if money would suddenly become meaningless, as it has in many foreign economies in my own lifetime, that we could at least survive. People in cities that depend entirely on having their food and warmth delivered to them would suffer greatly if these services were interrupted for any length of time. Whereas I’d still have my kindling pile.

2 Responses to “Work That Means Something”

  1. Stella Hansen says:

    The possibility of being without fuel / power has always been in the back of my mind. A good snowstorm can take us to another world. Hmm how would we keep warm or draw water if there were no power? I’m appreciating what we have, but there are no guarantees.

  2. Ted says:

    One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Helen Keller: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

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