The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, 1787

"My foibles seem more prominently displayed than my mastery"

I once engaged in frenzied ten hour marathons of yard work whenever Spring finally came, as if I'd stockpiled overwinter energy and it was approaching its pull date. I'd rake and prune and mow and dig, leaving a cluttered pile of debris behind me, then drag that jumble out into an uneasy pile beside the driveway. I'd call Kevin with his trailer and pay him a hundred bucks to haul that mess to the dump or cut the shrubbery into small enough pieces that I could fill the yard debris container for weeks into the future. I'd end those days utterly exhausted and also utterly exhilarated, holding a feeling of mastery and dominion that winter had so recently successfully held at bay. These were genuine red letter days, memorable for the ten thousand ways I'd managed to overcome all the usual complications, my own initiating motivation not the least of these. I would have spent the better part of at least a week thinking through an effort that only engagement could ever resolve, telling myself that I was not so much procrastinating, but carefully planning. I was actually procrastinating, for such a momentous engagement awed me from before its outset. I both relished and feared the work.

Now, I tend to parcel out the springtime yard work into two hour pieces, distributing it over the opening weeks of the season.
I still find ample reason to plan while denying that I'm procrastinating. I always find some corner of our tiny yard with which I cannot seem to engage. I still make grand plans but tend to grant myself more modest assignments, a little at a time. Our backyard, invisible to all but two neighbors, receives the least of my attention, for it sits far below my sight horizon from both the windows and the deck, and I have to lean over to see what needs doing down there. Most of the year, it's buried beneath a massive snowbank, so it rarely comes into my consciousness and offers no opportunity for the beaming pride front yard work provides me. Our backyard's more of an obligation, though I've been working more or less hard to make it seem less so. I several years ago declared that I aspire for it to become a deer meadow again, seeing no utility in trying to enforce even an English Country Garden sort of discipline on it, let alone a golf course's green precision. Its drip irrigation system means I rarely even need to set a sprinkler there.

I do try to stay on top of the annual crop of moss that emerges from beneath the melting snowbank each spring, and to rake up the covering of windfall pine needles littering the ground, if only to reduce the possibility of fire. Even in these now sequestering foothills, wildfire remains a real threat and a continuing concern, especially now, as we're experiencing what the climate experts have come to call an Epic Drought, an extended dry spell the likes of which this country hasn't experienced in a thousand years. The last one drove out the Anasazi. This one could see the end of even our modest mountain community, so I think of myself as especially careful where fire's concerned.

We presently live under a Fire Ban, a curiously ambiguous declaration which excludes some common uses. Charcoal grills, which can throw off just as many sparks as any open fire, are generally allowed, especially if located on a concrete patio or protected deck. I'd understood that my little metal fire pit which features a containing covering screen was also exempted, so I use it sometimes to burn off windfall pine needles, reducing them to ash in minutes rather than bagging them up to be carted away to the landfill. I tell myself that I'm careful, usually saturating the surrounding ground before ever setting match to a load. Even then, resiny pine needles sort of explode into flame, though the covering screen contains any sparks. They do smoke considerably, though, so I choose a day with a light breeze, prevailing heavier gusts might cause serious trouble. Like I said, I'm careful.

I was burning off a load of pine needles yesterday morning when my reverie was rudely interrupted by my neighbor Brian giving me an apparent AskChewing. He leaned over his deck railing, railing down at me for filling his house with my pine needle smoke. I'd apparently woken him. He might have asked what I thought I was doing, but I suspect that he thought me simply thoughtless and might not have thought to ask such an obviously pointless question, so I was doing what he suspected me of doing rather than what I was intending to do. I was burning under a fire ban. I was, he observed, therefore an ignorant and careless man. I was probably a scofflaw, though I'd given scant prior evidence of ever being so. Anyway, he let me know just how he felt about me, really chewing into me. I felt humiliated.

I thanked him for clarifying the burn ban's inherent ambiguity. I had to thank him three times before he seemed to accept that I understood his perspective. He had, after all, been rudely awakened. Nobody's ever at their best just after a rude awakening, not even just then rudely awakening old me. I reflected after how poorly I'd reacted internally. Feeling wounded, I went defensive, though I immediately hosed down the ashes until they were wet and cold, and I told myself that I would work hard to avoid alarming Brian again. Had I been so disposed, I could have made an enemy out of him for chewing me a new one when he might have just asked and learned. It's not beyond even my meager imagination to consider that I might have misinterpreted the fire ban's ambiguity, for that often happens to me, and to many, I suspect. Us humans tend to see what we believe we're seeing rather than what's there. Still, Ask-Chewing seems among the least effective means for positively influencing anyone. Later, I caught myself tacitly Ask-Chewing a non-mask wearer at the grocery story and found there some empathy and understanding. If I cannot ask, I might be more likely to chew, casting my understanding as the one and true interpretation of genuine ambiguity. Ignorance seems to reside at the intersection of my understanding and yours. If you want to inspire me, avoid humiliating me. Just ask rather than AskChewing.

This being Friday morning, I once again feel moved to recount my week's PureSchmaltz WhatNow? postings. Six hundred and forty-five individual page views passed through PureSchmaltz this week, and for me, this has been an absolutely banner writing week, with some of my very best pieces somehow appearing.

I started the week with
Pretensal, promoting candor over pretense.

I next spoke of reframing as a convenient and effective foil for adversity in

I then wondered how a man without apparent history might engage with a future in

I admitted that I felt increasingly attracted to The Simple Life in

I reflected upon how difficult it might be for anyone to stand tall in

I considered our new prosperity in

I ended my writing week with
Morpidity, an essay about a certain human stupidity.

As absolutely isolated as I often feel these days, I might take heart that not even my secluded backyard holds me out of sight. My foibles seem more prominently displayed than my mastery, with inadvertent candor perhaps more defining than any of my remaining pretenses. I am undergoing the most ExtremeDomestification of my life right now, and not even my History-onics very well inform me. I cope by embracing some simpler, PandemicAmish philosophy and by acknowledging just how remarkable my continued GroaningUp might just be. We're immersed in Pauseperity and seemingly surrounded by Morpidity. We might respond gratefully to even the occasional blistering AskChewing. Thank you for following along with me here.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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