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AtHardLabor

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Thomas Hart Benton: Steel from America Today mural (detail) (1930–31)

"I know, ironic."


I seem to need to relearn a simple lesson each Spring, just as if each prior Springtime hadn't taught me the same damned thing. I leave my long Winter hibernation with aches and pains I can never remember acquiring. It's not like the season had demanded too much of me. Aside from a few simple snow shovelings and some firewood carrying, I hardly stretch a muscle once the Autumn leaf harvest is in. I still awaken with a grumbly back or something. It's always something. A muscle group complaining without a discernible cause. I limp around and attempt my annual stoicism performance, which fools and entertains nobody, especially me. Eventually, even The Muse catches on that I'm aching. I take my ibuprofen and attempt to carry on, avoiding strenuous activity.

Then I relearn that I need some strenuous activity to iron out Winter's remaining wrinkles.
An afternoon spent AtHardLabor tends not to do me in, but to resurrect me. The following morning, I'm limber again. I walk upright without grimacing. I'm fixed. Was it always like this? Was the cure always whatever was avoided? The medicine, whatever I rejected? If this were the case, wouldn't life seem awfully willfully ironic? I'm not quite fool enough to propose a general principle based upon this single annual repetition. I avoid snakes because snakebite doesn't cure anything. Hard Labor, though, does seem to impart definite therapeutic benefits if engaged in just after hibernation. The ease seems more than simply a sin, it's damaging.

This Spring, my HardLabor was grubbing out gnarled old dead tree roots, impossible work. Each root lies completely imbedded to an indeterminate depth. They're twisted enough to blunt the effect of even a well-placed chain saw blade. Removing each seems as intricate an effort as cracking a safe, for each closely holds its combination and steadfastly refuses to disclose its weakness. We resort to wedges and sledge, ancient tools ruled by a definite science. I seek secret seams such that I might sink a wedge into them and build a line of wedges until the root gives up a slice of itself. A dozen slices later, it's on to that root's brother, which lives just beneath where his brother hung. I work muscle groups I'd forgotten I had. My formerly aching back? Left behind somewhere.

I might have just needed a convincing distraction. HardLabor is nothing if not diverting. This desk chair philosopher spends too much of his day dreaming away, considering stuff. My work continues almost regardless of initial or eventual conditions. I'm almost always working on something, working hard, but if you were looking, you might insist that I'm hardly working at all. My profession requires almost no heavy lifting. So much the worse for my profession. It does not provide the balance that even I apparently require. It offers little exertion.

I wrote a piece I entitled HardLabor just before The Damned Pandemic hit. I wrote it because at the time, The Muse and I were hosting our Grand Daughter Sara, whom we call TheGrandOtter. She was at the time trying to recover from some debilitating trauma and the HardWork I described in that story [
Link] involved no heavy lifting, just care-giving, which I characterized as harder HardLabor than any physical kind. I remain convinced of that fact but also reminded that an ounce of actual HardLabor might impart more than a pound of cure. For me, waking from hibernation should call me to perform a little heavy lifting, to really stretch and reach. The alternative seems to leave me hobbling. I know, ironic.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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