Friday, August 21, 2009

Earthy ponderations: part two

Still from our book, but now Mom is talking.

And by the way, I totally share my mother’s abhorrence of camping. I mean, totally. And it grieves Mr. Handsome to no end.


Mom: One July at our old-homey-home apartment, blanching green beans, I kept hearing plopping noises. Little black bugs attracted by the steam or the smell were sailing into the kitchen door screen and suffering strokes or heart attacks. I didn’t know whether it was better to sweep up the carcasses on the floor or let them lie. At the sight of all the dead bodies, if I left them out for a lesson, would the survivors panic and flee? Or would they broadcast word of the funerals, bring the scads of relatives flocking?

But what bugged me more was the bean job itself—the beans, beans, beans. I was especially peeved because I’d read a collection of cheerful essays in the May issue of Christian Living by people planning whoopee-doo summer vacations. I’d noted scant reference to vegetables and gardening. Now, I could see how in an increasingly flush North American society, summer had become a time for frivolity—“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,” went the song, “those days of soda and pretzels and beer.” But Mennonites were still supposed to be a people of the soil. What business did our historically sober subgroup, sturdy, platitudinous, from a long line of farming stock, have abdicating and hoofing it off to Tahiti?

Was I just jealous?

I don’t think so. I’d opted for my at-home, barefoot, down-and-dirty life—it just exhausted me, is all. Based on what I knew personally about vacationing, the phenomenon seemed more an aberrance than anything. I well remembered the unbearably hot, airless night when JJ was a baby, when the apartment walls seemed to be closing in on us. Overcome by the urge to flee, we’d thrown the pup tent and some breakfast things in the car, driven down to the meadow, and leaving the car in a woodsy grove, carried gear and baby to a relatively cool spot by the creek. But during the night we woke in our cramped quarters to find the tent nylon sagging and dripping with condensation. It sounded like cattle were rubbing their horns on the car. Uh-oh, had we accidentally stationed ourselves on a cowpath? And JJ wouldn’t stop bawling. Despairing, we again took flight—we loaded our stuff back into the car and returned home.

We fared better on a campout at Brier Creek. And another summer, wanting to camp at a state park about twenty miles away and even more deliberate this time in our planning, we borrowed somebody else’s van and their tent, a walloping, musty thing. The morning of the trip I scurried around packing, rooting anxiously through cupboards and drawers trying to figure out just exactly what we might judiciously leave behind, while upstairs The Happy Pappy tore the blankets off the mattresses to make bedrolls. Somebody stopping in would’ve thought we were packing up to move. We had to ride that afternoon squashed in with the bikes, bedding, cooking pots and utensils, lantern and flashlights, charcoal, food, and everybody’s underwear.

The very next morning, hit with a downpour, the rain dripping into our campfire pancakes, we decided to pull up stakes. The rain wasn’t a big surprise. It had rained a woeful amount already, that spring, and yesterday’s brave sun couldn’t assure we would be spared anymore of the sky's leakage, right? All the way home, The Happy Pappy muttered about the screechy windshield wipers and the children lamented, but I couldn’t honestly participate in their grief. Sure, camping had its advantages: you could simply dump your supper leftovers under the table, and you didn’t have to dust. But sleeping impaled on tree roots? Hauling dishwater? And especially, moving? How was moving a vacation? How hokey, this “get-away-from-it-all” notion, considering the mad scramble.

Traveling, period, was enough to grind down a person’s nerves, as I saw it. What intellectual thrill was there in watching the miles droning by, the glaring heat rising in waves off the highway, the numbers draggily changing on the car clock? How could people optimistically chart out long-distance road tours? Deliberately, for a lark, spend days crisscrossing the country? Just the go-to-see-the-relatives-in-Ohio trips wore me out. Once, back home again after a few days at the grandparents’, I arranged the kitchen chairs close together in a huddle and made everybody sit. “We would never do this otherwise!” I stormed. “Spend hours and hours in this tight little space, on our duffs! It’s crazy!” I was relieved to be back at my housework again, back at my ordinary, fagging jobs.

I came to see that real work, hard work, could make of the simplest little break a precious moment. One evening in Leadmine, after we’d steamed around the whole drudgesome day making applesauce, The Happy Pappy sent me down to the creek. “Go now, hear? I’ll take care of the kitchen mess.” The boys came along with me, and as I sat on a rock, midstream, and soaped them up for their baths, all the fatigue drained out of me, straight out of my aching legs and feet and into the cold creek water. Walking back to the cabin, washed clean of my exhaustion, I was a brand-new woman, happy down to my toes.

The moil and toil has a way of rendering irrelevant the grandiose pursuits. Nothing to do, nowhere to go? Marvelous! Summer nights, we can sit on our front porch steps, the hoes put away but sifts of garden dust still caking our limbs, and bask under the purple canopy with its gadzillions of twinkling stars. And then after our showers, the needly gusts tingling the flesh and expunging the grime, we can creep between the sheets. “Ah,” says The Happy Pappy, “this part, right now, is the very best time of the day.” He doesn’t mean the rest of the day is bad. He just likes the bone-weary feeling, at the end, and the sweet sensation of drifting off to sleep. I’m grateful myself, wrapped in his burly-muscled, weatherbeaten arms, not feeble and pasty from a 9-5 air-conditioned job.

So now tell me, why isn’t nighttime’s repose just about enough of a vacation—whatever the season? Add to sleep’s balm the shouts of laughter during the day, and snatched moments of dulcet silence, and food’s nourishment, and every week, Sabbath’s succor, and what more can the heart bear?

Shouldn’t we be scandalized by our culture’s aimless busy-busyness? Shouldn’t people be holding in higher regard nature’s tug and pull? Should anybody have to go madly chasing after respite?


About One Year Ago: Oven-Roasted Romas. Listen people, if you haven't made these, you really need to. They are delicious, gourmet, scrumptious, simple, exotic, practical, divine---food for the gods that just happens to be accessible to us mortals. Have at it.


  1. Oh my, this is so well written! I can totally relate. I revel in the bone tiredness of a long sweaty day toiling at the stove squirreling away for the winter...but the kids don't yet see the joy in this lifestyle.
    Quoting my teenager,"everybody else goes on vacations and all you do is say how wonderful all this work is."

    Aunt V

  2. I don't get the camping thing at all, either. Camping means doing everything I do at home, only without any modern conveniences. Hello? Why would I sign up for that?!

  3. I'm having to re-think the '9-5 air-conditioned job' attitude


    I think part of the deception that works against us (those of us who eschew elaborate, frequent, time-consuming vacations is lieu of hard, productive, inspiring, lifegiving work) is that most people think the present standard can go on indefinitely. It can't. It's born of sloth. Did you know that is one of the seven deadly sins? and I've read others saying it is the most deadly of the seven? I think so, when I ponder my own life anyway.

    Just my 2 cents.