I’m hiding the seed potatoes in the holes I’ve dug in the new meadow garden, backfilling and covering the tubers with a mix of dark soil and café-au-lait clay. They’re Kennebecs, developed at a Maine agricultural station, probably too ambitiously large a potato for Newfoundland’s short growing season and I’ve probably planted them too early anyway.
There’s rhubarb only just showing its scarlet knuckles over an autumn top-dressing of composted manure, but the chives seem to know something I don’t — they are already a brush of blue-green, even ahead of the grass.
The garlic is certainly convinced it’s spring; the dark green shoots are almost three inches above the soil, thick and short and solid like tulip leaves right now.
Not much else is in full bud yet. The apple trees, new and old, still have their hard brown shells like beetle-backs, and lilacs have only just started to split the outer casings of their buds.
But it’s light so early now that it’s hard not to be hopeful for spring, and walking to work, some of the trees are coming into leaf.
I’ve got my list already: eventually, new ground to prepare and new raspberry canes to plant, and the out-of-town shed — a flat, single-storey barn/shed with a stall for a very small horse — needs a new roof, a rebuilt chimney and clapboard replaced in spots all the way around. Then, a paint job to match the house, green boards and yellow trim.
We are trapped in the rote and the regular, and we don’t even realize it. We condition ourselves, and our jobs and devices condition us even more.
There are lists I hate and there are lists I love. Lists that include taking the car for service and tire change, deadlines for tax documents, and the bills that have to be paid I can barely tolerate, but a long list of even lengthy projects is great, as long as it makes me think of the smell of outside after a rain shower or the end-of-the-day ache of honestly-tired muscles.
We are trapped in the rote and the regular, and we don’t even realize it. We condition ourselves, and our jobs and devices condition us even more. They have us immerse ourselves in the trivial, the scatter of places to be, things to do, emails to read, messages to answer; we become a means to the end of our own lives.
Sometimes, you have to snatch something like personal victory from dissembling a paint sprayer that came to you after being left filled with paint for 10 years, taking it apart, cleaning every spring and piece and valve, and finally getting it to run again.
Sometimes, you stop when you are repointing the chimney, smell the dry dust-must of the mortar, and watch the robins march and pick fights on the lawn by steadily and constantly disregarding each other.
Sometimes, you unbundle a stack of zip-strapped clapboard and a shower of sawdust falls from between the long boards, and you can smell what it would be like if you were standing in the sawmill itself.
There’s a value in lists that are part of the long game, a collection of eight or so tasks that stretch across an entire spring and summer and sometimes overlaps right into the fall. Getting everything done is sometimes the worst of things. Putting the tools away for the fall is, for me, like packing books in crates and planning to move.
I talked to a man who, two weeks ago, told me about a man he knew who was dry-salting a whole ham that will be ready … this time next year.
Now, isn’t that the essence of bending fate to your own will?
I’m not sure I’m that confident.
I’m on the lookout for new things to add to my list.
I’m planting Kennebecs, and trusting as far ahead as the fall.
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.