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Friday, February 4, 2011

In Pete’s Absence

Pete’s been in Juneau the past few days lobbying and attending union meetings. I’m appreciative of his efforts when he’s around, but even more so when he’s away because I then realize just how much he does around here. It takes three people to run this place; me, and this guy Pete, who does twice his share.

There are seldom any interruptions. When alone, some drink to excess. I think to excess. My latest mental binge centered around time. I’ve determined that it’s not linear, but circular and elastic. If a person wants to get something done, they’ll find the time to do it. If something else more pressing materializes, they’ll do that. For example, I’ve been thinking about writing a book on the subject of time. I haven’t gotten to it because I’m so busy doing other things. Actually, copy editing Raudi’s Story is now taking precedence. My decision was based upon several factors, one of which is that I work best when giving one particular project my undivided attention.

Pete’s being away means that I have to reprioritize and do his chores. We have a clearly defined distribution of labor around here. And as we’ve gotten older, we’ve defined it even further. My grandmother used to call this sort of behavior “becoming more set in one’s ways.” I have come to believe that it’s more related to personal interest and convenience. A case in point: I get up first so that Pete and I don’t bump into one another. I dress, go out and tend to the horses. I give them their hay, break up the ice in their buckets, and scoop poop. Then I, who by now am accompanied by the dogs, go up to the shed, give some hay to the goats, and look in on the chickens.

I enter via the back door, and once I’m inside, Pete asks how everyone (meaning the animals) is doing. I give him a brief rundown, and then sit down to eat breakfast. By now, last night’s dishes have been done, the dogs have been fed, a fire’s been started, the chickens have been watered, and breakfast (oatmeal) is on the table. Always oatmeal. After breakfast, I go upstairs and get to work. Pete then runs warm water out to the horses and the goats.

I’ve tried varying the morning routine because I think it’s important to be flexible. There was, for instance, the day in which I decided to feed the dogs before going outside. I poured one can of kibbles in Rainbow’s bowl, and another’s in Jenna’s bowl. Rainbow stood in front of her bowl and looked puzzled. And Jenna, who usually comes downstairs behind Pete, remained at the top of the stairs, whining. The question that the dogs were posing to me was Why are you doing things differently? I had no good reason, which was why the next day I let Pete give the dogs their morning rations.

After breakfast, the day progresses in similar fashion, with me focusing on writing and riding. Pete intersperses cooking, cleaning, and helping out with animals between reading student papers, cross-country skiing, and working on house projects. As of late, he’s also been working on this website and assisting me with trip planning.

He left for Juneau, and I decided that this time around, that I’d work in a very efficient fashion, so that I’d have more time to write and horseback ride. This worked, sort of. I’m not very domestic. There are some out there who are adept at creating a warm, cozy, clean environment, one that you just get sucked into. It’s sort of like falling into a thickly padded chair or couch. I remember once going to Spring Creek Farm and meeting with Laura, who was then working as a clerk/cook at Vagabond Blues. She was wearing a full apron and welcomed me warmly into her kitchen. (She was renting, but it was clearly “her” kitchen.)

She was making jam and had a plate of chocolate chip cookies on the table. I didn’t even ask – she opened the refrigerator door and got me a glass of milk. The woodstove was going, and the kitchen was spotless. She radiated warmth and good cheer. I’d meant to stay for just five minutes, but extended my visit to three hours. I just didn’t want to leave.

For me, cooking and cleaning are just a means to an end. I do them because I like to eat well and hate living in a fouled nest. In Pete’s absence I did this experiment. I decided not to do any dishes for three days. Instead, I ignored them and let them pile up. I figured that I’d do them late at night, after I’d finished doing more important things. There were so many by yesterday at noon that I stacked them neatly in the sink and on the counters, so that the pile looked smaller.

This exercise in efficiency was partially successful. At 10 p.m. I went outside, turned on the generator, cranked up the radio, and went at it. I grew increasingly more impatient as I washed and rinsed, which to my thinking, meant that I ought to have allotted smaller increments of time to this particular task. But after, I deemed the venture a success, since I would not have any more dishes to do for another day or so.

I find tending to the animals to be more gratifying than doing housework. The goats and chickens live in a shed that we’ve converted into a small barn. I like working in this space, with its attendant smells of hay, grain, and dust. And there’s something most satisfying about filling the muckbuckets with waste, hauling it to the compost station, and putting down fresh bedding. I most like working in this confined space in the winter, when I’m then sheltered from the cold and wind. I readily admit that my behavior is not the norm. I would like to have my DNA tested and see what’s going on genetically. I’m sure that my past ancestry would reveal some things about me that would better enable me to understand why I am the way I am. If the farming gene was a recessive trait, it’s now moved front and center.

Pete will be home shortly, which means that my thinking about time and related issues will again become more linear. This is a good thing. Otherwise my thoughts about would just continue to circle around and around, endlessly, like the hawks that ride the thermal breezes. The consequences have led me to believe that it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.