Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Heft

One of my favo(u)rite aspects of summer is working outdoors. No, I don't take my computer outside -- I do (some) outdoor work in what is commonly known as "the real world."

I also go outdoors in winter, but it's more often related to play. My husband does the shoveling and snow-blowing. So when I'm out, it's to go skiing or sledding, to take pictures, or for some other recreative purpose. Like doing nothing.

The summer is different. Waaaay different.

In the summer, we maintain structures, mow grass, deal with trees. (In the winter, we clear downed trees off the driveway, but otherwise, they stay where they are until the snow melts, the sap runs, and we deal with them. Or not.) And by "maintaining structures," I mean -- well, a lot of things. Painting, cleaning, clearing, re-roofing, draining. Lots of verbs.

My point is that unless it's raining, there's always something "productive" to be done outdoors in the summer. And I always remember physical sensations that have faded during the indoor months.

This summer, we've been painting the outside of one of our camps (southern Ontario: cottage, Manitoba: cabin). I've become aware of a host of physical sensations I've forgotten in the ten years since the last paint job. For example: The hand holding the can of paint (even a small can) gets really tired and my thumb goes to sleep. I tend to hold my breath while painting. Painting is a way to do squats while accomplishing something. When I paint, I don't use all the strength in my arm (painting requires a surprising amount of finesse, even when you're coating a wall), so part of what makes me tired is the sensation of holding back. Et cetera.

Other tasks have other moments. You learn a lot about a stretch of grass while mowing it -- walking every inch of it, over and over again. Taking a shop-vac to the rafters of an attic built by your grandfather can connect you to your past in a whole new way -- if your shoulders hurt just from vacuuming, what must his have felt like from lifting and hammering? When I load fireplace lengths into a wheelbarrow to bring back to the splitter in the garage, I'm reminded how solid, how heavy wood is.

I want to remember these sensations when my life turns back inward, as it inevitably will, this winter. In a month or so, I'll re-enter a project in which people work outdoors. The physical fatigue that comes from sawing, splitting, and stacking wood is different from the fatigue of prepping for a class or analyzing story structure. If I can just remember that, really remember it, I have a better chance of getting it onto the page, where a reader can imagine it, too.