Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Lately I have been struck by the difference between urban and rural physical activities. In Sunnyside, we have a gym literally in our backyard. I think I have a picture here somewhere. Here is our backyard in mid-May looking absurdly lush:

See the vine-covered brick wall? That is actually the back of a gym. I go there regularly as a way of keeping the wolves of gravity and heart disease at bay (and I like a good sweat). But it is full of machines to artificially create what was once a normal part of daily life so it always feels a bit weird. I won't even go into the amount of electricity that place uses between all the machines and TVs, stereo systems, lights, etc.. This routine is supplemented by a large amount of walking because, in NYC, walking is king. The one comment always heard from tourists is about how much they walked, which is I suppose revealing of how much people in other places don't walk anymore. Life in NYC can have many rhythms and one of the strongest is the walker's rhythm. It is easy to get caught up in the wave of pedestrians and walk miles without being conscious of "working out" or anything at all except the flow of the street. It is one of the greatest pleasures of city life, in my opinion.

When I think about leaving that behind I have a moment of panic. What will happen when we come to Gillams with no gym and where it takes an act of personal virtue and strong will to walk anywhere? But I really don't have to worry because rural life has its own rhythm and requires its own kind of physical labour. For one, I have my non-electric washing machine that requires carrying buckets of water to and fro and 200 agitations/load. Then we have our woodstove that requires kindling to be chopped, although I freely admit that I get Dan to do most of that work since I am a terrible woodsman. To keep the grass trimmed, I use a push mower and clippers, and given the dandelion situation, this is a full-body workout.

Then there is the garden. I was trying to upload a photo of my garden bed which looks like nothing so much as a recent burial, but blogger won't let me for reasons unknown. In any case, these are the beds in my "lasagna garden", a technique that layers soil and other goodies on top of the hardcore weeds and rocks that masquerade as "soil" here and allow one to grow things like vegetables and flowers. Most of my neighbors have given up on such shocking luxuries because of said weeds and rocks, and they looked askance at me when I started in with the lasagna thing. I had a nice moment yesterday when a couple of them came over to admire my beds and admit that perhaps I wasn't completely insane. I also have another plot of garden that isn't using the lasagna technique - I think of it as my "control" bed in this experiment. This is a bed that is about the size of a queen-sized bed that has taken me two years of tilling and fertilizing to get to the point where I might be able to plant in it. Originally it took me weeks with a pick axe to get the bed started. Then last year, it took a couple of days to till over plus all summer to add compost. But yesterday I was able to go over it with the pick axe in about an hour. For that pleasure, my back is a bit sore and I am reminded of areas of in my shoulder blades that I normally take for granted. And so it goes here in Gillams. No gym, not much regular walking, but just the act of living day to day is a workout.

No comments: