Ranch Undressing

I spent the past weekend at a ranch, fifteen kilometres south-east of Spences Bridge, that belongs to a couple of gentleman farmers of my acquaintance. The ranch, a small orchard operation, is a peach-shaped property near a sharp bend in the Nicola River, a tributary of the Thompson, which in turn feeds the Fraser, the little brown stream that rushes westward through the province to settle itself in the briny blue-green of Georgia Strait.

On Sunday, the dawn sky was clear and the temperature began to rise. By 9:00 am I was laying naked on the cedar deck, tea in hand, ears tuned to the Yellow-rumped Warblers, genitals pointed due east into the warming morning sun. After a long, dark, cold winter, it was a welcome tonic.

After gaining my traditional spring burn, I spent part of the afternoon clearing brush. Very presidential. Actually, the brush was fallen trees. I cut the branches and trunks into nice stove-length sections, a somewhat unnecessary detail as there is no wood stove here, but my Ruskin training is deeply ingrained.

There’s a lot to be said for a little self-directed, manual labour. I had an electric chainsaw, but I used it only on the pieces I could not break by hand, or by snapping them across my knee. Many would assume that it would be faster to cut it all with the saw, but I doubt that’s true. Really, people usually prefer a saw as it requires less actual effort. But a little effort is something more of us could use once in a while, and I’d rather snap branches than pay for the privilege of lifting iron discs in a gym.

By avoiding the saw, I was also better able to enjoy one of the reasons why I came up here in the first place: the sounds of silence. Over the noise of the saw I can’t hear the calls of warblers, the cries of ospreys, the buzz of insects, the continuous babble of the river as it stumbles over rocks and itself, the wind as it meanders through the valley, or even the planet as it vibrates its way through its orbit. The awareness of such things is so easy to forget in the city, where the hubbub distracts us from so many of the sounds that connect us to our origins.

Even now, as I sit in a coffee shop in Vancouver’s west side remembering this, an espresso steamer is trying to out-screech both a coffee grinder and a small child, and something the locals refer to as “music” is hammering away at my fleeting connection to the distant sounds that feed my soul. Alas.

The spot in which I was doing the actual cutting was directly adjacent to the meditation hut. One of the ranchers rises early in the morning each day in order to meditate in this hut. It’s a pleasant room, sparsely decorated and smelling of incense, and I imagine that it provides him with a good deal of satisfaction and serenity. I respect his practise, but it’s not really something that works very well for me. I could sit in the hut for weeks and wouldn’t gain a fraction as much serenity as I did snapping birch branches in peace for an hour or two. My meditation comes in the form of mindful activity. It’s not enough to simply contemplate the unhewn log. I must interact with it, even (or perhaps especially) without overly focussing on it.

I often find such satisfaction in laborious, solitary activity. When I was young and my opportunities for independent journeys were limited, I found solace in such things as cutting the lawn in summer, and shovelling the sidewalks, driveways, and sometimes even streets during the winter. These days, without a lawn or a snowy climate, it’s usually washing dishes that satisfies this need. Not quite the same physical benefit, but my nails are generally cleaner.

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hedley bontano

1 Comment

  1. Pat on May 6, 2008 at 06:48

    Ed,

    As I read, my shoulders relaxed and a smile slowly and please note the word slowly came to my face. Such a gentle piece and then my reverie was broken as a large red truck without a muffler boomed past the window as he does every week day. Usually, I throw nasty thoughts his way, but today I felt sorry for him this man whose large red truck makes up for the fact he has very small genitals.