“But there is no bargain: what is, is what must be.” From the novel, Watership Down, by Richard Adams.
It’s hot, insanely so, the upper nineties, but I have to move. A bushhook is one of the three things I can think of that won’t be stolen if left in the back of a truck; post holers, a bushhook, and a live Cottonmouth. You have to want to work to use either post holers or a bushhook. I want to work. I have to work. I seek the solace found in exhaustion. It’s the only place short of a bottle there is to hide right now. I despise that sort of drunk. Reality is rendered down by sweat and heat and I need it.
The vines in my happy little 80% of a hectare are going to suffer today. Oaks will be stripped of their parasitical botanical kindred and I will tire myself out. Only Tanya, the Destroyer joins me, Velcro dog that she is. It’s hard not to make the comparison. I try not to and I fail.
A couple of years ago, someone gave me one of those high powered gas operated weed eaters. I’ve recently restrung it and I have a full tank of gas in it. I crank it up and go. Each breath is heat, deep heat, the kind of heat that matters, and that is what I need right now. My chest hurts with the heart. The Center trail in the woods gets a couple of feet on either side widened. Tanya stays a hundred feet away and sits, watching, and waiting, and wondering.
I remember the first time I saw a weed eater. It looked like a cross between something the Jetson’s would have and something Rube Goldberg might have built. The first models had metal tips on the end of the twine and they had to be replaced fairly often. I didn’t see how one of the things would work but it did. It was amazing, really, but the first weed eater I ever saw was a pull in so I could only go as far as the extension cord. The place where I worked had one and I stole it to use at home but brought it back the next day. I loved that thing! It was fun, but the fun wore off after a while.
This isn’t fun nor is it supposed to be. This is me trying to rearrange the emotions in my heart and the thoughts in my head. I pick an area between two trees and wade into the vines. Safety glasses are a must and not a full minute into cutting does a piece of a limb spring out and slam into the glasses. No pause for this sort of thing at all because it’s not enough yet. Wild grape vines that produce little fruit along with the green thorny vines all go down quickly. A skink leaps to safety and I do pause for that. The trail opens up. I back up and start another section of the path. Back up and open up another section and round the corner.
My mind keeps jumping back and forth from here, right now, to the past, fifteen months, six thousand years ago, yesterday, tomorrow, but it’s all the same, isn’t it? The guy who built the Great Pyramid; it’s not a monument to his life or what he could get done, or what a people can do when they try hard enough, no, well, yes, but at the same time, it failed. It failed utterly. No matter what you offer the Gods, or what you pray about or who you pray to, Death is just as final tomorrow as it was when the first block was dragged into place.
But Death isn’t the same. A person who loses a child has a Pyramid of Grief and the rest of us tiny little huts in comparison. Yet if all you ever had was a tiny little hut when that’s gone the loss still cuts hard enough to stagger. Work won’t cure this. There is no bargain with sweat either. But I have to keep going.
Next I get over the fence and slice my way through the thick stuff near the fenceline. Tarzan vines, as thick as my wrist have to be taken down with the bushhook but that is why I brought it. The hat I bought a couple of weeks ago covers my face except where I have safety glasses. I feel the heat in my face and the sting of sweat in my eyes. So what? I blink away the salt water and use sense of touch to cut. Up, over to one side, up over to the other side, back and forth and back and forth, and the area before me opens up just as surely as if I am using a flamethrower.
There are no words, no human language to express what I am feeling right now. It’s blind rage and confusion. My brain keeps telling me that this has to be something else because it shouldn’t be like this. My heart tells me to keep going. My heart tells me to keep going and if I keep going I can keep going. Vines wrap around the head of the weed eater and I retreat to get the bushhook again. Nothing withstands this instrument. I hack through ten meters of thickness along the fenceline, stabbing, slashing, swinging hard and true. A tree limb has fallen after the storm Saturday and it comes apart into pieces after just a few whacks. I hit each section with raw energy, passion, and years of practice with the bushhook.
I can feel the sweat in my gloves. I can feel it in my boots. I can feel it running down my back and inside my jeans. My shirt is soaked and my eyes burn. More. There is more. There must be more. I travel the fenceline and see Tanya in the woods watching me. She doesn’t get near the weedeater and won’t get near me as long as that device is out of the shed. But I think she senses something here. I go over the fence and back into my space and she retreats a few steps. But she does not leave me, that one. One pull and the weedeater roars to life.
The thickest part of the woods is where I go now. I’ve never cut this part before but now I create a new trail. The spinning cords cut through vines that are as plentiful as they are thick. Up and down, back and forth, cut and cut and cut and cut and cut. The owls are going to love this. The hawks are going to be happy. The machine sputters and coughs. It’s been nearly an hour and the gas tank is empty. I use the bushhook and open this trail up until it meets the other one in the center.
I drop the bushhook near the weedeater and take my gloves off. My hands are shaking. My body is trembling with effort. Tanya comes over and sits and looks at me. “Come here” and she’s snuffling me. Dude, what the hell is this?
It’s grief. It’s heart rending, soul shaking, screaming loss. Time heals not a damn thing.