Friday, April 22, 2005

Out in the fields

There's nothing quite like the sharp aroma and crackle of burning cedar on a warm Spring day. Yesterday, feeling I needed to get away from my desk and take in some country air, I slipped into my oldest jeans and T-shirt and went out to help Larry who's been clearing a piece of land as preparation to building a French country house. Larry's originally from NYC--a 'NY-Rican' is the term people use, he says--and he bought an old farm of about eighty acres out in Bucks a long time ago and moved here and has been carefully developing it himself because he didn't want any nasty MacMansions in the township. Each house sits on about five acres and they're very pretty, with high-pitched cedar shingle roofs and cream or champagne-colored stucco facades, and all have open-plan interiors with loads of space and high ceilings. In fact, we're living in one that's set into a wooded hillside. What's really exciting about the one he's preparing to build is that it will be constructed of fieldstone this time and, ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to live in a stonehouse.

I spent the day lugging and pitching straggly cedars, Russian olives and wild rose bushes into a fire we'd built. Once, a gust of wind blew the flames and some nearby dry grass ignited. Larry laughed when he saw me shouting and stamping at the ground. He thinks I panic too easily and he's probably right because the Irish have made worrying into an art form. The work was bloody hard too, let me tell you (and I don't care much for physical graft, especially since my father used to drag me out--bitching I was dead lazy as he did so--to do every chore when I was a kid because I was the eldest) and my arms and legs are covered with scratches. But I loved every minute of the day. The cardinals and wrens chirped from elms and dogwoods in the near distance, our neighbor's chestnut and gray horses whinnied and snorted in their paddock on the other side of a hedgerow, and turkey vultures soared like tossed rags in secret air currents above. At lunchtime, I nipped to our local store--it's called WaWa, which is Lenape for 'goose' and brought back a tuna sandwich with roasted and sweet peppers--a favorite creation of ours that we invented because WaWa allows one to choose the sandwich 'sides'--and we sat on the tailgate of his truck and munched and drank in the sun.

I do feel very sad that the Lenape aren't around anymore and feel this loss every time I come across a street name derived from Lenape such as Tinicum and Tochickon. Sometimes, I'll go into the local State park and stand on the bluff and look down to the river and, as I peer through the hazy blue air to the red, naked cliffs and serpentine river, it is easy to visualize the Lenape in their canoes fishing in that same water, their water and silent red cliffs now become our water and silent cliffs and one day to become someone else's because all things must pass.

Anyway, the experience left me much fulfilled and I felt fortunate to be able to choose my own work and how to spend my day, fortunate not to have to answer to some faceless corporation or domineering boss, to be able to hear, smell and be part of nature. I'll do it again too, though I'll die hating manual grafting. Some things never change, and it matters not whether one lives in Ireland or in America, and I'm also sure my father will laugh and remember when he reads this.

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Devon Ellington said...

Bucks County is beautiful! It's nice to know there are some conscientious people developing the place!

I love being my own boss, and I'm glad I don't have to punch a time clock. Whenever I held down a temp job, I HATED being on someone else's schedule.

And I can get a lot done by creating my day as I go.

Good luck on your next book!


Damian McNicholl said...

Thanks for the good wishes and for dropping by, Devon.

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