Monday, August 04, 2008

Battling the Brier Patch

A purging, of sorts. Or perhaps just a simple cleansing. Or an even simpler effort to sweat and build physical muscle while I let my mind wander. During the past week or so, I spent about 10 late-July, early-August afternoon hours swinging a long-handled weed chopper and a machete along the edge of the magical ancient forest, then collecting and burning the tangled cortex of stems and thorns.

Two images come most clearly to mind: Even at 6 p.m., with the sun still bright in the west, the area deeper into the forest’s dense overgrowth is dark; little light penetrates. The electric red-orange rim of the flaming leaves that rise above the fire, before disappearing, is one of the prettiest colors I ever hope to see.

The thorny runners wrapped around limbs and one another often – especially at ground level – spring back at me when I swing the weed chopper, scratching and stabbing at me as they spring back toward me. One man I know calls the chopper an idiot stock because, especially in the summer, it tends to wear out anyone who’s idiot enough to use it. I should wear safety glasses, too, and a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and boots; I wear t-shirt and shorts and try to stay alert and agile. For the runners wrapped around the small limbs above me, I often stick a rake into the mass and back away, pulling as the runners slowly begin to unravel and finally spring at me. I also should wear boots, but I wear old, worn sports shoes. I watch for snakes, but don’t see any and none ambush me.

The dogs, Ginger and Jazz, usually sit nearby. A couple of times, A couple of times, Ginger, the older of the two and a mutt to Jazz’s black lab, has barked at me like she’s trying to tell me something important.

I sweat a lot, even in the forest’s shade and, usually, a light breeze. I use the t-shirt’s sleeves and front to wipe the sweat from my eyes and face. When I finish each day, I’m pleasantly tired but not exhausted.

I sleep well each night, for now, which is sweet reward.

This is the kind of world we live in, I suppose: We try to control the brier patches, knowing they’ll grow back. We question a young woman, a girl in high school, about why she’s so quiet, and she tells us her brother just died, and we offer a sympathetic, heartfelt gesture, reaching into the edge of the darkness of her dense forest. We are simultaneously amused and saddened by the young ones – the older ones, too – hungry for attention and acceptance. We hope our cars keep running, and that we keep paying the bills.

We look forward, most likely sometime in September, to moving into a real house after so long in this 30-foot trailer. A real – certainly small, certainly adequate – house with a solid roof that doesn’t leak, with hot water, a front porch, and space to fill with boxed-away books, with music, and with the silent promise of creativity.

We wonder why we wrote “we” so many times, since we are just I. When I’m settled into the new space – same address, and I expect the same telephone number – I will have enough space to host many of you when you pass through this part of East Texas. Battling the brier patch is optional, although it can, in the right mood, satisfy.