It seems that Spring is firmly rooted in Big Sur and is bringing with it a bunch of physical tasks for this little archivist. On Wednesday, my day off, I helped to grade the road that I live on. Now, I agreed to do this both blindly and enthusiastically. I was excited to do it, don’t get me wrong. And I had a good time doing it, that’s for sure. However, I am not certain that my arms will ever be the same. Growing up in New Hampshire on the side of a mountain there were all sorts of fun things to do outside (shovel snow, dig cars out of the snow, scrape snow and ice off of cars, shovel the snow again) and after 20 years there, I had done my fair share of these things. However, from shoveling snow I went to a hoity-toity college where the only physical thing that was asked of me was lifting my friends up to do keg stands or hefting four years of overdue library books back to the book drop the day before graduation so that they would actually give me my diploma. My work at the library requires me to lift tables, speakers, chairs, large boxes, an unruly subwoofer, chop firewood from time to time and occasionally huge boxes of framed pictures (which in this year of perpetual evacuation has been slightly more than “occasionally”). Despite all of this, I was completely astounded at my frightening lack of ability to assist in the hard work of grading a Big Sur country road.
Let me start by telling you a little about this road I live on. It stems from a canyon and juts straight up the ridge to the top. You can stand in the canyon and look up 800 vertical feet at the house, and the road switches back six times in that span. It is slightly wider than my car in most places. There are several spots in the switchbacks that two cars are able, with some careful and knowing negotiation, to pass one another. I have been driving on it for almost two years and I’m not dead yet.
Tracy, officially The Most Capable Man I Know, drove the tractor up and down the road, pulling dirt that has settled from the inside of the road out to fill in all the ruts and ridges that have formed over the past year (and in certain parts of the road, several years), and it was my job to follow him with a strange tool resembling a hoe and flatten out the levels of dirt created by the tractor blade. This tool, however, is probably older than my grandparents and has had its handle replaced with a tree limb. I put most of the blame of my aching arms on the tool, not the work and CERTAINLY not my being out of shape. It was all about the tool and its lack of ergonomic design. I blame it, but I can’t hold it against it, I think it just adds to its charm. My job also demanded I make sure the lowest point in the road was directly on the inside edge so that the perfectly designed road (really, it’s a thing of beauty despite it’s apparent ridiculousness) drains on the switchbacks. The long and short of it is that I spent several hours on the exposed cliff of the road bent over this tool with which I cultivated a quick love/hate relationship moving rocks. There came a time embarrassingly quickly when I had to walk up to Tracy on the tractor, hand him my gloves and admit that I could no longer lift the tool. I did feel better later in the day at our weekly open mic when my incredibly strong and rugged friend told me he’d helped Tracy in previous years grade the road and acknowledged that it was, in fact, back breaking work. This made me feel more like a mountain woman and less like a TOTAL wuss.
Today the sun was out and it was the perfect day to do a little spot treatment on the lawn, another delicious springtime outdoor task. This morning I raked the whole lawn and then mowed the largest part. Keeping with the theme of antiquated tools, we have an old-fashioned push mower here at the library. You know the kind – it does not have a motor, just a rotating blade that is only moved by constantly increasing momentum. I mowed the yard with a brief break while a dad trying to show his kids what “life used to be like” (you know, when he had a paper route barefoot six feet of snow uphill both ways) and asked if they could give it a go. Three kids, one by one, decided they liked it better when someone else mowed their grass. After mowing I rolled up my pant legs, pulled back my sleeves and set to work raking with my own ten dirt-caked fingers all the little sand piles and compacted parts of dirt where the grass seed did not take last time we seeded. I pulled up all the dead grass, all the redwood duff hidden deep under the surface of the grass, and spread out the concentrated clumps of sand. Then with a mix of seed and soil, I patched the thin parts and then set the sprinkler. At the end of the lovely day in the sun my hands were caked in black dirt, my knees look like they used to when I was six and I think I may have scared some of the less tuned-in passersby here at the Henry Miller Library as I, in my own little world which revolved around each blade of grass, verbally praised and thanked each earthworm I encountered. Whatever, man – it’s Big Sur.
So now I’m tired (again) and covered in dirt (again) and bathed in sun (again) and will retire to my house, to hang out with my kitten, watch MAD amounts of short films, and prepare some special outfits for the Big Big Sur Fashion Show (which is a FANTASTIC thing that’s coming together quite smoothly and will be something Not To Be Missed here at the Henry Miller Library on April 30th – stay tuned for more news on that).