Friday, December 29, 2017

Good Advice

My dad was not an easy man to live with: bipolar and a sociopath,  he was also far more intelligent than his background would allow for.  And now and then he would get it right, advice-wise.

One of my tasks growing up was working alongside my parents in the blueberry field, cutting brush and poisoning out things like poplar and raspberry canes.  One day he planted me in front of what was about an acre of hundreds and hundreds of poplar shoots, all of them no more than four feet high, and told me to start clearing them out.  One. At. A. Time. Cut, poison, cut, poison, cut, poison, each tiny stub.   I would cut a few, straighten up, sigh, and stare out at the endless sea of these things.
After awhile I suspect it began to get on his nerves, this whiney child, snipsnipsnip sigh snip snip snip sigh.
And he gave me the best advice I have ever gotten, for getting through long tedious things.
"Never look ahead to see how much is left," he said. "Focus on what's right in front of you, and nothing more. But now and then, look back, to see how far you've come.  You'll be amazed at how
much easier it is when you do that."

And he was right.

Life, it turns out, is loaded with mindless, seemingly endless tasks, the  kind you have to do,  but with this advice they turn out to be not so endless, and ultimately you have a large mowed piece of lawn, or a much smaller pile of logs (and a corresponding larger pile of stove wood) or even a shoveled driveway.


  1. He gave you some good advice, I'm still like you were, Im always looking to see how much longer that row of corn is.

    1. It's not let me down once. The trick is to look once, and then don't look again until you quit for the day. That can be one looooong row of corn.

      He called it "doin' your work twice, once on the ground and once in your head..."

  2. Mm. There's a lot to mull over in this vignette. It takes me back a year or two. Anyone who has done field work of any kind will tell you it's backbreaking, unforgiving work. Raking blueberries, harvesting potatoes, or wood husbandry will find the weakness in you. I've done them all during a time before there were "machines" to simplify things. We didn't try cutting back invasive plants, because the scale was too large for the few of us to manage. We [everyone in the county] burnt hundreds of acres at a time. There's a particular smell to the smoke, I could always tell when the first fires were lit from miles away. I'll remember that odor as long as I live.

    Good advice is hard to come by. Sounds like you got the most value from your Father's words. Difficult people are like sewing layers of Denim by hand. It's difficult to get through them and when you do, it's often sudden and painful. When you're done though what's left is rugged and durable.

    1. We cut brush with long-handled brush clippers, and poisoning the stumps was the only way a small grower could hope to get ahead of it.
      In the late fall after--and sometimes during--the fall rains, we would burn over a third of the patch. Probably ten acres or so. If it didnt get done then, we would tackle it in the spring. My dad had, with good reason, a terror of brush fires, and when the ground started to dry out, we spent longer and longer burning a small amount (maybe a half acre at a time) and then the rest of the day chasing down the smokes and the stumps. We had Indian pumps (70 lbs of water, yep) and adrenalin.
      But by jiminy I can build a brush pile, and I can deal with fire. And I know enough about hard work and blueberries to know I never wanted to grow them myself.
      I know that smell, too, all too well.

      Like the analogy, PerSe. He was a difficult man and you had to learn to work around him, but he would have made a marvelous, if spikey, teacher.
      He was also an instinctive story teller, just enough ham to be interesting, just enough drama to keep your attention.

  3. Your dad might have been difficult but that was great advice that he gave you.

    1. Now and then, he got it right. =) It's something I use every day of my life, whether it's for doing the dishes or stacking 8 cords of wood, or just making those damn curtains. It pays off.