Sunday, April 22, 2012

If I Had A Hammer

On Sunday afternoon, while the sun turned my arms a sweet shade of spring pink, I crawled around on the deck nailing nails. Not new ones. Old ones. The original nails that turned two-by-fours and four-by-fours and whatevers-by-whatevers into the structure on which I now grow herbs and watch hummingbirds and read books and, once every 28 days, walk outside to make sure the moon is compass-drawn round.

I was nailing the old nails because by some process that probably has a name given it by a mechanical engineer, but which just reminds me of that plastic plug in the Thanksgiving turkey that pops up when the temperature inside is just right, the nails over time start rising from their flush position in the wood to a perpendicular stance that, ignored, causes great pain in the bottom of a bare foot. I was nailing the old nails because things need to be maintained. I was nailing the old nails because nobody else was going to.

So there I was, as I said, crawling around hammering in what I hoped was a logical sequence so that I wouldn’t miss any of the recalcitrant nails, listening to the new wind chime hanging from the eaves outside the bedroom door, and thinking about the quote attributed to Mark Twain, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

The hammer with which I was clobbering the pop-up nails is not the only tool I have. I have screwdrivers – flathead and Phillips. I have pliers, a hand saw, a level, a retractable tape measure, and a cordless drill. I have duct tape, electrical tape, and blue painter’s tape. In the bottom of my tool box are any number of small plastic canisters containing screws and nuts and bolts of varying sizes. If the job had called for something else, then, I would most likely have been prepared.

But because the short and spiky pieces of metal protruding up through the floor of my deck were, in fact, nails and not just something that looked like nails, a hammer was what I needed. It’s just that after about ten minutes I realized that the hammer which is perfectly suited to tapping short, thin picture-hanging nails into Sheetrock might not be up to the task of pounding back into the deck what was by then beginning to look like railroad spikes.

And it might have been about that time that I remembered that not long before someone who shall remain nameless, but who has a Y chromosome, described mine as "not much of a hammer." At which point, said nameless Y-chromosome-carrying human produced a much larger version of a hammer and proceeded to prove his point by ripping apart, in less than a minute, an old wooden packing crate that I wanted to use to build something else.


I probably did need a bigger hammer. But I didn’t have a bigger hammer. And if I went to borrow a bigger hammer chances were that there would be an offer to do the nailing for me. And I wanted to do it myself.

I can be stubborn.

So I kept at it. One, two, three, sometimes four blows to send one nail back down through a channel that had already been cut. Four swings to level a nail that was offering little or no resistance. Four licks to accomplish what could have been done with one. I switched from my right hand to my left and back again. I got tired.

I can be foolish, too.

Not every challenge can be met with perfect efficiency. Sometimes you have to use a tailgate as a step-ladder, tack up a hem with masking tape, prop the door with a brick. Sometimes you have to make do. But sometimes, maybe even most of the time, you don’t.

I hit the last lick, stood up, and looked around at the once again barefoot-safe deck. I was glad to be finished, glad to have done it all myself, and glad to know that before it needed to be done again I was going to have a bigger hammer.

Copyright 2012

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Dancing With The Scars

The saw-tooth oaks in the back yard, the ones that started out as knee-high, pinky-sized saplings, tower over me now. They move in the breeze like crinolined ballgowns, all hip-swaying, bodice-gripping green chiffon. Their widest branches reach out curving, almost touching, debutantes holding hands before their names are called. They look like Scarlett O’Hara at the barbeque, all insolent and saucy, dangerously aware of their beauty and its seductive power. And, because there are two, the Tarleton twins don’t have to fight. There is plenty to go around.

They are not inconspicuous. I notice them every day. In the morning as I leave, in the evening as I return. In sunrise light the dewdrops on their leaves are sequins. In the gloaming the dew is gone and the leaves’ thin veins are embroidery on smooth velvet. Bookends. A matched set.

Except, of course, they are not matched. If you look closely, take a peek up under the skirts of green leaves, you will see that one trunk is straight and true and its branches radiate out like bicycle spokes in orderly tiers. The other trunk is actually two conjoined trunks, one doing its best to grow straight and true and one growing away at a 45-degree angle as though afraid it might get cooties from unwanted contact.

The result is that the aberrant trunk and its branches monopolize one entire side of the tree. If I saw it off – an act I have contemplated more than once – the tree will be, if not ugly, at least not as beautiful as before. Misshapened and bald on one side. More Suellen or Carreen than Scarlett.

Perhaps, in time, new branches will grow from the remaining trunk. Perhaps, in time, the emptiness will be filled, the saw-scar healed, the severed trunk forgotten.

But there is also the possibility that the trunks cannot survive without each other. That the trunk with good posture, excellent dancing skills, and natural flirtation abilities needs the off-center trunk for something essential. Like balance.

Thus I have been living with, observing, and contemplating the saw-tooth oaks. To trim or not to trim, that is the question.

And now it is Easter. Or very nearly. I get out of the car, but stop on my way inside, still weighted down with purse and gym bag and the day’s detritus, to absorb the sensory bombardment. A line of bright red lilies stand straight as the Royal British Guards. The verbena at the corner of the deck is a broad swipe of brilliant purple, pouring over the edges of its bed like a waterfall. The basil and mint and thyme, the parsley and sage and cilantro are filling their pots and the air. The chinaberry tree’s pale lavender blooms mingle with the golden berries from autumn that, in the mild winter, have refused to fall.

I try to ignore the oak trees – the one so perfect in shape it could be a tree stencil and the other with its extra off-kilter trunk. I try not to look their way and be drawn back to my dilemma. I am unsuccessful. The breeze that has set the wind chime to singing has set the trees to dancing and from the corner of my eye I can see them – swaying and waving, bouncing and bobbing, nodding at each other.
And in that moment I know.

My friend Lynn loves to watch "Dancing With The Stars." She is mesmerized by the intricately choreographed movements of the quick-step and the foxtrot, the bold athleticism of the mambo, the gracefulness of the waltz. And she loves the shiny, sparkly, spangly costumes, especially the shoes.
But she knows that shine and sparkle and spangle are not required. And so she dances at every opportunity. In flip flops and bedroom shoes. In bare feet. In a bathrobe. With other people, with her cat, alone. She dances because dance is what we Easter-celebrants call "an outward manifestation of an inward grace."

I set down the purse, the gym bag, the burden. There is no perfect tree and imperfect tree. There is only tree. There is no part and whole. There is only holy.

Not to trim, that is the answer.

Copyright 2012