So, an old farmer friend called today and asked if I wanted my annual bales of straw. Since the dogs and cats seem to appreciate the snug houses my kids build for them each autumn, I maintained my routine. My friend is the kind of person that I’m convinced that if more people acted like him, angels could retire. Uncomplicated but thoughtful. Honest yet self-effacing. He’ll never take money for the bales. Though, thankfully, he will take jars of homemade pickles, salsa, and jam.
Near the end of our “How’s life treating you?” conversation, which naturally canvasses the weather, family, and sublime universal themes, he asked if I needed any wood this winter. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to say. Seemed like a simple question, but it involved a deep moral dilemma.
When my late husband and I moved out to the country, we hadn’t a fig’s newton what we were doing. We were both city people and the idea of raising children in the country seemed so terribly healthy and right. So — you know — natural. Turns out — it sure is. But nature is nothing to be sniffed at.
John being John, he did all the muscle work, and I did the other stuff. House management. Finances. Kid care. Education. We made an excellent team. We were practically Amish in our desire to keep everything as natural as possible. As close to home as possible. As holistic as possible. We were going to “steward” our world, not destroy it.
After his death, I continued our long-standing traditions. So far as I was able. A few things changed, though. The bees have had to manage on their own, and I’ve about given up reasoning with the hens. They lay wherever the huff they want to, and good luck finding the eggs before the dogs do.
But before my friend called today, the kids and I had been watching a documentary on J.R.R. Tolkien. At one point, his son, Christopher, described Tolkien’s severe dislike for machinery, and my mouth about dropped to the floor. How familiar — that sense that man-made takes us away from God-made. Except in the case of washing machines, of course. Washing machines are a divine gift to the human race. Try washing eight sets of kids’ clothes by hand, and you’ll see what I mean.
Getting older myself, and having kids who keep adding years to their ages at an alarming rate, I realized that perhaps our wood stove would become another casualty of “Things-That-Just-Can’t-Be-Managed.” I like the wood stove because the heat feels warmer and because, like the garden, it takes healthy work. I’m more sensitive to the weather and the natural world around me because I have to plan ahead if a cold blast or a storm is coming. The kids have to fill the stick boxes. Wood has its own lovely scent, rough texture, and can smash your fingers if you’re not careful. I wasn’t ready to let the wood stove go, but I honestly couldn’t scrounge off my friend or chop down the scanty woods we have around here. So I explained that I’d love to keep the wood stove going, but …
Turns out, my friend has a friend who sells wood at a reasonable price and even delivers. Reprieve! Tendrils of wood smoke will still grace our chimney this winter.
I certainly appreciate Tolkien’s view on machines … though I’ve made peace with more hardware than I’d like to admit. Still, I think he had a point … and my younger less-worn-out self had a point too. Nature-made tools and materials speak to a part of our humanity that we often abandon for more efficient man-made tools. They demand a level of attentiveness and care that comfort seekers might find irritating.
Yet I can’t ignore the fact that my critters abandon their plastic igloos and snuggle up in their straw bale abodes ever winter, and nothing beats the cheery glow, embracing warmth, and crackle of a wood fire on a cold evening. Perhaps I feel this way because I, too, am naturally God-made …
But I’ll still keep the washing machine.
Copyright 2019 Ann K. Frailey