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Russell Wangersky: A real life interlude

Published on May 16, 2017

Yellow-shafted flicker

Out through the fog and driving the early-morning highway, the temperature just below freezing even though it’s well into May. On the bog ponds and the steadies, thin mist was wicking up into the air as grey wraiths, the water warmer than the air, exhaling.

Russell Wangersky
File photo

Me, driving away.

Just music in the car, driving out of the fog and into cold sun, fed up to the gills with the electronic world of rage and petty spite.

An hour and a half out of the city, I’m well past the reach of cell towers, my phone dying as it searched for signal, and I couldn’t be happier.

Keeping score with simpler things: compost for the angry bud-knuckled rhubarb, two clumps of questing chives, 22 garlic scapes already several inches high, planted last fall before the freeze. Two icebergs — one tabular and flat, the other a small sharp and tilted peak — both bright-white in the hard sun, almost too white to look at directly.

Not bothering to turn on any heat, the house colder than outdoors, clipping the tool belt on, heading up the stairs.

In a front bedroom, the spare room, the ceiling project that’s never quite done: the bump-out on the front filled in now with tongue and groove pine, the rest, old beadboard waiting for paint.

Putting molding back up, and I thought that I had numbered all the pieces when I took them down, but I hadn’t: I’d written scrawled pencil messages to myself that, at the time, I must have been sure that I would understand. “Back half side” might have meant something to me once, but looking at the scrawl, it was like trying to stare back into time, trying to see back to the me who wrote those words. I resist the urge to take my carpenter’s pencil and leave a few even more obtuse and enigmatic messages for some later owner: “It’s near the well,” or “Seven paces south from the ground wire, and dig.”

(Taking vinyl siding off the old house, I’ve found the measurements and math for its original installation, written in pencil on the old white-painted clapboard.)

Split some cut spruce, pull weeds, sit on the red bench in the yard for a few minutes, just to feel the warmth of the sun beating down on my skin.

And the moulding itself is such a collection: all the same profile, but some is newer softwood; the rest, so old and heavy and hardened that if you don’t drill it first, you can bend two-inch bright finishing nails just trying to hammer them in.

Outside, the starlings have come back and are nesting in a hole in the poplar, just like last year. There are robins, the black-capped chickadees and the boreal chickadees filling the air with song in a way they weren’t just a few weeks ago. A strange yellow-shafted flicker makes its loud addition, sitting on a power-pole transformer which it occasionally uses as a drum.

I can feel my strength returning, can feel my spirits lifting. Split some cut spruce, pull weeds, sit on the red bench in the yard for a few minutes, just to feel the warmth of the sun beating down on my skin. The world is possible again, made of small tasks and short strides, made of driving and walking and thinking. Thinking pure thoughts, about measurements and board feet, about soil and compost and jobs to be done.

Then, back at home, the mistakes of all mistakes; plugging the phone back in, re-entering the incredibly small-minded world of the great wide web. I can tolerate many things, but the sheer depth of small-minded delight in the misfortunes of others drains my batteries faster than the signal-less phone drains its own.
I’ve said this before, but still true: there has to be a better way.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 29 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.