Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Normal Day

Yesterday wasn't cold, not really. It was chilly though and the sun was behind many clouds. The wind was high at times, causing what chill there was to smack right into you. I was out doing chores in a heavy black wool sweater but the needles seemed to be a size too high and the little air pockets let in the bite. I felt like a chicken on an limb, one squall of wind and all my feathers fluffed and bare skin exposed, insulation taken away by sneak attack.

I was spending most of the day at home, but outside. Friends with chainsaws had stopped by earlier in the week and sawed down the logs stacked outside into  manageable chunks. These axe-ready pieces are called rounds, and I was splitting and stacking most of the day. The wood was a combination of ash, locust, maple, and butternut. It was nice and by mid afternoon I was smarting. It didn't help that I have been training often with a bo staff, learning my first weapons form for competition and where the staff struck under my armpits, and over my shoulders felt like I had been hit by…well, a stick. It hurt.

So most of my day was out in the wind with an axe. Gibson was at my side when he wasn't chasing turkeys or rolling in goose poo. My constant chopping was keeping me warm, even with the sweater's chicken-branch attributes. I was feeling good. My big plans for the night was hosting the Hoff Family for dinner and game, but that wasn't until after dark. It may be cold out, and snow was in the forecast, but I wasn't going to waste daylight. You chop more wood when words like "light accumulation" start to make headlines on the weather station.

I was excited for the company. We were going to play a board game called Betrayal at House on the Hill, which is pretty much a Role Playing Game in a box. Everyone picks a B-Horror movieesque character and we take turns exploring a haunted house, finding items and weird omens. There is no "board" for the game really, just random room tiles you place at random so the house is never the same. It's a lot of fun, and I liked that we had a haunted house theme so close to Halloween. Cheesy, but cheese is okay every once in a while. I had bought two packages of sweet Italian sausage from the farm stand down the road. I cooked them up in a saucepan with some oil and chopped onions and set them in a crockpot with some tomatoes to stew and simmer while I worked outside. I am a huge fan of slow cookers, specially on days like this. Between a hot meal and the promise of that wood stove I didn't even mind the work outdoors in the wind. In fact I kind of reveled in it.

I think people who constantly seek comfort, in every aspect of their life, are denying themselves the bliss of domesticated deprivation. To be in a controlled situation of wanting that ends in amplified simple comforts might be the human situation I crave above all others. For example, to put yourself through a painful jog only to get to the end where you can catch your breathe, get a mint shower, and sit with a cold drink? Or to pine for someone until you ache inside, only to finally kiss them while the record player turns? Or in this particular case: to be out in the wind chopping firewood only to return to a warm stove and a hot meal. That is happiness to me, and the stronger the lack of a simple thing the more cherished it becomes at the end of desire. I wanted to really appreciate that meal, the game, and the company and so when the chopping was done I didn't go inside. I saddled up my horse.

I have been using my lighter English saddle and wearing breeches lately. Usually it's a western saddle and a kilt but lately I have enjoyed the closer contact and lighter seat. I had on paddock boots and half chaps and it looked from a distance like I had on tall black boots. I took off the sweater for the ride and substituted my wool cart-driver's coat I made from a blanket a few weeks back. There's no buttons or toggles on it, just room for an archaic copper brooch of sorts of clasp it tight. It felt like I was wearing a wood stove. As I rode through the wind, the bite, and felt my cheeks turn red my heart was so cozy. I mean that literally, my chest was so insulated from the wind by the wool I might as well have been ridig in a weatherproof sleeping bag. So many modern fabrics try to keep you warm while being as light as possible, but I like the weight on me. I like the drape and heaviness over my body, wrapping around me as if the gravity was part of the conduction.

I rode without a care, and since it was nearly dinner time I sipped from a flask of bourbon. This was wonderful, all of it. I have been having trouble sleeping, more so than usual. I wake up at 3AM terrified about things I know I can handle come daylight. I have plans and progress in the sunlight but when I wake up at that hour all I can think about is being in trouble, losing everything, disappointed relatives, and heavy loneliness. It isn't the good heavy like the wool cloak. It was the bad kind. But here on the black horse I felt stronger, capable, that holy "okay". I had a roof over my head, friends, warmth, and a nip. I had a fire, a meal, and company coming. I headed down the mountain and let the last of the sunlight of the day sink in. I trotted Merlin home, waving to a neighbor in a black SUV heading down the mountain. I have no idea what they think of the Game of Thrones Extra heading home to her farm, but I don't care. If the boots cost $300 and the cloak came from Barney's I'd be turning heads in New York City. Here it looks like a costume. To me, it's just warmth on a mountain made out of a blanket. It'll do.

Company came and we enjoyed the board game, the potluck, and the warm house. I couldn't stop thinking about the day though, all through the night and the game. My thought was how historically normal it all was. The work outdoors, the ride on the mountain, the hope of food and firelight. We sat around a table talking and laughing, no movies played or iPhones lit up the room. We ate food grown by our community, local hogs who had they been alive would've felt the same chill I had. I share this not because it is some foodie/localvore pornography but because a day chopping firewood, riding a horse, and hanging out with friends, food, and stories is pretty much how our human kind passed cold fall afternoons for thousands of years. We worked to eat, to stay warm, and to keep roofs over our heads. That's all I did that day. The words of Eustace Conway come to mind: "I live for a living." That's my goal too. Even if it wakes me up every night this week.

So last night we delighted in good food our land could produce, friends, firelight, and the simple interaction of a shared story. I chopped wood. I rode a horse. I fed pigs, chickens, and prepared a meal. It feels so correct. I know this is over-simplification but it still rings true to me - how normal the day had been when compared to what people consider normal now. I am an eccentric riding down the road to so many, yet I'm the most ridiculously conformist person on the mountain when compared to all of history. How long until more people realize that normal isn't about fitting in with the flock, but living in a way that makes sense with the world. For me that is homesteading and writing on a mountain. For you it may be something entirely different. But regardless of our passions, hobbies, or locations we all share in common the needs of shelter, food, water, and companionship. When you live your life in a way that brings those things into your everyday work your soul feels a little fuller come sundown. I think this is what's normal. I think that's what we all secretly desire. We are basic animals with a legacy behind of many "normal" nights. It's a good way to be. It keeps the good heavies in my life, while scaring away the bad heavies.

Bourbon helps, too.