Monday, November 12, 2012

Barn Cleaning




                                                When Hercules diverted two rivers to clean the Augean stables, he never touched the stuff. Legend has it that it had been some time since a good cleaning had been done last. You can imagine the piles of manure, the workers obscured in clouds of the flies, their tie-dyed tees discolored damp brown. Whatever Herc had to go through to divert the rivers, in my opinion, his strategy was a miracle of efficiency. Since I don't have a river handy, I have decided that maybe it would be wise to hire a comrade worker.
 It is the end of winter and most of the larger pens in the goat barn are a foot deep in manure. Now the warm weather has arrived, this solid, dry hard-packed stuff should be disposed of pronto. Leaving it creates a perfect environment for hordes of flies. But pile it outside in the sun, it begins to smolder, breaking down everything, even the fly larvae. After a while flies circle the piles in a nervous frenzy. They do touch-and-goes. The barn waste is too hot even to land on. I should not dawdle; some summers past I have dawdled, and the flies were annoying both outside the house and inside. My wife hates flies. Flies in the house mean war, and not just war against the flies.
 The barn is a big space and a working class neighborhood. It's not easy these days to find a comrade worker with a strong back. I'm not kidding! Where did they go? America was built by steel workers, coal miners, sodbusters. The sodbusters are my personal heroes of all Americans. I harden myself to face the job alone, as I have usually in the past. I start out slowly, do two truck loads the first morning. At this rate I'll be finished in a couple of weeks. I have other work that I need to start. Then, as luck would have it, I ran into some parents. They have been married for thirty plus years. They have two boys and a girl. One of the boys works, but the other still goes to High School. You can easily tell a teenager who has both mother and father on duty from one who is getting by on just one or the other. Two parents will fuse together their moral force and impress upon a kid that if he wants to buy anything, he should go out and go to work. If the kid is seriously inclined toward purchasing something or other, he will learn to persist. This young man has muscles everywhere—he wrestles on the team in school. I usually get along pretty well with kids like that. We quickly make a deal. Now I am somewhat less daunted. I agree to drive to Bethel to get him for the day. I am hopeful. But one thing about work: you must show up. Quite a few young workers, I have observed, have troubles with that.
 The object is to finish the job in about six hours. It is an odd fact that two people are better than twice as useful (and ambitious!) as one. The one tugs on the other for their energy. That must have come from the same tribal associations as the imagination came from ten-thousand years ago. Both, sociability and imagination, are hard to explain. They can't be fully explained by claiming self-interest. They just happen.
 My fellow worker was ready to start as soon as we arrived. I didn't have to say anything. We started shoveling manure into the truck. I like to dump the stuff close to where the gardens are. Every year by Fall a pile of barn waste has been broken down enough to spread on my gardens. My gardens' soil is black. The plants are always large and fruitful, capable of fighting off minor ailments and bad weather, because I spend a lot of time preparing the soil. The animals play a necessary role in fertilizing the garden. Nothing is wasted. It is the ecology of Roughhouse Farm, an ecology also ten-thousand years old, as old as agriculture, as old as domesticated animals.
 It surprised me how quickly we filled the Dodge half-ton junker. The old Dodge is a dozen years old; thinking about it, ancient times come to mind. We took out truckload after truckload. I ran the pick to loosen the stuff, he ran the pitchfork. We shuffled the animals off to other pens so not to disturb our work. I thought we must finish in six hours.
 But after lunch our bodies began to rebel. I noticed that my comrade was sitting down. That must also be ten-thousand years old, I mean the sitting down after lunch. Most likely for that very reason Pharaoh did not feed his Hebrew slaves any lunch. For a moment the youthful worker looked at me beseechingly as if wondering whether perhaps he might come back tomorrow. Tomorrow we would finish the job. Do you think a sodbuster would put this job off till tomorrow? Absolutely not. When I chided him about sitting down, for his back would stiffen sitting down too long and make the work go twice as hard, he jumped up and became a good worker again. My wife irrigated his poor soul with Gatorade. Notice she did not Gatorade my poor soul; water would do for me. Then when we got more than halfway through, the work gathered steam, as we had arrived within a last hard push to the end. Where did the weariness go now the end was near?
 There truly is a beginning, a middle and an end to all things. You aren't tired yet, so the beginning is easier, but on the other hand it may require imagination to get started. Some people have a knack for beginning just as other people have a knack for slogging through the middle. Now for us the slogging through the middle was over. Some souls, especially those equipped with Gatorade, fight toward the finish better than other souls. The slogging souls, even those which Gatorade has energized, fall off, they slow down, they stop, and the finishers pick up the pace. They are desirous to get finished. No excuses. And by now has come into the brain lightheadedness. This and that are clear: we are put on this planet to suffer. And then once we are well suffered, we are dropped into a ditch with the trash. And from this hole our souls rise lightly to the great beyond, where we then are trapped in sweet yearning to be relieved from eternity and returned once again to God's vale of tears, this StoryNoir, our lives.
 Thus it was while barn cleaning with my comrade, at the very end when we were all but a single truckload from finished, and leg weary and sloughing along shakily, I came to a fresh understanding of the world. Isn't that amazing though; who would ever expect it, pitchfork heavy with clods of manure. I had always wondered where the souls came from to fill the new bodies born every day. I even made up a legend—soul factories run by entrepreneur angels. But my legend reminded me too much of life. So here I was in the yearly extremity of barn cleaning, my mind in the befuddled mood that precedes creativity—often befuddled as well as exhausted, I'm not kidding!—when it occurred to me that the souls must want to come back. That would explain everything. There's this tiny nut of sweetness in the middle of eternity, and, dammit, the souls want to come back to it. They all want to come back, but only some of them are allowed. The eternities must be well populated; so it is given. But now and then there are a few souls left over. And that is what the souls jockey for, a position in which they are among the leftovers, the ones who are allowed to come back.
 As we were jimmying up the last clod of manure, it all came clear to me. Then we were done. I returned my comrade worker to his mother and father. His mother was gathering eggs in the hen house. She came out to watch him cross the dooryard to go into the house, her young man, worker for a day. He was walking uncomfortably bent over. She laughed to see him. It didn't take me long to climb into bed that night myself. I thought I had it all figured out. But next morning it didn't seem half so clear. Alas, maybe next barn cleaning it might come back.

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