April 20, 2019

The Bonds of Constraint

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

We’re all constrained by circumstance.  Farmers, especially.

The lists of our constraints goes on and on.  Right at the top is the season.  It doesn’t do any good to plant corn in the fall.  Besides, who has the time?  That’s when we’re picking apples, making cider and freezing apple sauce, trimming the edges of the fields, doing last minute painting and making sure the chimneys are clean.   Of course that’s only the start of that list.

The point is that every month of every year it’s the same.  Our duties vary but they’re there all right, no question about that.  Time constrains us.

I’ve thought a lot about this, trying to squeeze in extra jobs this spring.

Normally I burn last fall’s brush piles in March.  I cheat, adding brush cut in the spring to the fires.  In fact, I actually prefer cutting brush in the spring.  The winter’s snow has packed down the grasses, exposing the trunks, making cutting easier.  The problem is getting green wood to burn.  You don’t want to leave the brush piles drying through the summer.  They’d be in the way haying.

So I start the fires on last fall’s brush and consume as much of this spring’s cuttings as the fire will allow.

I look at it as avoiding constraint and smile as each green alder goes up in smoke.

But this spring I’m having trouble getting to that.  I have several brush piles to burn, too.

That’s because we purchased the rundown farm next door.  Cleaning that place up has involved a lot of work and a lot of burning.  That’s robbed me of the time when I’m normally doing other things.

My wife pointed that out to me last night.  “I thought you were going to tune my bicycle yesterday.  The riding season’s here.  Everyone at the gym has already been out.”

The ‘everyone but me’ wasn’t spoken but I heard it clearly all the same.  I bit my tongue and took a deep breath before responding.  “I’ve got to get that old barn burned before the snow is gone.”  That’s true.  Fire hazard goes way up once the snow melts.  Spring is actually one of the highest fire-danger periods of the year.  That’s because the relative humidity is so low and last year’s grasses are all dried and brown, just waiting for a spark.

In addition, burning is a lon-n-n-g, hot  job.  Even though those old, dried and cracked barn boards go up quickly, the embers and ashes smolder for hours ― for days if the fire was big enough.  Leaving before it’s safe to do so is a huge error.

I examined my fingernails before stealing a quick glance at Wendy.

My wife’s eyes were alight with a cold fire.  A frosty tone curled the edges of her words.  “You promised that you would have my bike ready by Thursday.”

That’s true, too.  And a promise is a promise.

I sighed and looked up again.  Another constraint stared me down.

I tuned her bicycle early, early this morning.  I pumped up the tires, lubricated the cables, adjusted the brakes and checked the derailleurs, reflecting.

We’re all of us constrained.  But perhaps, at least in my case, the seasons aren’t at the top of that list after all.