January 29, 2020

On the Road to a Very Hot Place

• By John F. Chisholm •

My grandfather’s favorite adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is as true today as it was in his time.  The problem arises that I take it one step farther.  Not only are my intentions completely irrelevant but my best efforts are inevitably inadequate.  All hell breaks loose regardless

Perhaps an example would help.

We collect rocks in various depots around this farm.  Over the years, those collections have really piled up.  In fact there are talus heaps, scree mounds and rock piles in strategic locations around the edges of all our fields.  The spillways from our ponds are rock-lined.  Our drainage ditches are filled.

Closer to home, there’s the stone wall between our house and barn. Beyond that, I’ve been filling the gully the cows have made ambling up to the water trough beside the barn.

Whenever I encounter a rock that needs relocation, it’s moved to one of these resettlement areas.

Unfortunately that’s a common necessity, a daily event.

New England is infamous for its stony soils.  Alas!  This farm is no exception.  The frost pushes them up.  The plow runs into them regularly.  The disk harrow scraps over them.  The spring-tooth harrow lifts them to the surface.  I swear that our garden grows them.  The rototiller turns them up, a regular and dependable ― if unwanted ― crop.  And so on.  And on and on.

Rocks are never in shortage.  Not around here.  If I overlook any, our mowers are guaranteed to find them.

Before going further, there’s something else you should know, an embarrassing truth there’s no point denying.  I’m a lousy throw ― always have been.  As a kid, I was inevitably the last chosen for baseball, the handicap no team wanted.  As for basketball?  Soccer?  Football?  Forget them all.  I don’t to want to brag but I am the world’s preeminent sports liability.  Even today, the best way for me to hit a wastebasket is to aim for something else.

But let’s go back to rocks.  Not the ones in my head.  The softer ones that keep popping out of the ground no matter how many I remove.

Yesterday I mowed around the lilacs in front of the barn.  Those branches overhang the lawn by a significant distance.  That means I’m mowing blind.  I suppose the result was inevitable.  Clang!  The sound echoed.  The mower stalled.  Dust flew up.  I’d hit a rock.

I just  hate that, don’t you?

Fuming, I grabbed a lever, dropped to my hands and knees and crawled under the branches.  It was a struggle but I finally removed a softball-sized rock.  It was easy to find.  It was the one with the big white scar on top.

I could have carried that rock over to the barn and dropped it under the fence and into the gully by the water trough.  It was just a few steps away.

No.  That would have been too easy.  Instead I backed out from under the lilac and, while still on my knees, chucked that rock toward the gully.

If I’d thought, I might have aimed for the barn.  That would have ensured that I’d miss it, even though it’s four-stories tall, 50 feet wide and 70 feet long.   No.  That would have been too sensible.  I aimed for the gully ― what I wanted to hit ― and so hit the barn instead.  Not just the barn, either.  I hit the barn window ― of course.  Needless, really, to add, it broke.  Not content with that, the rock knocked the kerosene lantern off the inside sill.  Yeah.  Dropped to the floor, it broke, too.

Okay.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  That window was at an oblique angle from where I launched my missile.  A tiny triangle, less than a square foot of it was exposed.  Truly.  I went back, knelt in the same spot and checked.  I cannot overemphasize that I certainly could not have hit that window if I’d tried.  Not with a million throws.  Moreover, I had NO intention, none ― zip ― zero ― zilch ― of either breaking that glass or smashing my lantern.

You and I both know that’s the only reason all this happened.

Still kneeling, I apologized to my grandfather.  He was a great man.

But the fact is that I’m headed straight to hell regardless of my intentions.