Thursday, April 1, 2010

Forest For The Trees

It's been virga all day across the Val d'Orcia, rain never reaching the ground. Big mats of cloud scudding along like pewter jellyfish, their tentacles dangling down over this undulant ancient sea bottom as freshets of wind churn the budding trees like corals and seaweeds in strong current.
This is what Giovanni and Arnaldo have spent the last two weeks since the big snow doing, harvesting one meter long logs from the snarl of wild bosco at the bottom of their property, just across from the castle ruin. It needs to be done now so next year's firewood can season all summer. It needs to be done now because the leaves are down and it is easy to see how to thin the stand best for the future.

This is what the managed wood will become in another 20 years. Truffles anyone?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Double Standard And The Beauty of Also

I live on a slippery slope. This is what our hillside becomes when it is wet with nebbia (fog), piogia (rain), or neve (snow). Which it seems to be often these days. Because of this the terrain itself is teaching me a thing or two as I try to turn a worksite into a home.

Today I am 55, and I have built a house in Tuscany.

Problem solving is the thinking half of getting things done. Do it right and you cut your work in half. As a reader, writer, speaker and listener, I like words and phrases that say more than one thing at a time. I am not talking about efficiency. That is an industrial age term aimed at increasing production over time and orderly accrual of wealth. And I don’t mean practical either. Practical only concerns itself with the doing part of getting things done.

What I'm talking about is the act of satisfying the creative need and the aesthetic need at once. Not dual purpose, but dual result, a double standard of the best sort. The payoff is not instantaneous, but more meditative and accumulative. The quiet everyday Eurekas found in ordinary acts, these are akin to the feeling of inspiration Zen monks, poets, and even military strategists must know.

Today, I have a new rule when it comes to getting things done. After Rule #1, “Avoid solving problems with bigger problems to solve,” Rule #2 is: "Whenever possible, solve for more than one problem at a time." The key is forethought. Here is a short and simple list of some ways I try to achieve this:

Never go anywhere empty handed. When moving from point A, no matter how casually, always take something that belongs to point B and leave it there.

Never go from A to B without considering what is in between. If there is a weed that really needs to be pulled, pull it. Then take a moment to notice the change.

When pruning, gather firewood.

When mowing, gather mulch.

When fencing the garden, trellis peas.

When engaged in physical labor, exercise.

When stopping to rest, heal and gather force.

When removing eyesores and trash, improve safety.

While heating pasta water, cook broccoli, green beans or boiled eggs.

When clearing a field of stones, gather building material.

And while I’m at it, a few do’s and don’ts:

Remove the word "disposable" from my vocabulary. Before discarding anything, assume it has a “next purpose” and reuse or recycle accordingly.

Never pull a weed without knowing its purpose in the ground.

Never do something practical without seeing the aesthetic in it.

Remove all military vocabulary from my landscape. There are no "invasive” weeds. Armies invade. Weeds are more like common citizens, they move into neighborhoods suitable to them. And one does not "battle” pests. Insects want to eat my cabbage as much as I do. But they rarely kill the cabbage and devour it with relish I will.