I walked out to feed the chickens yesterday morning and ended up with a clearer understanding of my unboring path.
There are now eleven chickens. We lost three when I started to feel sorry for them being cooped up in the coop all the time, nice as the coop is — even (one has to think) from a chicken’s point of view. Oh, let them out, voices said. Let them scratch in the dirt and find bugs and dust themselves in the sun if they want to. Give them The Life of a Chicken to Beat All. But place (any place) has its perils, as we may recall from the last post. I don’t know what got the first three, but let us assume a wandering fox or raccoon got lucky and slept that night on a very full stomach.
The fourth chicken may have met the same end, but I blame her demise on Bridget, my anomaly of a golden retriever. Whoever heard of a golden retriever that was anything but nice? Certainly she is mostly nice, but there are moments when she forgets her breed, when something else in her brain kicks in, and we have to bring her back to the norm, which is to say nice, which is apparently too much to ask on a consistent basis of this old rescue dog who endured in her earlier life only God knows what. Someday I hope I will again have a dog that is unequivocally nice. In the meantime it’s an imperfect world.
Bridget decided a few days after the now-twelve chickens were once more cooped that she wanted the hunk of bread that had been given to them, and pawed and gnawed at a weak area of the fencing and made a hole. How a bird got through that I cannot imagine, but clearly one did.
The now-eleven chickens of mine are the best-fed chickens in town. I bring scrap from the kitchen at work — leftover tomatoes and toast, carrot peels, squash seeds, etc. — and provide a frequent feast. Chickens, like most creatures, are seemingly oblivious to how good they have it, and carry on as if I am the average chicken keeper. As I deliver the pickle bucket full of goodies, they act like it’s run of the mill. Fine. I do not depend on their appreciation. We must just know we do good and keep on doing it regardless.
Ordinarily in the mornings I feed my [ungrateful] flock and put the now-empty bucket into my car and rinse it out when I get to work. But this time I chose to walk to the garden and use the water pump that Bradley and Beth thoughtfully put in the middle. It was a cool morning for late June in Virginia. Rain was in the air. I could not help but take a moment to look around at the various raised beds proliferating. I have to think whether I would describe them as proliferating beautifully or proliferating wildly. Either descriptor will do.
The lettuce catches my eye. Spectacular lettuce! We have been feasting on it for weeks and it just keeps coming. If you have not had lettuce fresh picked from a garden lately, you will have to remember how tender and tasty such lettuce is, though I served a salad to my friend Vernon the other night and his comments focused on the maple dressing instead. I was pleased just the same.
There is not much else in the garden I would call spectacular right now. The sugar snap peas and this planting of spinach are past. The catnip is ridiculously tall but I don’t need it. The cabbage, beets, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and cukes are on their way. The onions failed. There is one volunteer squash of an unknown variety that has taken over the compost. Whatever it is (and I expect we will soon know), it loves its bed. These leaves might be called spectacular.
The beets need weeding. Some of the weeds have been food for Japanese beetles, some of whom are still munching. As I pull the unwanted plants out, I considered leaving them in. What if, after I remove the obviously favored weeds, the beetles go after the untouched beet greens instead? But the weeds make it a mess and my sense of order triumphs. Out they go, regardless of my not having garden gloves on, because of course I came to the garden not to pull weeds or admire the lettuce or assess the glorious (if wild) results of rain + sun + healthy plants.
This half hour — this sequence of feeding chickens (because I will continue to curry their favor with goodies even if they never acknowledge me) to cleaning buckets (because it was Saturday and I didn’t want them sitting in the shed until Monday) to admiring lettuce (because there is nothing else you could do with that, other than pick and eat it, which came later) to weeding the beet bed (because of my need for ducks in a row) to muddy hands (because of recent rain and my unwillingness to go get gloves) — might strike the reader as a lot of boring tasks and a lot of justifying boring tasks, but in fact this half hour represents a portion of my unboring path.
It occurred to me that I call this site “an unboring path” and presumed that would be self-explanatory, but maybe it isn’t. Using a somewhat unorthodox word, I mean just what you think. I mean the opposite of boring, the opposite of uninteresting (I suppose we could follow the pattern here and say un-uninteresting?), the opposite of dull.
Tasks themselves are of course sometimes boring. Some people find baseball boring, or ironing, or reading technical manuals. I’m not talking about any one thing here as being boring or not. I’m talking about an enjoyable path, a richness, a fullness, a continuously evolving forward movement that you are joyfully and willingly engaged in through task, purpose, circumstance, feeling and decision. An unboring path is interesting, yes, but it’s interesting because you decide to be — wherever you are and as best as you are able — a part of what’s going on, involved. Interesting moments, ideas and experiences happen only sometimes by chance. They are also sought out or, when presented to you, chosen. They can lead to something new or something familiar. What matters is that you embrace your world, using what you have — your brain, your body, your hands, your heart, your time, your surroundings, your circumstances — to get the most out of life. What you have is partly of your choosing and partly not, an ever-unique, ever-evolving combination of factors that you help shape. An unboring path is not about passing time or sitting on the sidelines. It is not about lamenting what you don’t have. It is embracing what you do have and getting in there and doing the best you can with that and enjoying every minute.
I barely began contemplating this idea when a large, stinging-type insect appeared on the screen of my window — on the inside — unsure how and unable (though valiantly trying) to get to the other side of the screen. The word for him is doomed. Soon he was, first by my hand feebly, then by Samuel’s more definitively, dead as a door-nail as they say. Why do we say dead as a door-nail? he asks when the deed is done. What’s a door-nail?
I have slowly acclimated to the ease of using a search engine to answer questions, though I still often forget how easy and handy this is. This time I did not think twice, but instantly googled door-nail. The first benefit of this search came in the form of the passage often associated with this word, the introduction of Marley at the beginning of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:
Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
An unboring path includes the unexpected. It’s June, not Christmas, but here you have it, a most famous passage about a door-nail. I am very familiar with it. Our local Shakespeare theater http://www.americanshakespearecenter.com/ performs A Christmas Carol every year, and every year I go there to see it if I can. George C. Scott in the film version is outstanding as well. I have heard this door-nail passage many times, and every time I do, I marvel at it. If you don’t find yourself marveling, read it again, slowly. Marveling will come. This short passage plainly and unexpectedly gives us the mastery of Charles Dickens: his cadence, word choice, imagery, humor. Truly marvelous. Even in June.
An unboring path includes things you didn’t know before. We have now found out that door-nails were/are a specific kind of nail that 1. need to be hit hard on their heads repeatedly to get through the wood and naturally end up “dead,” and 2. were historically longer than the thickness of wood they penetrated and therefore had to be hit from the other side to knock the point into the wood so that there would be nothing sticking out to hurt anyone, rendering the nail permanently lodged in said door and henceforth unable to ever move (even if it were animate in the first place), or to ever be retrieved, or to ever be useful again (on account of its point being bent) even if it were somehow taken out, and therefore in these ways also “dead.”
In the search that produced the door-nail passage, Shakespeare was mentioned as not being the origin of the door-nail idiom, but the Bonus Facts part of the article included several other Shakespeare facts, including this one about his use of un- words.
Shakespeare is, in fact, the first known user of many words that start with un-. He was a fan of the prefix and attached it to words that previously hadn’t used un-. Examples include unhelpful, uneducated, undress, and unreal, plus some 300 other un-words.
After the chickens and after the garden, the stinging insect came unbidden, producing the door-nail question that unleashed Dickens and Shakespeare. I feel quite certain that Shakespeare would approve of “unboring.”