all of the selves we Have ever been
Taming the Wilderness
I piddled around the house until almost eleven.
Dawdling was not an attempt to avoid work. My morning routine was delayed by the sounds of lawn mowers in the neighborhood. I opened my windows to let in the scent of fresh-cut grass. I love these sounds and smells of summer. They remind me that the world is awake and alive. Like Pavlov’s dog, I was conditioned in childhood to the roar of the lawn mower. I salivate. Must be summer or at least a Saturday. In either case, recess!
The lawn mowers began buzzing early in the morning. Folk wisdom says it is best to get at it before the heat of the day sets in. When I was young lawn-mowing was mostly the work of men and occupied a Saturday morning, but as the children grew older, we all got in on the act. There is something about cutting the grass that activates our ancestral DNA, the genetic remnant of our agrarian past, our pioneer spirit fighting the tumbleweeds and clearing the prairie. Whether you stand behind a push mower or sit upon a tractor, mowing the lawn is a way of laying claim to the land and taming the wilderness. It says privilege and home ownership. It suggests accomplishment and permanence.
We no longer face the overwhelming obstacles of our pioneer ancestors—harsh climate, unpredictable weather, limited tools, crude shelters, and plagues of grasshoppers, but we are learning something about making our way in the wilderness, facing the unknown, enduring isolation and loneliness. The new coronavirus is like living in unchartered territory with rumors of outlaws and wanted posters plastering the store fronts. It is frightening even if you’ve never seen an outlaw. Just knowing they are out there keeps you vigilant. It is hard to grasp what is in front of you when you are constantly looking over your shoulder. You can’t rest when your dreams are filled with images of bad guys.
Despite our fascination with American cowboys and the resilience of the settlers, not all of the pioneers met with success. Some died traveling. Some died trying. Some left busted and disgusted and returned to their homes in the east. The ones that hung in there and faced their trials, endured the loneliness, worked the land despite its difficulties, they are the one who won the west.
There have been moments in my life when I’ve thought that I was born at the wrong time. I like physical labor and connection to the earth. I enjoy making things from scratch and putting in a hard day’s work. I don’t mind working alone and having some control over the quality of my work and effort. I’ve had the fleeting thought that I might have been more at home as a pioneer woman. But this coronavirus is testing me.
Despite all of that is good and familiar surrounding me, I am pre-occupied with what might go wrong, and the isolation can bring me to the edge of sanity some days. It has been but a few weeks, and I am already busted and disgusted. I hate watching out for bad guys day and night. I could pack up my wagon, but there is no going back; there is no east.
I need to get a grip. And a lawn mower. Take back the land. Tame this wilderness. To hell with the bad guys.