Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

So, What’s the Plan?

At a time of life when most people are focused on making connections and establishing themselves I turned away. Through my twenties and early thirties, I lived on a small, remote island without roads, power, or ferry service and, for much of year without neighbors. Mine wasn’t a back-to-the-land philosophical journey. I wasn’t making political statements. If the internet had been around I wouldn’t have written a blog about it. I was drawn to the island the way geese must know to migrate. Some sheer and inner love of place and the rightness of the feel of it. It was home in a way no other place has ever been. That didn’t mean it was idyllic or easy. Money was tight. I made do with what was around. My pig pen was a lattice of spruce poles. I wove tough branches together for a fence to keep the hens in. Though they mainly appreciated the shade it created and went in and out freely. I straightened old nails from scavenged wood and searched the shores after every storm for rope and floats for my lobster traps.

I had grown up on the stories the old timers told. The ones who rode out the Depression on the island. They were the first ones we went to when we had an idea but ran out of parts. If they didn’t have it they knew who might and they treated the search for half-inch pipe fittings or scraps of oak board as the serious missions they were. As a boy I tagged along on projects and watched as they went through their barns, sheds, and out-buildings for spare parts. The spaces were dark and magical. One hundred and fifty years and more of possibly useful materials accumulated in jars and boxes. Saber-toothed crosscut saws hung on the walls above generations of chainsaws on the shelves below. In the shafts of dusty light that seeped through the bubbled glass of the old windows, they rooted through boxes of odd plumbing fittings, jars of nails, and coffee tins of assorted screws and fasteners. Tools hung from the walls, their handles polished with linseed oil and use. Stacks of vintage cans of paint vied with cigar boxes stuffed with engine parts and sheaves of sandpaper for space on the sagging shelves. Ranks of planes and chisels and knives. Stacks of rags, coils of twine, wicks and mantles for kerosene lamps. They weren’t tinkerers, they were alchemists, creating gold from the base elements, weaving science, magic, and grit into forms as ordinary and utilitarian as an old Willys jeep to flights of fancy like kites and model boats. From them, I learned the value of a well stocked shed and using what you had on hand. From them, I learned the value of pausing for a smoke out of the wind, in the lee of the barn, waiting for a knowledge spell to strike.

May to November we lived in a tipi set on a platform in a small meadow with gardens all around. Winters we shut off all but two rooms in my parents’ house and hunkered down.

In the long dark days of winter I got a brilliant idea. There was the old log cabin we built as kids. Just your average one room cabin, a place to hang out and smoke weed. Just sitting there in the woods waiting to be reused. Cooking in a tipi on a two burner gas, camping stove had some significant culinary limitations. I had a gas stove and oven but it wouldn’t fit in the tipi. The old smoke shack would be just the ticket.

The next day, I headed down through the frozen woods with a hammer and pry bar. I was no demolition man. I had a plan. I carefully labeled every log. Color coded them for easy assembly in the new site.

I carried the cabin stick by stick up to the little meadow and stacked them next to the granite slabs of the old foundation. I had a regular trail tramped through the crusty snow through the woods from site to site.

Right after I finished hauling the roof boards we had a major nor’easter and my lumber pile was buried in the drifts. It was early spring by the time the snow and ice melted that year and my materials were exposed.

I carried my hammer and nails over and set up shop. Nothing to it I figured. Just find number one and go from there.

It was then I realized that crayon on wood is not a permanent marking system.

I spent longer cursing life and feeling sorry for myself than I actually care to admit. In the end there was still the pile and the silent woods and me and nothing to do but pick a point and begin again.

That year when I hauled traps around the islands I had a little song I sang to myself.

the year I became a fisherman
I got me some hip-boots and a debt
I had me some great expectations
everything was goin’ my way
but the winds have blown
changes come and now, somehow,
I’m at the bottom
Oh, Oh, I got to start all over again

It sounded just fine sung into the wind with the outboard as accompaniment. It is a song that has come to mind many times through the years. It is the song that I hum every time I catch myself tripping over my expectations, a song I hear when I’m told tales of plans and projections. It is then I recall the wisdom of stepping out of the wind in the lee of the barn. Finding a sunny spot for a smoke, not being a smoker I conjure up my father with his plastic bread bag of loose tobacco and wait for him to roll a smoke, one-handed like he was so proud of doing. Other times it’s Old Morris, and I wait while he taps a Marlboro out of the pack in the front pocket of his black and red checked wool jacket. Wait for him to dig a kitchen match out of his pants pocket and strike it on his thumbnail. Wait long enough that the sounds around us come back the way they do. Wait in the comfortable silence that is so out of fashion now. Wait for a knowledge spell to be woven out of the wonderings and musings as we tease the problem out of the knot that it’s become.

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benjamin weinberg

Writer, walker, poet, educator. Commercial fisherman, builder, donut maker, organic grower. Boston, U. City, Maine, South Africa, Madrid.