It was an early summer morning, an enchanting time when flowers are blooming, blackberries are spurting to full growth and the birds are happy to have sunny warmth. I had taken myself out to the back porch, where often I settle down to write after I have finished a gentle run.
All was perfect that morning except for one thing: The words wouldn’t come. It is a terrible thing to be a writer who is wordless at times. Repeatedly, I erased the words I typed.
I began to do what all writers do when inspiration is lost in the world’s mist somewhere — I distracted myself. I checked email, perused the news, watered the plants on the porch and pulled some tiny, inconsequential weeds. I’m a worker bee. I thrive on being busy, but more than anything I want to be productive.
Needless to say, productivity was not visiting on that summer morn.
So I hit upon an idea: I’d put on my yard clothes and work a bit on Hell’s Hill. This is what I have dubbed an embankment in the front of the house which is the bane of my existence. It cannot be tamed, but it has nearly whupped me on many an occasion. It is a thriving environment for weeds of the nastiest variety including thistle and all its cousins. Poke Sallet springs up from there, as does briar bushes, while kudzu has threatened. I planted that hill with junipers, which seemed like a good idea at the time. Dutifully, they have grown and covered most of the bank but stubborn weeds spring up through its greenery.
I’ve spent years battling that hill, only to have it defeat me on a regular basis. The best I can hope is that there are brief periods of time when we are even, this stubborn Hell’s Hill and me. For I never win. I’m not even in the lead at any time.
Because this hill is home to endless mounts of fire ants — another ruffle of displeasure in my mostly happy life — I put on knee-high rubber boots and my gloves and went to work. I pulled, plucked, weeded, snipped and mostly sweated and groaned. It was terribly hard, back-breaking work. As I fought my bitterest enemy, I recalled a few days earlier when I dug a couple of holes for new shrubbery. Quickly, my shovel hit rock so I had to heave ho until I had it pulled up.
I thought of my grandparents who fought that rocky, nutrient-poor clay in an effort to make a living. They toiled in brutal heat to grow corn that sold for 50 cents a bushel and turnip greens that brought 5 cents per pound. Their lives were hard, even miserable, as they tried to scrape together a few hundred dollars a year to pay taxes. At the end of their lives, their shoulders were hunched from the pull of a plow and the burdens of hard work and constant worry. Fighting that stubborn earth wasn’t a choice for them. It was a necessity.
As I thought of that, I thought also of this: All children should spend a good dose of the summer doing hard labor like that in the unkind, unblinking sun. For if they did, they’d all want to be lawyers, doctors or any profession that is graced with air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter. I worked for an hour then stood to stretch my aching back and call it “done” for the time being. After a bath, I settled back on the porch and went back to writing.
Suddenly, what had seemed so hard earlier came running through my mind and sprang out of my finger tips.
I found inspiration in the kind of hard labor I hope never to have to do in order to pay my taxes.