Procrastinatus and Shouldering the Boulder

September 23rd, 2008

As summer came to a close this past weekend I found myself catching up on “things to do.”   Sometimes that list of things we want to accomplish is so overwhelming.  But I had to laugh the other day while musing about all the things I hope to do before winter this year.

We were fortunate this summer that the electric utility company has been trimming trees in the area.  Several ice storms over the past few years have knocked out electricity for days at a time in the cold of winter, and trimming the trees back helps protect the electric power lines from damange.  I’ve been watching and trimming a few of our trees where I could, but they were too high and overgrown for me to reach.  Last year some ice laden branches even bowed down our electric lines but fortunately didn’t break them.

One day last week I saw the tree trimmers along the highway down the road, and walked through the woods to talk with them.  We talked about their work and I asked if they could come on the property to trim the electric lines closer to the house, but they didn’t know if or when they would be back.  I planned to call the company and follow up, but lo and behold the next morning they were there! I walked out to see the large trucks and equipment, and one guy high up in a bucket trimming our trees.  Near the driveway there was a familiar message.

Lots of work to do in the country!

They left the sign near the trees overnight and came back the next day to finish up.  As I looked around the landscape that afternoon, I laughed at how appropriate the message was.  It was a stark, bright reminder of how I place myself too often in the mental state of “getting things done” instead of “appreciating what is.”  And in that mental state, either the process becomes too cumbersome, or I go from one job to another seemingly getting much accomplished, but instead spinning the proverbial wheels of my lawn tractor throughout the day.

Other times I’ll walk the property and everywhere I see “Work Area Ahead.”   I look at the weeds, the grass or fallen branches, motors needing repair and see “Here’s Work Too.”  I head inside for something to eat, look out the window and think “More Work Ahead.”  And I wonder if I’ll ever get it all finished.

But what am I trying to finish really?  Why am I in such a hurry?  What is it about the things I plan to do that may keep me from enjoying the beauty of the day or taking my time with something?   All questions I ask myself during either the more lucid, or more exasperated moments.

It must be the same for others whether at the office, business or home.  Maybe it’s our nature, and we have that intrinsic desire to get our work finished, and to achieve things professionally and personally.  Certainly it can be a good thing too, harnessing energy and motivation while seeking achievement and growth.

But if we aren’t careful we find ourselves thinking too much of our “Work” and it becomes an unconscious burden we carry around.  Ultimately, instead of harnessing a more productive energy, we look for subtle ways to avoid thinking about it, and find ourselves immersed in other things to do that are not quite so productive. My old friend Procrastinatus comes to mind.

I’ve often wondered about the human tendency to procrastinate, and perhaps I’m struggling to express some relationship between doing the work we must, procrastination and enjoying life along the way.  But I couldn’t examine the issue any more beautifully than Dr. Stephen Diamond has done recently in Existential and Mythological Perspectives on Procrastination.

“Another existential aspect of procrastination is what I call the Sisyphus syndrome. As punishment by the gods, Sisyphus, if you recall your Greek mythology, was fated to eternally roll a huge rock up a hill each day, only to have it roll back down just as he neared the top.”

“We all share a similar existential fate. We are each required to roll our metaphorical rock–whatever that may be–uphill every day, only to do it all over again tomorrow. It is arduous, difficult, tedious and laborious work.”

“This tedious aspect of life is something many people try to avoid via procrastination. We refuse to accept the difficult, dirty, tedious tasks in life, distracting ourselves instead with more amusing activities so as to avoid them. We avoid shouldering the boulder. But it should be remembered that for existential philosopher Albert Camus, Sisyphus found meaning and even contentment in accepting his fate. As must we all. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it: amor fati. Love your fate.”

I’m not sure about the fate part… and believe we can turn to God for reassurance of our ability to move forward.  But the article explores other aspects of procrastination and our daily life.  The author emphasizes living in the present, and that procrastination is an avoidance of the same.  And he speaks of passionately embracing what we do today.  In whatever way that I rationalize the things I need to do, or the priorities of the day, I know that unfortunately we can often find more exciting things to do rather than the mundane, repetitive tasks that really need done.

Eventually we come back to those things we need to do.  Finally we start in on something, and before we know it we’re musing along immersed in our work, doing more than we expected and perhaps less than we wanted.  But that’s okay, at least we’re living in that moment.  Getting lost in our work can be a good thing, especially if it’s something we enjoy.

When I find myself too consumed with things that “need done,” I look for a way to step back, or into that place of appreciation. I remember how I enjoy things more when the work is finished, with even completion as a short-term goal.  I hope that whatever work I do, I don’t lose the joy and beauty of the moment because of the seeming enormity of it all.

I’ll probably remember that orange sign for a while.  And in so many ways, I’m thankful to be able to work at all.

Cane Pole Fun

September 8th, 2008

After taking care of some chores last night we were looking at the pond and I thought out loud “It looks like a good time for fishing…”  The young boy jumped at the opportunity.  The air was cool and the water calm, and the evening had that late summer peacefulness with the droning of insects in the treetops.

We found his fishing pole in the barn.  Nothing fancy, just a simple cane pole with a hook and a bobber.  He has some other colorful fishing poles with fancy reels and superheroes.  But he appreciates the straight-forward approach to pond fishing with a long cane pole.  You just find a few worms and a good spot on the bank, throw the line a few yards out in the water and sit back and relax.

After getting a few worms from the garden we headed down and picked out a likely spot.  He put the worms on the hook all by himself, and threw the line in the water.  He had just settled down on his stump when Bloop! his bobber plunged under water.  “I got one!” he yells, telling me to “Come here! Come here!”  So I watch the smile on his face as he tussles with the fish and help him to pull it in through the weeds.  

Catching Bass with a cane pole

He’s not too sure about sticking his thumb in that great big maw to get the hook out, but knows the reason they call them Largemouth Bass.  We do it together talking about why the fish has such a big mouth.  He holds a tenuous thumb on the bristle-brush jaw of the fish while I help him take out the hook, and then he throws it back into the water and jumps up clapping his hands.

He catches two more after a while, getting more comfortable with the fish.  We let them go and soon we run out of worms.  “That was fun!” he says as we head back to the house.  It surely was.  He loves that cane pole, and I do too. 

Life and Ice Cream Dreams

August 31st, 2008

Why is it we surround ourselves with living things?   No matter where we choose to live, we seek life in the world around us.  We join with others to begin families, develop friendships and seek things greater than ourselves that inspire us and fire the imagination of the soul.

Sometimes it’s the simple things, and we choose kittens or other creatures to share our lives with.

Kitten drinking milk

Maybe we just appreciate the life that exists in the world, and go see it when we can.  Life is pretty simple when you think about it.  For all that we do, life is really about growth.  And age doesn’t matter.  What happens when something stops growing?   Can something stop growing and still be alive?  I don’t think so, at least not very long. 

Bullfrog at the pond

Sometimes we seek life in growing plants and flowers, and find joy in nature’s abundance.  Whatever choices we make in our lives, we yearn for something more, we seek to make our lives, and the lives around us, matter in some way.  It may be with fame and fortune, or it may be with simple moments and small kindnesses.

Sunflower and a butterfly

A few months ago one of our favorite ice cream stores closed at a nearby small town.  It was run by a family dairy for decades, and the patriarch of the family had passed away.  He could be seen quite often sitting behind the counter, smiling at customers who loved this home-made goodness.   It was his dairy, his ice cream store, and his life.   After he was gone the rest of the family didn’t want to continue operating the ice cream store and it closed.  But I still see his smile when I think of the times we visited, and the smile on my father’s face when he got one of those cones.  I’ve yet to find a butter-pecan quite the same.  What was so special about that place?   I don’t know.  Maybe it was sharing it with family, maybe it was the quaint little store, or maybe it was the ice cream.  Maybe it was all of that and more.

There are many chapters in our lives that close for one reason or another too.  But we don’t stop looking for more.  That seeking and questioning during the journey of our lives is part of our growth, even in the midst of our greatest confusion and challenges.   However complex we try to make it, life is simply about living. 

And maybe life is a little like ice cream too.  So many flavors, so many choices…  Now, what kind of life do you want to have? 

New Discoveries, Old Friends

July 16th, 2008

At least once a week I try to take a closer look at the property to see what might need done.  We all keep lists of “things to do” it seems, but I find it can be discouraging if you’re prone to writing a giant list of “things I would like to do” instead of focusing on what really needs done.  I always tended to write those big lists in the past, but now I’m finding out that as I get older I forget more often… so it all balances out! 

One of the good things about looking around is the chance to discover something you didn’t know about before.  We’ve been by some trees near the young boy’s “secret spot” many times in the past, but never noticed any with fruit.  The boy saw it first the other day, and noticed that red fruit was dropping to the ground.  Turns out it’s a Red Mulberry tree that I never knew we had. 

Red Mulberry tree

I remember thinking this looked like a mulberry, but never saw any fruit on it in the past.  Could it be because of the bees this year?   I don’t really know, but most mulberry fruit turns almost black before falling ripe, so I’m not sure why these were dropping early.  It’s a tall tree so I don’t expect to gather any fruit.  Good for the critters though.

Here’s a picture of some of my best friends in summer- the dragonfly.  These guys may look funny, but they cruise around at high speed looking for other little bugs to eat.  Their favorite?  Mosquitoes.  I’m all for anything that makes a dent in the mosquito population, especially around the water.   Plus it brings back fond memories.

Dragonfly in summer

One time as a kid I was fishing up north one summer with my father and my brother.  That week was my 16th birthday and we had a grand time.  I remember one night that a lone fisherman had not returned from a day on a remote lake, and everyone was worried about him. 

It was very late at night as we sat around the lodge, finally hearing the high pitched whine of a small boat engine approaching in the darkness.  The man tied up and got out, taking a little ribbing for being gone so long.  He was tired and disheveled looking, and said he got lost and then couldn’t get the motor started at sunset.  While he tried to get the motor started, he said he was attacked by giant clouds of mosquitoes and it was awful.  Then he heard this droning noise, and didn’t know what it was.  Before long, he said waves upon waves of enormous dragonflies came cruising to his rescue like attacking fighter jets, darting all throughout the mosquitoes for a good half hour and clearing the air.  He finally got the engine running and found his way home.  That was a pretty neat trip, and a neat birthday. 

Ghostly Shapes in the Pond

July 10th, 2008

For the last few weeks I’ve noticed ripples in the pond on quiet days, usually near the shoreline.  I look for fish quite often, and if it’s a bass or bluegill you can hear the “pop” or “smack” as they find an insect to dine on.   The bullfrogs are calling now also with their slow “baarooom, baaroom” voices.  And when two bullfrogs get together in a mating ritual, it’s like two splashy, flopping critters near the weeds. 

Ripples along the pond shoreline

But the ripples I’ve been seeing were not the same.  The previous two years I stocked a few grass carp as well as koi to help control vegetation and algae in the pond.  And years ago, a previous owner stocked a few of them as well.  Whether it’s luck or the right combination of fish I don’t know, but thus far we have had no blooms of algae or emergent vegetation problems, and the pond has remained much more open and clear. 

My suspicion is that the ripples I’m seeing along the water’s edge are the grass carp feeding.  I’ve let the grass from the shoreline grow long enough to fall over into the water to some degree, and the critters around the pond seem to appreciate it.  Every now and then I see ghostly shapes near the edge of the grass, but was not quite sure what it was.  And I didn’t know for sure if the grass carp I stocked actually survived over the last two years.

But the other day I found out they not only survived, but are apparently thriving.  Here’s picture of one of the ghostly shapes.  See the darker fish in the shadow of the tree?  It’s hard to tell size, but from the distance I took this picture, the fish is close to three feet long.  

Solitary grass carp in pond

And then for the first time ever, I saw a small “school” of three grass carp near the surface and just happened to have the camera nearby.  These are very large fish, easily 2-3 feet.  They didn’t stay for long, and I haven’t seen them since.  When I think I do see them and walk slowly near the pond’s edge to look, they vanish quickly.

School of three grass carp in pond

It’s fascinating to think these have grown so large and overwintered on little to no vegetation, and with the surface of the pond frozen for weeks at a time.  And it’s somewhat unnerving as well.  These are the same species of nuisance fish that have escaped into many midwest rivers over the years.  But these particular grass carp are triploid as well as being land-locked in the pond.  Triploid meaning that they have three sets of chromosomes instead of the normal two, and cannot reproduce. (I always wonder about that, with the quote in mind from Jurassic Park that “nature finds a way”).  However they do require rivers to breed successfully, so these fish won’t increase their population here.  I was also careful not to put too many in our small body of water, because as you can tell they get very large, and are long-lived.  

For now we seem to have a fortunate balance of fish with less vegetation, yet enough to maintain the fertility and biodiversity of the pond.  There’s still healthy bluegill, bass, frog and turtle populations as well, so for now we’ll just see how things work out.  We do fish occasionally, but I doubt we’ll hook one of these monsters.  Then again, I wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.

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