Monday, October 6, 2008

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Last night's air had that sweet-bitter fall feel that makes you real lonesome for something and at the same time real snug. On the walk up from the barn at dusk, the hickory smoke from our fireplace caught my drifting thoughts and swirled them high up into the buttermilk sky still barely showing out toward the west. As I opened the back door, the edgy aroma of Starr Ann's chili on the stove lured me right back down to Earth.

After a deep breath in, I called toward the kitchen, "Holy Goddess, Starr Ann, could you have picked anything more perfect for supper on a night like this?"

There was no answer, and when I found the kitchen empty, I figured I should make sure the chili wasn't sticking and of course once the spoon was down there stirring, it automatically came out full and so there was nothing else for me to do but taste it. Dang, that girl cooks a mean pot of chili!

As the taste faded from my mouth, my mind worked back to where it had been going by default all day. I'd been wondering how the approaching economic straits were going to change life for Starr Ann and me.

Going by the news accounts and all the dire terms like depression, credit freeze, bankruptcy and crisis, you'd think there's not a whole lot to look forward to. I was sitting at the kitchen table, just about to organize all that fearful mental noise into an idea of what it would actually mean for us, when Starr Ann came in from the living room.

She had that one look on her face, the one where you'd swear she'd just had a good laugh with someone she loved, or just heard a heart stopping piece of music, or just seen a litter of puppies being born. But the thing is, with Starr Ann, that look can as easily happen when she takes time to look at a bug close up, or to admire Jodie's butt, or to pay real good attention to the joy of filling then emptying her lungs.

So, she had that look on her face and she was carrying a book. When she noticed me sitting there, she said, "Have you had a chance to think about all this economic failure?"

I told her I had.

"Well, what's your take on it?"

Heh. I'm too smart for that. See, the situation never gets so rough that Starr Ann gives up on being contrary. With Starr Ann, a question worded as broadly as that one is always a trap. If I'd have answered it from the 'terrorists in the White House knew where we were headed and didn't do a dang thing about it until they could go into conniptions and call it an emergency so they could pass another piece of legislation that mainly transfers more power and control away from the people and into the hands of the government' point of view, she'd surely have given me a blank stare and said she meant did I think we'd have to cut back on groceries. But if I'd have answered it from the 'I'm kinda worried we might have a hard time caring for the animals' point of view, she'd have given me the same blank stare and said she was talking more about the Bush administration's last-minute grab at the silverware before leaving office.

I played it safe and said, "From the broad or the narrow perspective?"

Starr Ann narrowed her eyes at me a second and said, "Narrow."

"How narrow?"

More eye narrowing. "Very narrow."

"Narrow like geographically, or narrow like on an individual level?"


At this point, the word 'narrow' was beginning to take on an unreal quality for me, so I quit looking at Starr Ann's un-wide eyes and broke away from the issue of breadth. "Physical or emotional?"


Dang. That was a sure sign Starr Ann was about to go Zen on me. I said, "Okay, Starr Ann, I don't buy into the whole panic thing. I mean, we might have to give up a lot of stuff, but we're both real strong and we can always find a way to feed the animals. If cash gets too short to pay the vet bills, we'll have to barter or figure out some other way, but we'll take care of our family no matter what." Then I started picturing us working real, real hard to keep our little life here together, and the more I pictured everything, it seemed less like hardship than simplification. I said, "You know what?"


"You and I showed up to take on whatever life deals us. All of a sudden I have this real strong feeling nothing as far from the heart and soul as money could ever truly hurt us."

Starr Ann smiled real big and opened the book she'd been carrying. She pointed to a quote: Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment chop wood carry water.

I knew she was gonna go Zen on me.

As I was thinking up an intelligent comment on that passage, I had a hard time keeping my eyes from wandering over toward the stove. Starr Ann saw that and laughed, then started setting the table. After supper, I was telling the hard core truth when I told Starr Ann that was just about the best bowl of chili I ever ate.

Anyway, when the Recession or Depression comes, I think at our house we're going to call it the Enlightenment.