“You lack a foot to travel?
Then journey into yourself!”
– Rumi, If A Tree Could Wander
For all my talk of moving and travel, I found myself digging deeply into the rocky soil at home, rooting myself to the land with labor and that most valuable commodity of all; time. For this weekend was the allocated time to put a privacy fence up on the side of the yard that offered a view into the backyard for our neighbors, and a view of their garage for us. The fence answered a question in my mind: Is it time to move on from this place? Answer: Not just yet.
So maybe it was while in this frame of mind that I should linger on this Rumi poem. A tree is deeply rooted to the place it sprouts from, living and dying in the same place. Its only option is to reach higher and wider to the sun. And to do so it must root probe deeper and wider into the earth for strength and sustenance. Those roots can grow as thick as the branches in the canopy above.
The first post hole is the most important. It sets the tone for where the fence will be positioned, and like a tree, once its set it isn’t going anywhere easily. I chose the most logical position of all for a privacy fence to begin, adjacent to the fence that lines the rest of the property. Replacing a section of fencing with the new privacy fence and continuing it further along for the desired effect. That post hole, in theory, should have been the easy one once the previous fence post was removed. But the first probe of the shovel revealed a long-hidden truth that only the original fence installer knew: there was a massive root from a tree growing right through the spot I would need to dig. The original fence post had been cut just below ground level and screwed into the post that was staying. Thus began a three hour conversation with myself about the wisdom of staying in one place for too long, sacrificing a chain saw blade and three reciprocating saw blades to the fence gods.
But the funny thing about manual labor is the time it gives you inside your own head. That journey three feet into a post hole was a long conversation with myself. The view might not have been the Presidential Range or a waterfall, but if it had been I would have been too far outside of myself to still my mind. Manual labor offers stillness of the mind even as it wears the body down. I’ve built a complete hardscape and renovated much of my home, and find the process rewarding even as I curse myself for not just paying someone else to do it. And the finished product stands as a reminder that you’ve done something of significance. There’s a love of fate that must be applied in the moment that the stoics would be very familiar with. It wasn’t the hole in the ground but the fence that grew from it. And the laborer who found a bit of clarity in the soil and rocks and roots. The time wasn’t lost after all.