Day four of the writers conference and, honestly, I’ve given up on trying to find my groove. My morning pages have two new lines in at the top since Sunday, and that much-anticipated rewrite of The Damned Novel has come to nothing more than shuffling half a dozen chapters around, changing tense and point of view, then shuffling them back and throwing away the changes. Yes, it’s a gorgeous venue, and there are inspirational talks and workshops. I tried attending some. I tried not attending some. No difference – I’m just not feeling it.
So today I simply caved to my impulses: got up early, drove out to the farm, and spent the morning pulling Scotch broom with a borrowed weed wrench. Filled three contractor bags with the stuff, and there’s still enough just along the road to fill more bags than I’ve got. If I’m feeling up to it, I may rent a wood chipper to try and get the volume down.
I never knew what Scotch broom was, never heard of it until the name started coming up in the pasture management workshops like He Who Must Not Be Named. Like it was the Voldemort of invasive species, the Sauron of wild legumes. The Donald Trump of flowering weeds.
It doesn’t look all that imposing: from three to ten feet tall, with ribbed branches and little yellow flowers. No thorns, stickers, poisonous leaves or anything. Just a travel-sized version of Rowling’s Whomping Willow.
But that was really all I knew of it until I ran into Tyler over dinner at the Owl Sprit. I was playing hooky from the writers conference because, as I said, I just wasn’t feeling it. Besides, conference center cafeteria food at Fort Worden had nothing on the Owl Sprit Cafe (passing point of interest: no one I know ever seems to pronounce the “r”).
Tyler’s another ex-Googler from way back when, and he owns – and singlehandedly runs – Plum Serenity Farm*, 20 or so minutes south of town. Pigs and goats and cattle and chickens and all – but I’m getting away from my point.
I ran into Tyler, and seeing as how he’d not yet seen the Swanson place, we drove on out after dinner so I could show him around. It was just another one of those glorious summer evenings in the rain shadow, with the sun still on the hills at 9:00 p.m. The mountains were out, and the rolling hills of cut hay shone luminous gold, tinged with the green of new growth poking through. Glorious, just glorious.
“You know, that Scotch broom on the lane has already gone to seed.”
“Scotch broom. All up and down the road coming in. Gone to seed.”
Scotch broom?!? Right there on the road?!? Where? How had I not noticed? I did what any responsible landowner would have done: I pretended I had it all under control.
“Ah…yeah. I’ve been meaning to find time to get to them. So many other things I’m trying to get a handle on, and – hey, isn’t that Jennifer Aniston over there?”
No, I wasn’t quite that shameless, but next morning I had a damned good excuse for playing hooky. To hell with my empty morning pages, to hell with the rewrite. I borrowed a weed wrench from the WSU extension, threw my jeans and leather gloves on and spent a few satisfying hours getting sweaty. No worries about nuance, about plot arcs, about what other people might think about imagery or voice, or the cultural context from which I was coming. Just me, on a glorious July morning, muscling in against an ornery tree-weed bigger than I am, wrenching it out of the ground, chopping it down to size (with a machete, at that!), bagging it and moving on to the next.
Maybe I’m just Candide, retreating to my garden, but I’ve always known I’m happiest when I’m able to work with my hands. Besides, the work is unambiguous: this needs to be done, and needs to be done now. Maybe I’ll write tomorrow.
(* By the way – if you find yourself hankering for the northwest farming life, Tyler will be putting Plum Serenity Farm on the market soon. It’s a gorgeous place, productive and well maintained, with two, count ’em two wells.)