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December, 2003

Is It Really Work?

by Valerie

When I do yard work, I often have plenty of time to think about other things at the same time. Recently, I was speculating on the idea of yard and garden activities being play rather than work. It is definitely a matter of perspective and preference. I have known people who hated doing any sort of yard care so much that they preferred instead to live in apartments or condominiums where they didn't have to be bothered by those nuisance plants. I tend toward the other extreme and actually like the time I spend tending to plants, the ponds, and the gardens. From the look of most of the yards in our neighborhood, it appears that I am in a minority. However, when driving through other areas of Austin, I am often struck by how many yards DO look well tended and nurtured.

Valerie in the garden, Manhattan, Illinois, 1963

Talking about yard work in the middle of winter might seem strange to those in northern and more frozen climates, but now is one of the most pleasant times for such activities down here in central Texas. As of late December, there are still leaves changing colors and falling from the trees. We haven't had a hard freeze yet and so a good portion of our plants have not gone dormant. It is a time for pruning, raking leaves, and digging new gardens. The cool weather and low angle of the sun make for such an inviting scene that time spent enjoying it is not a burden but a welcome opportunity.

The term "yard work" is not really very accurate. "Work" to me is primarily what I do to earn money. In our society, this is a necessary part of life and, while it is preferable to have a job that both satisfies the need for income AND is pleasant, the two do not always coexist. There are other things that might be construed as work because they are not all that enjoyable, but are required to maintain or provide for the more pleasant aspects of life. These include physical exercise to stay in shape, doing the grocery shopping and laundry, and cleaning the house.

Other activities are purely optional. A person can live in a house and never have to do any yard work if they are willing to pay someone else to perform the minimum to maintain their property. Nobody HAS to do yard work, any more than they have to watch television, read books, or publish newsletters. As I am energetically raking up the fallen leaves in our yard, it might be physically taxing, but it doesn't seem like work. It is interesting, absorbing activity. It is something that I like to do with some of my time. Pulling out weeds, pruning shrubs, and digging out rocks to make room for plants might all leave me with sore muscles and a few cuts and bruises at the end of the day, but I still like to do those things in spite of the minor consequences. Even doing the edging, which is probably my least favored yard chore, is only a matter of getting myself started, then it seems to progress quickly.

During the summer, the hot weather in our area is the principal deterrent to enjoying the outdoors. We've designed our yard to make it as hospitable as possible during this trying time, with plenty of trees for shade, as much lush vegetation as practical, and ponds. Watering in the early morning or late evening is an opportunity to play in the water and observe the creatures living in our little bit of nature habitat. One of my favorite garden tasks is planting new seedlings or plants. The chance to dig around in the dirt is just a pleasant indulgence. Removing the aged mulch from our compost bins is tiring, but equally rewarding when the results are a rich mixture of organic matter and loose black soil.

A case can be made that when one is not involved in obviously productive activity, they are just wasting time. One of my major accomplishments in life has been to devote countless hours to such pursuits. I might joke about it, but the time I spend puttering around in the gardens is never wasted.

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