CLIMBING MOUNT SISYPHUS

“If a man settles in a certain place and does not bring forth the fruit of that place, the place itself casts him out, as one who has not borne its fruit.”
–Anonymous 4th-century desert father


I’ve come to love Tucson and its somewhat extreme weather.

When it’s not either baking (June, July, August and September) or freezing (December, January and February), the wind blows.

Because the front yard, the back yard, the side cabana and the sidewalk median in front of my house are planted with old-growth mesquite trees, this means that I spend much of my life sweeping. In fall, the tiny oval leaves fall off: bushels accumulate. In spring, the catkins drop: bushels.

Sweeping and raking. Sweeping the front walkway, sweeping the sidewalk, sweeping the front patio, sweeping the back patio, sweeping the hallway because with all that sweeping, raking, and hauling to the trash, I also endlessly track minuscule bits of plant material all through the house.

No matter how much I sweep, every few months, two to three inches of tree detritus accumulates. The back yard has a kind of patio area of old brick, each of which has three holes in it that act as magnets for the maddening debris. BRISK sweeping is required there! I’ve tried vacuuming. I’ve tried hosing. Neither method works very well and both use natural resources I’d just as soon conserve.

I guess most people use leafblowers but a leafblower to me is a manifestation of the anti-Christ. I would never, ever impose that barbaric demonic noise on another human being. I’m surrounded by neighbors on all sides who think nothing of imposing it on me, but all rhe more reason to refrain myself.

I’m a renter and a species of yard guy comes with the place but to his and my landlady’s everlasting credit, they eschew leafblowers, too, and the tree debris removal in any event falls to me.

I don’t really mind except that this year the trees have been raining down their sloughed-off waste at such an unrelenting clip that I actually starting having anxiety dreams, as in will the task overtake me; come to dominate my life?

NIGHTMARE!
DID I MENTION I HAVE HAY FEVER?

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about an artist whose obit I’d read a couple of years ago: Daniel Brush, a NYC jeweler/sculptor I will write more fully about at another time but who lived in a giant former sewing factory loft and spent up to five hours a day sweeping. (He also ate the exact same thing ever day: a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast and a bowl of pea soup in the afternoon).

I thought of him especially yesterday morning as I had gotten out front early to begin the day’s portion of my Sisyphean task. (My street is a direct and popular route to the nearby park where half of Tucson apparenty walks their dogs so the sidewalk needs tidying up every day even under the best of circumstances).

I’d decided to attend 5 pm Mass and I didn’t have anyplace to be till noon so I wasn’t rushed as I often am, or feel, when sweeping: trying to squeeze the task in so I can get to my desk. No, I took my time. The morning air was a caress. It was Sunday and people were sleeping in, so silence reigned.

And all of a sudden I realized how much I, too, LIKE sweeping. It’s only onerous when I think I should, or want to be, doing something else. It only seems like a Sisyphean task when I’m tired and in a hurry and thinking that the leaves and debris are my ENEMY.

I thought how lucky I am that I can even stand up straight, and walk, and bend down and that all that bending down to bag the stuff was actually good for my knees and back. I thought how lovely it was to clean leaves the old-school way, without the aid of a gasoline-powered device that fouled the birdsong and set my neighbors’ teeth on edge.

I took my time and after a while my mind started wandering to pleasant, interesting topics such as how to make a spicy peanut sauce, whether I should fly to NY for a week in August, and what to include in my upcoming talks on the Vocaton of the Artist.

The upshot was that I began wondering if I couldn’t work in a half-hour of sweeping as a kind of daily meditation, so that it would be something I look forward to instead of a pesky task. (I mean even now I kind of look forward to it but again, not if I’m trying to squeeze it in on my way to something else/better).

So that’s my little reflection on this day on which we remember all the fallen soldiers, and the family and friends they left behind.

I’m not sure if this short piece has a paywall, but it made me cry.

POST THIS MORNING’S SWEEP: LOOK AT THAT SHINING CURB! I DID MY NEIGHBOR’S TOO, AS HE AND HIS WIFE MUST SUFFER THE FALLOUT FROM MY MESQUITE TREES.

9 Replies to “CLIMBING MOUNT SISYPHUS”

  1. Anonymous says: Reply

    Meditation in motion is good.

  2. Alicia Ellison says: Reply

    As always, and once again, thank you for another wonderful reflection. We your readers are blessed that you answered “yes” to your vocation as an artist. With every work you lay down your life for your friends. Speaking of your works, earlier today, many hours before I received this post in my inbox, I placed an online order on your “Fools for Christ” book in paperback. Looking forward to its arrival.

  3. Anonymous says: Reply

    Am with ya’ Girlfriend! Mine is chinese elms in the windy high elevations of the mighty Eastern Sierra, 24/7 and 365! My words to myself almost identical to this your tender episode, dearest Heather, sometimes muttering if I had a dollar even a cent for every leaf I rake in all of the four seasons, I would share the bounty with all! those in need and then set about imagining this “new world” from fallen leaves, as I rake into the night sometimes, with my head lamp blazing quietly!

  4. Beautiful piece dear Heather…sweeping. Love xo

  5. Anonymous says: Reply

    As always you see the world just a little (sometimes a LOT) differently. First time seeing your VERY well hidden home – perfect for a hermit, (desert mother?)

    Jeff Mesinoff

  6. colleensoll says: Reply

    Just this spring season, I’ve come up with the idea (but lack the capital) to start a quiet lawn care service. A quick google search tells me that these exist but they aren’t common. Anything to stop the constant warm-weather noise of gasoline motors: mowers, blowers, edgers. So glad I am not alone in this crankiness!

    You’ve got mesquite, the commenter above me has Chinese elm. I’ve got a silver maple in my backyard that drops leaves and seeds in plenty. However, I confess that I rarely rake. Instead, I let the leaves get caught by our fence, turning them into a convenient mulch under the shrubbery that lines the yard. Of course, their little seeds do take root and I have to weed baby maple trees out of the garden.

  7. HEATHER KING says: Reply

    Ha I’m so glad my little reflection struck a chord! Chinese elms, silver maples, mesquite—we are all doing our part with our raking and sweeping…and yes, Jeff, I call this place my “hermit hut”! It’s totally decked out in string lights at night so the fellow hermit, passing by, can recognize a sister…I think the major point for me is to pay attention, to not let any little part of my day or tasks go unnoticed or unappreciated. Everything can become a labor of love, or at least my intention can be love…

  8. There is a time of year you can enjoy making Mesquite Jelly

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha ha there ya go, when in doubt…find a way to make food out of it! Thanks, Carolena…

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