Volume XI, Issue 46 ~ November 13-19, 2003

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Bay Reflections

Mindless Musings
by Vivian I. Zumstein

A friend dropped by while I was ironing. Clothes and hangers adorned my kitchen table. An iron hissed, spewing forth the wet scent of steam. A chair back displayed the fruits of my labor: a dozen crisp, ironed shirts buttoned on hangers.

“Wow! You iron,” remarked my friend, awe in her voice. “I gave that up long ago.”

If the fact that I iron makes me an oddity, then the revelation that I enjoy it makes me certifiable. Don’t get the wrong idea; I don’t look forward to ironing like an evening out. I do, however, get satisfaction from it. Life entails juggling the schedules of four active children with my mind in constant overdrive. Ironing is a break. It requires no mental effort, yet the reward is both tangible and immediate. Just run a hot iron over the cloth and — ta da! — wrinkles disappear.

I feel the same way about blowing leaves during autumn. Mindless yet gratifying.

The power blower roars, even penetrating earplugs. The pungent yet pleasant odor of gasoline invades my nostrils but still cannot erase the tang of wet, decaying leaves that pervades the fall air. The heavy blower drags on my back. Straps bite into my shoulders. I’m uncomfortable, but not unhappy.

I sweep the blower from side to side. The dry, brittle leaves fly up from its blast like a school of small fish scattering in front of the jaws of a hungry barracuda.

I turn around to enjoy the result: The verdant, leaf-free space grows ever larger behind me. Occasionally I spot a bright, attractive leaf flitting ahead of the blower. Often it is a sugar maple, small but resplendent with brilliant reds, yellows, oranges and just a few streaks of the vivid green it wore all summer. I stoop awkwardly under the destabilizing weight of the blower and set it aside to admire later with my children.

Are there unpleasant aspects to the job? Of course. Some days the leaves fall faster than I can clear them. When I turn to survey my work, instead of finding a green expanse of lawn, I see the grass strewn with a fresh crop of fallen leaves. The unsettling feeling hits me that I only imagined I just cleared the spot.

Large hickory nuts lie in wait among the leaves to turn the unsuspecting ankle. Other things hide as well. A distinctive squish under my foot tells me I have discovered yet another present left by my Labrador. The heavy leaf fall makes these gifts difficult to clear prior to blowing. What is so well camouflaged by brown leaves, concealed from my eyes and shovel, does not often escape the soles of my shoes.

Still, I enjoy the chore. I move across the lawn in an unbroken rhythm, not unlike a dance. With three steps forward I sweep the blower from side to side, leading my disjointed leaf partner in fluttering moves. My body acts without thinking, freeing my mind. Thoughts glide through the now-empty recesses. Good thoughts. Deep thoughts. Thoughts usually overwhelmed by the daily clutter.

The dance brings to mind Darrell, my ballroom partner in college — long since gone, forever 26. In my imagination he maneuvers me with strong, confident moves. Then, my grandfather’s kind face appears. An inspiration for my son’s science project pops up just as the right word for a sentence in an article surfaces. I struggle to re-engage my brain long enough to grasp and retain them for later. All these thoughts, so elusive during my hectic days, rush at me unbidden.

So let’s hear it for those mindless chores! They are easy, provide a quick sense of accomplishment and free up space in our busy brains to think the thoughts that we otherwise don’t have time for — but can enjoy so much.

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Last updated November 13, 2003 @ 2:28am.