• by Robert P. Barsanti •
Winter leaves like a tenant. One morning you wake up, and he is gone. The trash remains, as well as the broken windows, punch holes in the walls, and a plumbing challenge in the upstairs bathroom. The miscreants themselves have slipped away at dawn along with your vacuum cleaner and a set of old glasses that you had scavenged from the Tap Room. Anger falls to regret, which eventually rises to relief. He is gone.
The first day of Spring drops in by surprise. Jim Cantore had intoned cloudy, forties, and occasional showers in the morning, but that day, the day of the “weather events,” had swept out to sea. Instead, the sky burned blue, the grass twitched, and the last of the February ice rose in waves. Nothing has bloomed. The peepers have yet to utter a lusty croak, the crocuses have not pushed through the mud, and the Nature’s first green remained gray, but the sky glowed July. Later, the projects will be listed and ticked off, tools will be assembled, and the busy heavings of spring will work into the moors and yard, but for this one day, moving day, you can take off your sweater and absorb the sun.
The second day of Spring, however, has a punch list. The yard needs to be raked, the branches need to be picked up and disposed of, and the screen door needs to be replaced. I stood in the backyard, listing off the projects on the back of my National Grid bill until I hit the number eleven, then put my pen in my pocket and decided that building a gazebo could wait for another day.
Down my street, others stood in their yards, making lists and taking things into account. In one yard, the caretaker parked his Ford 350 and walked around the house taking pictures for the “clients” in Hingham. We don’t wave to each other or speak, but we take attendance. We notice. We estimate and appreciate. Come spring, we are in the Brotherhood of the Hardware Store. We line up with our new rakes, our replacement saw blades, and our mulch. We nod an approve of the work to be done.
In spring, work can, finally, be done. After months of sitting indoors, getting heated and fed, sitting passively in the flickering, gusty dark, spring offers us the possibility of work. To be working, be it raking, collecting fallen limbs, or sweeping up the driveway, is to be of use. In the winter, you can’t be of much use, unless it involves a shovel. Otherwise, the wind blows, the snow builds up in trigonometric arcs and the light fades by four o’clock; nothing you can do but sit and check your e-mail. In those early days of spring, you can make a difference in the world. All of the fallen branches have been stacked up by the woodpile. The yard has been raked and combed. The mulch layers the flower beds. At the end of the day, you can see the difference the work has made.
At its best, work is the difference between being there and being absent. The Brotherhood of the Hardware Store sees, examines, and approves. We stand for a moment with rakes in our hands and look across the street, or we look across the hedge at the work. In the fullness of time, this afternoon’s work does not hold chaos back for long. Four wind gusts and a rainstorm can undo most of what a Saturday afternoon accomplished. All of us know this. All of us understand, nod, and approve anyway.
I suspect that is the reason why anyone works at all. A builder can drive his kids past a house and say “I built that.” A surgeon can look down a hospital ward and say “I saved that life.” An investment banker can say…Well, a banker can count his money. Our ear listens for the approval, our eyes look for the familiar nod.
It is just another outdoor game, it comes to little more. The best yard in the neighborhood belongs to the hedge fund manager from Greenwich who writes a check to a flying squad of landscapers in white jumpsuits who prune, plant, mow, mulch, and professionally sculpt the yard into a magazine ad. The worst yard belongs to one of the Emergency Room nurses at the hospital. The Brotherhood of the Hardward Store should have no more weight to it than the Shriners or the Odd Fellows. You cannot weight the measure of a man in mulch.
Yet we do. When we meet someone new, we ask what does she do? When we list our accomplishments, we make a bullet list of our jobs. The t-shirts we save are from the jobs we have had. My Big Papi t-shirt will have shrunk to a rag, and I will still be stitching together my old Muse work shirt. I never even worked for Toscana, but I still have a work shirt from twenty-five years ago.
We want approval. We want the knowing nod, the friendly smile, and the approval that goes with the job, no matter how long ago the job was (or if I even worked it). I am not my job, nor my sum of my jobs. Nor, if I were compiling the greatest hits of my life, would I include much of what has happened between nine to five. Almost everything I am proudest of didn’t come with a paycheck or a pat on the back from the boss.
On Nantucket, spring is both the longest and most frustrating of seasons. The first day of spring arrives like an old friend, the second day comes with a rake, and the third rolls in with a fog bank, then it stays into the second week of July. At least, we can say that we got outside for once.