Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Little by Little

While Asherel went off on her riding trail, happily bouncing on the horse, I was helping at the barn with the job de jour. My unglamorous labor was to chip the cement like layer of goat mashed straw and mud and goat excrement from an aisle in the barn that ran alongside the horse stalls front ends. The bonus for this job was that as I worked, the horses all looked at me, with their sweet brown eyes. I would pause, often, sweat dripping down my neck, to pet their muzzles.
"There are advantages to  not having opposable thumbs," I told one silky muzzled brown horse. He stomped his hoof and swished his tail, scattering flies.

"Well, nice chatting with you," I said, glancing at my watch. I had been working 5 minutes. Only 55 to go. I was already gasping air a little, and my arms ached. With a sigh, I went back to work, chipping inch by inch of the rock solid mass. It reminded me of why we left NY state. Chipping ice off of driveways was similar to this job. It is back breaking, tedious, and hard. If you don't get just the right leverage under the ice or goat cement, the shovel clatters and skitters over the surface, and all your forward momentum causes you to lose your balance and almost fall while ten soft muzzled horses nicker politely behind their hooves.

In one of my frequent pauses to try to bring my heart pace down from 3,000 times the normal rate, I thought about the East Coast book signing tour I am contemplating. I contacted a string of bookstores and rescue organizations along the east coast, from our town all the way to Boston. I have never tried to promote a book before, and have no idea if the expense and time would pay off. However, I would hate to see my book die a small, local death. My best hope in reaching the masses, was to go to the masses. As I leaned on the shovel, I thought how each little book signing venue would be like chipping away, piece by painful piece, at a layer of cement like goat sludge.

My brother texted me from his flooded home last night. He and his son had just taken a cold shower, as of course, there was still no water heater, or electricity, or any modern convenience restored to the flood devastated city. They had spent the day in his basement, ripping out soaked insulation and trampling through the furnace oil encrusted mud. Shivering in the cooling night, they had built a fire in the firepit and were warming themselves.
"What more do you have to do?" I asked.
"Oh just replace the electrical circuits, furnace, floors, and move 47 tons of mud. Little stuff like that."
(He didn't say "stuff" actually, but in the midst of this terrible calamity, one can forgive him a little slip of colorful language.)
"Then you can return to fine living?" I asked.
"This is fine living!" he countered.
"Yeh, for a caveman...are you eating your food raw?"
"No, cooking it on the double burner Coleman model stove 425E that we looted. Really nice. Google it."
"Why are people getting rid of good things?" I asked.
"Water damage. Many good things come from adversity," he added.
He sent a picture from his phone of the blazing fire in the fire pit, and then of a lovely full moon.
"How does one pump out 47 tons of mud?" I asked, but he didn't answer that text. I think he and Greg had gone looting again.
(For those of you ready to call the police, my brother is a good, moral man. When he says 'looting', he means rummaging through people's flood garbage.)

But I thought of how one removes 47 tons of mud from a flooded house. A little at a time. What else can one do? One clears a floor of  goat plastered sludge one shovel at a time. I travel with my book and convince the world it is worth reading one person at a time. All of us survive adversity one moment at a time. And God sent manna from heaven one day at a time. It sustained a whole people for decades of wandering in the wilderness, and when they reached the Promised Land, the manna ceased. But God warned them they would not possess the land all at once...but that little by little, they would overcome their enemies and settle the land He had prepared for them. Step by step, shovelful by shovelful, book by book, little by little. The smallest numbers added together over and over still add up to infinity.

"On the prowl for more Stakmore chairs," texted John, "I hear the fire department is getting rid of hundreds."
"Maybe for good reason," I said.
"They are fine," He said, "What's a little water damage?"
A little water damage might not be the way most residents would describe the epic flood of Owego, where the river is still 5 feet above flood stage, and a whole city was submerged. But if one can define "fine living" as sitting around a fire pit and cooking over a coleman camping stove after taking a cold shower in the dark, contemplating the work of removing 47 tons of sludge from a flooded home....well, then I suspect it will take alot more than a flood to drown him. I hope there is a bookstore open in Owego when I pass through on my East Coast Book Tour.


Exodus 23:29-31

29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.

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