Some of us have a special talent for doing absolutely nothing
March 1, 2008
I started out in life with nothing. I still have most of it left. But I’m comfortable with having nothing, and I enjoy doing nothing to get more of it.
Photo by Markus Guhl, dreamstime.com
To me, watching a sunset is productive work.
It’s been said that an Irish man without land is nothing. So many years ago when I acquired 40 acres of woods and a primitive cabin in the coulees of the Minnesota River Valley, I became something. As landed gentry, I felt obligated to do something productive with the land. But what?
Hiking in the woods on my property one gorgeous fall afternoon, I found the answer right at my feet: wild ginseng. My woods were shady, the overstory thick; perfect for ginseng. I’d plant a ginseng patch, which at the time sold for about $80 a pound dried.
But first, I had to clear five standing dead ash trees that were right in the middle of my intended plot. My city neighbor, Bruce, agreed to help me in exchange for free firewood. Neither of us had any experience with chain saws and taking down trees. We would be Dumb and Dumber starring in “The Minnesota Chain Saw Massacre.”
Warning: (Do not try this at home.) Leather Face handed me the rented chain saw, and I made a V-notch in the first tree. I’d read somewhere that was the thing to do. But when I cut through the tree, it refused to fall, hung up in the dead ash next to it. Together Bruce and I counted to three and kicked the leaner off its stump, which planted itself solidly upright in the forest floor next to its stump.
So, we advanced on the second tree. Aiming our cuts carefully, we buzzed away, chips flying. The second tree also refused to fall. Rope, I thought. We should have roped the tops – or maybe even topped the trees. Inexperienced woodsmen that we were, we cut three more 12- to 14-inch dead ash trees until all five were hung up in an overstory tangle supported by one skinny maple. Cut that, and the ash trees would fall like dominos.
Bruce and I stopped to consider, and reconsider. Whoever cut the little maple might have to run for his life. Neither of us wanted to be in the line of falling dominos. Looking at the little maple, then at me, Bruce said, “I’m just here for free firewood.”
He was right. He could buy firewood at the grocery store. It was my ginseng patch, my job to deal with the danger.
I walked over to the little maple and paced off my planned escape route, making certain there was nothing to trip me up. Then I cut the maple, dropped the chain saw, and ran like the wind. The ash trees pulled through the overstory and hit the ground with a thud.
We did it. Bruce got his free firewood, and I cleared the deadwood from my ginseng patch. Fortunately, planting the ginseng was far less eventful.
I then went back to pursuits for which I was better qualified: doing nothing at the cabin and watching the sun set over Ginseng Acres.
Paul Sullivan has never met a cabin he didn’t like.