Coming Clean

Donald Shephard

In life there are forces that help you fulfill your dreams and others that tend to deter you from them. My wife, Colleen, and I have been fortunate in achieving our dream of retiring to the coast. We have both worked in government for many years. You know how frustrating it is dealing with a bureaucracy whether it is governmental , say the SSA, the Social Security Administration, or private industry, say PG&E, Pacific Graft and Extortion. Well working for one is numbing but even so you never completely lose the sense of futility and frustration. The poison of cynicism seeps throughout your body and lodges in all the fat cells gained from the sedentary life in cubes.

Reaching one goal begets others. Now I want to lose weight and create even more beauty in the small part of the Earth for which I have stewardship. I cannot change much in this world, but I can build a beautiful garden. In doing so, I have been reaching towards the other dream of losing weight. The chubby Kaiser doctor told me my ideal weight is 180 pounds. I suspect that he weighed about that much but he was only five feet tall. I am six feet one but I was carrying 220 pounds on a rather narrow frame. Forty pounds is a lot to lose. I have not weighed 180 pounds since I was forty and having gall bladder problems.

The doctor had a simple formula; eat less and exercise more. He recommended walking. I thought fornication was a better bet but the reality is libido slows with age and it probably slows with excess weight also.

On the side of eating less, I have found that traveling ruins any diet. Eating out is a sin secondary only to the ubiquitous office pot luck. Now in retirement, if I eat out, my weight goes up the next day.

I habitually walk first thing in the morning but my main solution has been sweat. I am building a garden in a gully. When we bought this place, the gully was full of felled cypress trees, sword ferns, giant sedges, rushes and bracken. There was a smattering of hydrangeas and elderberry and the whole tangled mass of vegetation was held down by a hairnet of brambles.

I began the clearing process by sawing the felled cypress trees and tossing the logs up to the rim of the gully. I looked like an insane Scot tossing cabers out of the undergrowth except that I was not wearing a kilt. Let me hasten to add that I was wearing jeans in their place. I tossed logs and sweated. I severed the sword ferns and sweated.

I ended up with a six-foot wide, five-foot high berm of wood and hacked-up ferns, sedges and brambles. I bought a chipper/shredder. I shredded and sweated, I chipped and sweated. After the gully was cleared, I tossed the logs back down into it and sawed them to size. I sweated some more. I made log borders for eighty steps up down and around the gully. I anchored the logs with wooden pegs and filled the steps with wood chips that I hauled in a sack from the chipper to the steps in the gully. I sweated going up and down the gully sides carrying the wood chip sack.

When burn season came in the middle of October, I sweated even more. I cut the remaining usable logs into firewood hauling them over to my neighborís yard and stacking them there. I toted the brush and trash-wood a safe distance from our house and propane tank for burning. My wheel barrow became my donkey cart and I was the very sweaty donkey.

I used a lot of logs and wood chips building a bridge over the gully. In my mind it was like Monetís garden bridge in Giverney. I continued the rustic theme of the path where I secured the logs with wooden pegs and turned my nose up at metal fasteners. Colleen turned her nose up at my sweat stained shirt. In reality the bridge looks as though it was designed and erected by drunken Hobbits but it has a certain quaint charm to it. Its construction led me to sweat a great deal. Even though I am down to 195 pounds, when I tested it, one ramp cracked and had to be redesigned. It is just as well I donít weigh 220 any more as who knows how much I would have had to reconstruct.

The garden is a long way from completion. Indeed I have not planted a single plant nor sown a single seed. There is much work to be done. I must secure the area from deer. A good sweaty job is fencing. I must dig up the tangled mesh of runners that are the means of propagation for the giant sedges; another opportunity to sweat. I must purchase and transport plants, dig holes and stake them. That means more sweat.

I anticipate that I have several more years of sweating before the garden approaches the vision I have for it shining on the screen inside my head. By then I may well have sweated my way down to 180 pounds.

All this sweat-labor is good for me. I was never one for exercise for the sake of exercise. It always had to be productive labor. The production will be an area of peace and beauty. The reduction will be in my body weight. I will have sweated out all the poisons of thirty years of petty bureaucracy. I will have come clean.

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