Work. Hard work. Just you, a pulaski, an axe, or a crosscut saw, each swing thundering through your arms and down to your feet. Sweat dripping down your back and your three-day-old shirt. Waking up so stiff and sore you can't touch your toes and it takes a half hour of yoga to unbend the kinks so you can walk back up the hill to start again. Your hands, slowly uncurling from eleven hours of grasping a smooth handle, the dirt and rocks and roots, each one a blow, a victory, a challenge.
For years I lived this life, digging fireline, chopping out downfall from a trail with only a pulaski, swinging a swedish brush axe through palms, building a pole barn in the oven of a Florida summer, all in a series of short and sometimes brutal jobs where your value lay in how hard you could work.
Somehow I've gone away from that, turning to trail runs and long hikes instead. More days than I like, I sit in a cubicle. There's a big piece missing, the satisfaction of working hard, doing something most people couldn't, or wouldn't want to do.
I got to experience it again this week as I and four others dug a new water line for a historic set of ranch buildings on the Minam River. Ninety in the shade, 8-10 inches deep through swamp, tall grass, sod, rubbery roots, enormous rocks requiring a pickaxe. Hard work is humbling. You can think you are in the best hiking or running shape ever, but try something like this and you quickly learn how much more there is.
I often hear people say they are too old to do work like this. Let's be clear on one thing. The minute you start saying you are too old, you ARE too old. The people I was working with, three days in the hot sun? 35. 59. 59. 62. When we were done we packed up and hiked out, eight miles up from the valley floor. It took us three hours. And I chased after more than one of the "old guys".
I liked going back to the world of real work. I'm not sure I want to live there all the time but I know I want to visit more often.
Bee stings: three.
Hours digging: 25
Swims taken in river: four
Times I went for a trail run because I didn't get enough exercise at work: zero.