For someone as impatient as I am, the two projects in which I am currently engaged should save me years in Purgatory. If I finish them, that is.
The first is the wattle fence, about which I wrote here. So far, three of the seven panels are done. I have lost count of the hours this has taken, but it was many. My husband and I, as in so many areas of our life together, have, with barely a conscious thought, established a harmonious division of labor. He works in the woods, selecting sticks, pruning and stacking them. I work in the yard, weaving the ends of the sticks into the existing (ugly) wire fence.
The work goes much faster with two of us doing it, but \”faster\” is a relative term. Building a wattle fence. like building a stone wall or a stone cathedral, is the kind of time-consuming task that people whose life spans were way shorter than ours used to engage in all the time. Did the medieval shepherd, building a wattle fence to contain his sheep, fret that it was taking up a disproportionate amount of his probable lifespan? My husband and I routinely check our watches to decide how long to work at the fence. We also know that we will probably both live into our eighties or nineties. And I for one think that I\’m spending way too much of my allotted time on earth on this fence. The shepherd, on the other hand, didn\’t have a watch, nor did he have any idea (or did he?) of how short his life would be. Watching the sun travel across the sky, listening for the church bell to ring Vespers, he was probably a lot more relaxed, and did a better job, that we are doing.
With this string of warm, sunny days, I have been going from fence building to stone carving, which I can also do outdoors. And here again, the work seems to stretch all the way into eternity. I get my tools out, whip the plastic cover off the carving stand, and pick up my piece of slate. I am so dismayed by what I see that it\’s all I can do not to drop it. I cannot tell that the two hours of hard work I put in just yesterday–and that left my neck and back tight, my arms sore–made any difference at all. The surface of the design is as full of scratches and chisel marks as ever.
I\’m at that point in this piece where the forms are well defined, and what I need to do now is what I dread: polishing. Every little dent, every scratch must be eliminated to obtain the silky-smooth finish that makes people sigh and ask \”may I touch?\” First I go at it with a chisel, pushing it at right angles to the scratch with my hand. Then I rub that same little mark–now, with luck, slightly fainter–with coarse sand paper. Then with finer sand paper, then finer (and all the time, the little mark is still there) until I want to dash the slate piece to the ground. That is when I know that it is time to quit for the day.
I am not a patient person. I am not a medieval shepherd or cathedral builder. Why then am I making a wattle fence, and why am I carving stone?