It happens, at least to me, every spring: I’m all fired up to get and stay ahead of the lawn and the garden, always mindful of my grandfather’s advice that keeping a place looking good is a lot easier than getting it there in the first place.
Full of energy and enthusiasm, I go to the barn and fetch the tools. And invariably I find them in disarray to say the least. The gas in the mower and the Weedeater and the tiller is old and tired; a little dab of rust is found here and there; the air filters are clogged; there’s dirt where dirt oughtn’t be, and there’s last-year’s dried grass caked on where it should have been cleared away in the fall. (One spring the mower started smoking strangely and I discovered that a mouse had made its nest under the engine housing. That was no fun to clean out.)
This year, for the first time in my life, I actually put away everything properly.
Let me assure you that it happened not due to virtue but by accident. And all the while, it seemed as if something were wrong.
It started on one of the recent too-nice-for-this-time-of-year days, when I decided that the old, beat-up mower that I take into places I don’t want to take the newer, nicer one, could be spruced up a little. Clearing away the dust and oil and leaves under the engine with a bristle brush did a lot, so I turned it over and did the same underneath. It surprised me that there was so much original paint, which led to getting the hose and blasting away all the dirt. Soon it looked merely used, not decrepit. When I’d turned it over, a little gas leaked out, which led to my getting a clean container — a tray for paint when painting with a roller — and draining most of the rest. This far along, I fired up the engine and ran it dry.
I didn’t remember when I last changed the oil in it, so that was next. Then came the air cleaner, which is one of those oil-soaked plastic sponge affairs. It made a little bit of a mess when I washed it with dish soap in the sink, but soon it was dry and re-oiled and back in. It took awhile to dry and I still had a good head of steam, so I did all those things to the other mower, too.
The weed whacker is two-stroke, so its maintenance doesn’t require changing the oil, but getting it all cleaned up and oiling the visible bearings was a profitable expenditure of what seemed to be about 20 minutes.
The tiller, among the smallest made but perfectly scaled for my tiny garden, was next. It soon looked like new, though it still stops when it is asked to do anything useful such as till. My guess is that it needs its gasoline filter changed, which will have to wait. At least I knew it wasn’t the air filter.
This was getting out of control. Someone dropping by would have gotten the impression that I’m industrious and responsible, which would be a mistake. I moved to the hand tools, the shovels and hoes and rakes I had used this year, all of which bore souvenirs of their use. The wire brush did most of the work; a sponge and bucket of water did the rest, followed by a wipe with an oily rag. I had a couple of cans of spray varnish with a little in them, so I gave the places where the handles were worn a quick massage with sandpaper, then squirted them with some varnish, reducing the likelihood of springtime splinters.
All this fine work having been accomplished, it seemed only right that I rethink my tool storage so that everything could be gotten quickly and, more important, put away quickly after use, because that encourages me to put things away properly.
Soon all was in order. It was so tidy that I thought it would look good in a Sears catalog illustration.
There are still some — too many — longish pieces of wood that need to be made shorter and split for use warming the house this winter. On my mechanical tear, I decided I’d best sharpen the teeth of the chainsaw before I got into it.
I have not mastered the skill of chainsaw sharpening; half the time I think I’ve made the thing duller. But for some reason this day it went perfectly and the chain ended up sharper than new.
The day had gone too well. All the preparations for winter had gotten done, the place looked great, and I was entirely satisfied with myself. It was only then that I began to have a little nagging doubt, the sense that something wasn’t quite right. I’d gotten too much done in one day.
My skepticism probably caused it — I’ll never know — but soon my satisfaction was yanked away from me and my sense of accomplishment was rendered hollow.
Because just then I woke up.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at email@example.com.