Finding Zen in Backyard Work
This weekend I did some work in the backyard, which is something I don’t frequently have the opportunity to devote time to doing. I built a compost bin, which I’ll post photos of at a later time. It required quite a bit of labor, like sawing lumber, drilling, lifting and other physical energy. But in the end it felt very satisfying and rewarding to finish (well, almost!) a project that will be soon put to good use by creating organic, fertile soil for our garden.
Oddly enough, physical work using our hands, our back and our legs (like heavy lifting, swinging a hammer, etc.) has become almost obsolete for many of us. I watched a documentary this weekend with my wife about peak oil and one topic that really piqued my interest was that of how energy is derived. The documentary basically said that in the early 1900s something like 80% of our nation’s energy came from human work (imagine a logger sawing a tree by hand or farmer hoeing crops). Yet today, the fossil fuels that we use (substitute a chainsaw for the logger saw and a tractor for the farmer’s hoe) make up such a large portion of fuel used in creating energy that the human portion input is almost non-existent.
In this new, westernized world that we’ve created we expect to train and specialize in one particular job (usually something that relates to providing a service), creating an income that will theoretically pay enough to cover the cost of everything else we might need, like buying a home, car, groceries, etc. And this huge idea hinges upon one thing: cheap fossil fuel, the supply of which has likely already peaked and won’t likely be able to keep up with increasing world demand.
For the past 10 years or so, like many other Americans, I’ve been an office dweller. We sit at a desk in front of our computer and process things, electronically. There are frequently days when I end my day thinking that today was the same as yesterday and I wonder if I actually accomplished anything. Sure, I may have completed some widgets, sent some emails or spoken to other professionals over the phone. But the sense of accomplishment or an end point is frequently missing. Sure, when I complete shooting a wedding or other event is gratifying, but not like physical labor, getting your hands dirty.
And if you’re wondering about the exciting life of a national geographic photographer who travels all over the world and photographs people and events, well, my job as a photographer isn’t always as romantic and exciting. I more often than not find myself in front of my computer (like right now) corresponding by email with brides, planning events, editing images, and a menagerie of other tasks. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. I’m simply making an observation about our western lifestyle and how things have changed from the time that our grandparents were our age.
But all that office baggage didn’t exist last night when I went to bed tired and feeling accomplished. My body was fatigued, but in the place where defeat might exist, I instead had a continued and lasting sense of purpose and accomplishment. I felt at peace and connected to nature somehow. I suppose that down deep, I felt that building a composter for my family would ultimately help us grow a healthy, organic garden (using composted materials) to nourish our bodies and reduce our carbon footprint on the earth. The project had an established beginning and end, which also helped in feeling that something had been achieved which was measurable.
Don’t believe me? Get outside and get your hands dirty! Listen to the birds sing, the crickets chirping and the sounds of nature as you sweat. For me, it doesn’t get much more Zen than that! 🙂