Old fashioned work. Manual labor. Palms grasp structural lumber, hold it in place, nail it home. Wrists are sore from swinging a hammer all day, into the night. Sam burns rotted snags, a flaming heap to the south. The waterlogged, decaying trees burn slowly but steadily, protecting hot coals until morning. There is still warmth in the pit when I put my hand in the ash. Hell of a fire. Some of the logs still aren’t through. We’ll burn them again this afternoon.
I’ve just had coffee, no breakfast, when I start plumbing posts. The foundation frowns here from the settling earth underneath—a thin layer of rot-dark soil gives way to perpetually moist clay. Not the most solid footing. Nothing a shovel, a plumb bob, a hydraulic jack and a few buckets of gravel can’t fix. At least for a few years more. I’m sure the twist and settle will last as long as the cabin does and longer still. The consistency of change is more obvious here than anywhere. The tipping posts remind me.
But there are things to do to prevent change, or delay it at least. Toxic preservatives are made for that very reason. I wear a facemask and eye protection and crawl under the cabin delicately, taking care not to spill. It stains the logs green, which ironically makes them look more rotten. I can tell it’s working from the way it bubbles. It’s soaking through rings to the core. Each ring that is passes through is another year protected against the harsh salt air, the annual rainfall that is comparable to the Amazon. For the post, time reverses, or slows down at least, while for us it moves forward at an imperceptibly fast rate. It’s 3pm and I still haven’t eaten lunch.
There is only time enough for a banana with peanut butter. Work continues. There will always be more work to do. The cabin is like a hungry pet that will never eat its fill. It will keep whining in the wind, groaning and creaking in afternoon sunshine forever. There will always be something that needs doing, something that needs repairing, or cleaning, or reinforcement. When I’m alone out here I cannot rip myself away from the work. But I love the work anyway and it is exactly what I feel like doing right now. I feel like doing some good old fashioned work.
When friends come visit it’s easier to ignore the changes. Clear weather helps too. Brandon and Jenna arrive late. I’m in the pentagon curing our newly painted wood stove. It burns hot then cools then burns hot again to harden the paint. I sip dark tea to stay awake and read Wendell Berry by candlelight. Their headlights appear in the driveway, illuminating salal and huckleberry. We hug hello and it has been a long time since I’ve seen them. It’s good to see them. It’s so late that we’ve hardly got energy to unload their truck. We’ll leave it until morning. The stars are so bright that we can see the ocean from the porch. Then we sleep.
The sky is an empty blue. The trees and beach are steaming, dew melted by early-rising sun. I can’t imagine working on a day like this, when the sand is wide and hot. Tunnel island beckons, rippled by mirage, the heat of intense rays. We walk south. Raft river is a waist-deep wade and we’re into Tunnel where the waves crash on anemones. Joss spots a whale spouting mist on the Japan-side of the massive cave. We’re barefoot from here. The lighter grey sand is dry and hot and squishes between our toes delightfully. I cannot imagine doing anything else on a day like this.
And it lasts for three days. The weather doesn’t change a hint. It’s so warm that when we go down to the beach at 6:30pm we all feel like swimming. The ocean glitters with paths of sunshine. Joss, Brandon and I throw a Frisbee. We run and jump and dive into the waves, chasing the white disc into the surf. Sometimes when there is a bad throw or catch we lose the disc in the froth and cannot find it until it floats into shore. The tide is coming up. We spend hours punching our shoulders into waves, running at full speed into curlers that tackle us by the knees. I’m not cold for a second. I haven’t swam in the ocean like this since I was a child. Since I didn’t feel pain.
Mom used to call us out of the water. Our lips would be blue. Our skinny legs and arms would be shivering. But we wanted more. We didn’t want to get out for a second. We almost cried when Mom called us in. We wished the wave dodging would never end. When it did we went up to the sun-warmed cabin and dried our suits on the wire above the fireplace. We put on pajamas and dry socks and played board games while the parents cooked dinner. And we never thought about anything but the beach and the sunshine and the food that was about to be put in front of us. What else was there to think about?
Days like these are exactly why there must be days of old fashioned work. We’ll never stop the changes that erode the cabin slowly, but we can adjust to them. Keeping the cabin standing is more our goal than to keep it luxurious. As long as the place is here, it’s available to be enjoyed. Work can preserve the sunshiny beach, at least for a little while. And the work is fun anyway. The work is part of what makes the cabin what it is. Without the work there would be nothing here. Without the work there would be no beach, no blue lips, no Frisbee in the ocean. So I’m happy to throw a stump on the fire and crawl under the cabin to straighten that leaning post.