Exploring the world one word…and one mile…at a time

Modern Self-Reliance

L to R: Storm clouds rolling in, M clearing debris by the fallen tree, this morning’s aftermath

During these early days of our journey, I’ve spent more time being active and less time relaxing than I thought I would.  Although I love reading, it’s hard to curl up with a good book when there is a mountain to climb or a town to explore or a recipe to invent.  This week I finally managed to spend a few evenings reconnecting with the likes of Thoreau and Emerson.  I laughed out loud rereading the introduction of Walden two nights ago, pleasantly surprised (again) by the relevance of some of his statements 150+ years after he wrote them.

Thoreau’s contemporary, Emerson, had a few relevant passages of his own in the 1841 sleeper Self-Reliance, which I’ve also flipped through recently.  To Emerson, self-reliance meant things like individualism and non-conformity and authentic inconsistency.   To me, this week anyway, self-reliance means problem-solving even when we don’t have complete information.  It means knowing how to read a map (and further, actually possessing one) when we’re off the grid and GPS can’t help us.  It means getting creative with where and how we workout when our usual running routes are hundreds of miles away.  And last night, it meant summoning all of my introverted courage to make a cold call to a person I’d never met asking them to help me.

Why did I need a stranger’s help?  First, let’s back up to last week, before our friend left town.  Just before heading to the airport, B filled us in on some need-to-know info about the house, practical stuff like where to find dry firewood and where to drop off the recycling.  He also mentioned the closest neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. H, saying he wished he had time to introduce us to them before he left, but alas, that hadn’t worked out.  So instead, we just got a passing reference to their existence, at which point for whatever reason, I catalogued their names in my brain.

There are only five houses on this gravel road, all set back into the woods and separated from each other by 1/3-mile sections of forest.  We pass three driveways on the way to B’s house, but we can barely see the houses, and we’ve never seen another car on the one-lane road.  Mr. and Mrs. H live just past B’s house, but we can’t see their house either.  Occasionally we hear car wheels crunching over the gravel.  Most folks in the area keep to themselves, and it was unlikely we’d run into any of the neighbors during our stay.

Then last night, after two days of self-imposed exile on the mountain, M and I headed into town for dinner.  We knew a line of thunderstorms was pushing through the area, but we weren’t too worried.  Rain’s rain.  We made it to dinner and almost back to the house before the first drops hit the car.  We assumed the storm was just arriving.  Then we noticed several branches and clusters of leaves on the road ahead of us.  “Looks like the storm already blew through here,” M commented.

We continued toward the house, through the series of dips and turns, before stopping to remove a large branch from the road in front of us.   Only after getting out of the car did we notice a giant tree down, blocking the entire road, about fifty feet ahead of where we stopped.  We walked closer to inspect things.  There was no way around the tree, no lights visible at the nearest neighbor’s house, and the rain was picking up.  The storm was just getting started.

We decided to back track to the main road where the tree cover was less dense, thinking that if one giant tree could fall, so could another.  We drove the five miles or so back into town and waited out the storm in a pharmacy parking lot (where there was cell service).  As rain pelted the car, we contemplated our options.  We could drive back to the tree, park the car, and walk (in flip-flops, of course) the remaining half-mile to the house to pick up B’s chainsaw, which (a) he warned us wasn’t top notch and (b) neither of us had used before.  We could find a map and see if we could locate an alternate route to the house, perhaps on a connecting back road.  Or we could try to flag down one of the neighbors for help.

For context, at my core, I am slightly awkward introvert who can go weeks happily without interacting with another human.  So the idea of blindly ringing someone’s doorbell is a paralyzing thought.  Making a cold telephone call is a close second, but it beats the in-person interaction.  So from the depths of my brain, I recalled Mr. and Mrs. H’s name and used the internet connection on my phone to look up their telephone number.  There were eight H’s in town, but only one on the right road.  With that find, I summoned all of my introverted courage and dialed the number.

After a mildly strange introduction to the tune of “we’ve never met, but I’m staying at the house next door and is there any chance you know of another way into the neighborhood because there is a giant tree blocking the road and we can’t get home.”  Mrs. H, who answered the phone, wasted no time in understanding my rapid Yankee speech and said, why, yes, there was a back road, but she wasn’t sure what condition it was in and the car might get all scratched up if we attempted to use it.  After a minute more of conversation and a brief chat with her husband, Mrs. H said that Mr. H would grab his chainsaw and meet us by the tree in a few minutes.  Sweet relief!

By the time we arrived back at the tree, Mr. H was busy at work.  We left the headlights of our car on to shed some light on the situation.  Mr. H quieted the chainsaw when we got out of our car and approached him.  “You said it was a tree, but I had no idea it was going to be this big of a tree!” he said with a laugh.  We exchanged handshakes and greetings and then looked up and up, to about 30 feet off the ground where it looked like lightning struck.  Half the tree was still standing, splintered at its wounded top, and the other half—an additional thirty feet or so of it—was on the ground, blocking the road from side to side.

After another minute of talk about the weather and how we knew B, Mr. H got back to work, cutting off branches and limbs before tackling the thin upper part of the tree.  While he figured out the best way to fillet the thick main trunk of the tree, M and I got down to work, moving the parts and pieces and stumps and logs to either side of the gravel road.

The whole task took about 15 minutes, a feat only possible because of Mr. H’s chainsaw.  As it turned out, Mr. H was grateful he found out about the tree on a Tuesday evening and not on Wednesday morning as he was leaving for work or his kids were trying to get to school.  He would have had to do the work either way, and better to know about it in advance and have a little help.  We were grateful for his help and his power tools.  Sometimes self-reliance means wielding the chainsaw yourself, and other times it means calling someone with a bigger chainsaw to help you.  -J

6 responses

  1. MOM

    Thank God for help and chainsaws. Oh, life in the great woods. It actually sounds like it was fun. Love & hugs Mom

    May 30, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    • It was quite an adventure! More storms rolled through tonight, but nothing quite as exciting. 🙂

      June 1, 2012 at 9:29 pm

  2. Dad

    That was great reading! Thanks sharing the background details which helped this non fiction event come to life. 🙂

    May 30, 2012 at 10:24 pm

  3. mhamilt5

    Great read!….thank God you came out of your shell or you would still be at the parking lot!….luv to u & M……

    May 31, 2012 at 1:21 am

  4. Mr. H

    My family and I greatly enjoyed reading your post during our dinner tonight. Your help clearing the brush from the road was greatly appreciated. I wish you and M the very best in your future travels as I read them with envy in your blog.

    June 1, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    • Thanks so much for reading! Glad you liked it. We hope to have a summer full of adventures, but hopefully no more that require chainsaws. 🙂

      June 1, 2012 at 9:31 pm

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