In the movie Rivers and Tides, the artist Andy Goldsworthy talks about building stone walls without mortar. He doesn't use plans, just learns from the stone where it wants to lay. He's not talking about a fence around his back yard. He's talking about 2000+ feet of stone wall, winding around trees, scaling hills, and dipping into ponds.
The more responsive the process, the more substantial the results. That's the hope anyway. I'm into this. Since I am not a badass Scot modern sculptor, I'm finding more personally relevant ways to exercise Goldsworthy's theory.
One literal way is the building of a 5'x10' brick patio behind my house. "Brick patio" is a generous term, I guess. I'm laying a loose rectangle of salvaged bricks and pavers behind my house, filling the gaps with dirt and stone and little baby sedums. Normally when one assembles a brick patio one removes soil, levels land, adds gravel for irrigation and sand for proper distribution of mass, and then and only then begins to lay the brick. We hope to build a screened-in porch within the next few years, so I opted for something we can easily tear up when the time comes. I am also determined to not spend any money on this (please refer to earlier posts re: issues with stuff and money). The materials are all found or salvaged, and I'm filling with soil and compost from our property.
It does not look great. I should make that very clear. This is not a story of scrappy ingenuity birthing real and lasting beauty. Many of the bricks still have bits of tar and concrete attached to them. The variance in brick size means there's no way this joint will ever be level, and that, coupled with my disregard for the aforementioned digging, leveling, etc., has caused me to consider posting an "Enjoy 'Patio' at Own Risk" sign.
The ebb and flow of perceived certainty in our lives can be crazymaking. Personal dramas, financial setbacks, my manfriend's future job instability, the jagged horizon of high school in our sights, all of these things cry to be dug out and laid level. Occasionally, though, I'm relieved to remember that there truly is no certainty, so to expect it is moot. These bricks aren't ever even.
I was desperate for a few weeks to determine that spectral financial worries would not deter us from this next trip. The constant number crunch became a cable news ticker below my other thoughts. "How about hot and sour soup for dinner (four hundred plus three eighty minus one seventy) and then we can watch an episode of Mad Men (minus ninety two minus thirty five … )." I knew I didn't have enough bricks to make a patio as large as I hoped, but I felt compelled to start it anyway, knowing I could add to it as bricks found their way to me. I knew, too, that I needed the physical task to take me out of my head.
Goldsworthy's wall and my "patio" (faux-tio? faux-pas-tio?) have me looking for ways to find stability on ground that will never be level: my bank account, my relationships, my ability to manage my own emotions, parenting. Taking comfort in process helps me be less concerned with results. Nobody is going to come over and take pictures of my brick work for a spread in a magazine but I did it the way that I needed to based on what was available to me. It's a mistake to think that we're ever starting with a flat surface.
I'm stewing lately over things I can't control. When I catch myself doing it I run to the beach, or water my plants (a hollow promise these days), or rearrange a few of the bricks, keeping a focus on doing good and doing well, rather than meeting certain objectives.
The thing is, I have friends with the huge business of life on their shoulders: cancer, cross-country moves, pregnancy, ill and quickly declining parents. Whether or not we're able to check off seven states in August is of little to no real importance. We may get as far as Massachusetts, or New York, or Windsor, and determine that it's fiscally irresponsible to continue. We may get as far as Maine and home again with no issues, or we may never leave West Michigan.
We may spend August on my dirty brick patch in the yard, grilling shrimp and asparagus and corn and pineapple and watching the neighbor kids pan for gold in their baby pool.
So I'm leaving it open. I'm mounding all the stones in front of me, and I'm ready to shift them around as necessary. There are the things I think I'd like to do and then there are the things that I will do. It's very likely that the things I will do are very different indeed from the things I would like to do, or think I may do, but I believe that having done them in a way that is responsive to the ground I'm building from is going to make them the right things.
At sunset last night, The Lake was liquid metal. Somehow the churning bottom didn't disrupt the pearly glisten, but enhanced it. That's a trick I'm eager to learn.