Drawing Water, Chopping Wood

Featured image: Dick Carrying Firewood, 1979.
(Photo by Anne-Marie Erickson)

Our lives together mainly took place in “the mulch of the actual,” as the critic James Wood puts it. Dick and I were sensible and grounded. Like the leaves we’d heap over perennials in the fall, that “mulch of the actual” enriched us.

            Early in our relationship, we’d made choices that prepared us for what was to come. Not that we’d had any foresight. We didn’t want to live for a future that might never come to pass, so we seized the days. Nothing in life is secure, we agreed. If so, what was the point of piling up riches? If so, what was the point in deferring our dreams?

            So we moved away from the city. In 1978, we migrated to northern Minnesota, settling on twenty acres of lowland. That was where we chose to be. That was how we chose to be, inspired by Thoreau, Emerson, and friends who had moved back to the land. We wanted to walk as lightly on the earth as we could.

 We imagined a log cabin with a shed roof, a high south wall of windows capturing the winter sun. We wanted to watch the sun’s tracery as it snugged low to the southern horizon in the winter, then swung overhead at summer’s height. We wanted to be aware of the world.

            We sought a balance of body and mind, working with our hands while living in a home brimming with books. We’d fill milk cans with water from the mudroom pump and haul them inside, aware of the great weight of water, as well as its limpid beauty.

            In winter, we’d split wood for our cast iron stove. I’d balance a chunk of birch or ash atop a squat stump and make a mental jot on the log’s top. The maul fell of its own weight. The jot widened into a crevice and the log cleaved—if my eyes and mind held steady.

 We chose to live simply and attentively, drawing water and chopping wood. During those years we did not envision—could not have envisioned—that we were in training for what was to come. Then the weight of dementia fell. Our way of living in the world became our way of living with dementia.

Anne-Marie Erickson

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