Up at three in the morning, and the wind’s so strong the wires are trying to pull themselves out of the side of the house, the guy wire for the power line sliding back and forth on the hook that holds the wire to house. The tops of the spruce trees are racing like panicked horses around a corral, and the aspens, leafless for winter, are trying to keep up, up-fingered branches slashing back and forth against the sky.
And you’re never more alone than at two or three in the morning, pushing back the darkness with nothing more than a fading small blue LED flashlight, specks of the just-wrong January rain spattering your face. Just like you’re never more alone than when you’re trying to fit your picture into someone else’s frame, when you’re trying to be what you think others expect of you.
I’m certain I do that, and I’m certain it does me no good.
Sure, I can write about the analytical or the theoretical — sometimes I even enjoy it, breaking down the numbers in a series of dry electrical power documents or cabinet orders, trying to bring order not out of chaos, but out of the dull, the dry, the understanding-fogging complications of the bureaucratic. But there’s no meal, especially not one that dry and tasteless, that I’d like to eat every single day.
So, instead, here’s a trip to a small shed that’s set to be torn down, late Sunday morning under heavy skies and next to roadside snowmelt, and the small handful of things I was able to find there.
I love things that have been in someone’s hands: things that have been used, and used so much they’ve been worn down on one side or another, their original grip converted to practised indentation. A coin with the pictures almost erased, so I can imagine the pockets and the hands and the rattling against all the other coins. A tool with comfortable hand-grooves no manufacturer ever made.
The ceiling’s falling in this shed, the outside covered with sagging cream vinyl siding, the door, leaning against its hinges so you have to lift it by the knob to open it. The whole thing nondescript. More like no script at all.
I can find the straight line between me and another human being, the similarity in our construction and design, and that’s magical.
The treasures I bought there: a hand drill with a wagon-wheel-like scrolled crank; a hand-powered grindstone that you bolt to your workbench with a butterfly nut, its stone wheel willing to lip through the steel of a dull axe-head without even slowing; a merchant’s scale and weight, both encased in in a kind of primal scaly rust, but still equipped with the skill to find all things equal. A four-foot-long, two-person lumberjack crosscut saw, one handle missing, the kind of saw that you hope would never jump from its log-cut to find the taste of your leg instead. A blue-painted workbench vise, seized solid with furred rust when I brought it home, but freed up now, ready to grip hard and hold fast.
I know that it’s probably foolish to feel connected to someone I’ve never met, someone whose name I don’t even know. But there’s something about putting your hand where another hand has been, and feeling the shape of that space encase you like a handshake. I can find the straight line between me and another human being, the similarity in our construction and design, and that’s magical.
Just right now, that line feels more important than a whole host of other things. More important that the petty, the angry, the huge number of people who seem driven by a sudden need for revenge or something very much like it.
That thought lit me up; gave me hope. I’ll send this out, and hope for the best.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.