Jerry Huckaby's

--Literary Lessons--



Is it Autumn, with such a different quality of light, and all the hundred shades of brown and yellow mixed with the evergreens, and the delicious mornings with a sharp edge of chill to them, that makes us feel invigorated these days? The thing is, I have my firewood in and all stacked in a symmetrical row, and I find myself staring at it with a poetic vagueness as though it were a beautiful addition to the landscape, like an array of exotic autumn flowers! Of course, this elation owes something to economy, since our house is heated with a wood stove--in fact, I know how a squirrel feels when looking at his winter hoard of acorns.

And I have to admit that standing about in the back yard with a bowl of oatmeal and a silly smirk on my face is partly due to my having finally thrashed the grass. Or the jungle. I had put it off all summer with one lame excuse or another, mainly that I was going to buy a weedcutter. I have been going to buy a weedcutter for so long that my wife just rolls her eyes when the subject comes up. So, when I saw that flashy, heavy-duty gas-operated ones were on sale (weedcutters, I mean, not wives--whew), I dragged my laziness to the hardware store and came home with a huge gaudy box which purportedly contained a weedcutter. The size of the box and the awesome picture on the side were so intimidating that I didn't open it for a week. I was afraid of what was inside.

I guess I was secretly hoping my son would see the shiny package and plead to take over the whole project, but he only bent down in passing to identify the contents, said "Oh, it's not a computer or anything," and vanished. So, finally, I got my little tool kit out (you know how you always have to assemble these things) and opened the box, and a huge machine that looked like an chic Italian motorcycle was inside. And the only "assembly" was to put on the wedge-shaped doohickey which keeps the cord from lacerating your own ankles.

Okay, I'm the first to say I'm not very mechanically inclined--or maybe my wife is the first, but I'm a close second--and so after reading all the directions about ten times, I poured gas and the oil additive into the weedcutter's tank, and closed my eyes, and pulled the cord. I knew nothing would happen, and that sooner or later I would have to go over to a neighbor and have him show me what I was doing all wrong--but the Italian-motorcycle-looking futuristic-James Bond-cutting-edge machine roared into life and scared me half to death.

Anyway, when my heartbeat returned to something like normal, I put the plastic goggles on, and with the sleek red instrument of doom poised between my hands, I managed to mow the whole back yard--surrendering only occasionally to the fantasy that I was Sylvester Stallone saving earth from vegetative Martians. My wife was a big help, popping out of the house every time I stopped for a rest to say, "My, it's looking pretty good already." Which probably didn't mean that I should quit dogging and get on it. But I did. Doggedly.

So now with the summer-browned grass ruggedly but neatly mown and the fire wood stacked in a long craggy wall, I can eat my morning oatmeal out in the backyard and really exult in the autumn. Why oatmeal? Oh, a month or so ago my wife surprised me out of bleary sleep by asking me if I'd like a bowl of it. Sure, I said shakily, as she does not often cook breakfast. And I remembered the cold rainy days of my youth, when my mother would fix it, with a pat of butter on top, and a spoonful of brown sugar, and a bit of milk on the side. Oh boy. But what I got was a rather soft concoction with raisins and powdered sugar and shaved almonds on top. Disguising my dismay, I thanked her profusely, and we had breakfast in the early autumn of the backyard, gingerly tasting the oatmeal while looking across the mown grass to the stacked wood--and it was good. In fact, I wouldn't have it any other way.

This column is from the October 1995 issue of the Mendocino Art Center's A&E Magazine.

Copyright 1995 by cns news & features

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