In winter 2022, I took on a job for my neighbour, planting out more than 300 native trees in a strip along our southern boundary.
We ordered 4 truck loads of mulch for the job, but by the time they were arranged, the soils were already wet. The driver refused to drive on the paddock. And so we ended up with what the scientists would call “a huge ass pile of mulch” in our driveway.
We got a machine in and moved about half of it on a terribly wet Saturday. But we couldn’t actually reach the western end. Soil was sodden. The slopes made it dangerous for the driver, and irresponsible to the soils to be driving heavy machinery on them. We decided we’d try again in summer when things dried out.
Well, we all know how Summer 2023 went, right?
Unprecedented rains have swept much of the country. Some regions were getting months of rain in a period of hours. Houses have been destroyed and rendered unlivable in a handful of regions. More than one flood is responsible for multiple lives lost this year.
We didn’t get a summer! It’s been 18 months of monsoon! So it never dried out. And every time my Dad – or someone else – visits, they ask us how we’re going with building a house.
And the mulch pile; and the unprecedented, unpredictable weather has become a really handy excuse.
It goes like this:
I have to move the mulch pile before I can get the drainage done. I have to do the drainage before we can even think about building a house. And the mulch pile is directly in the way of accessing our house site. So we can’t build the house because of this giant pile of mulch. That we can’t move, because climate change.
But I’ve started counselling recently. And I’m looking at the things I want to do – particularly the big and scary things – and the reasons why I’m not actually making any progress on them.
The mulch pile is a very real physical obstruction. Its continued presence really is due to factors outside of my control.
But it’s also a metaphor. It’s the excuse standing in my way.
That pile of mulch is standing in the way of having a toilet under the same roof as my bed.
It is standing in the way of a solar power system. And of a fireplace. It’s preventing us from living in a warm, dry home where I can confidently invite my friends and family to come stay. Where they won’t be afraid of our toilet. And where we have actual interior doors.
It’s preventing me from having my own office where I can work and write without the television blaring beside me. Where I can put the many random framed certificates and art that I have been collecting for more than a decade, so at least one of the walls looks like Doctor Cohen’s office in Garden State.
That mulch pile has become so much more than a pile of mulch. That fucker is holding up my life at this point. It’s not really good enough.
And it’s still too freaking wet to get a machine in. The weather people are picking a drier summer this year, but honestly it’s about so much more than the soil moisture now.
It is my own personal huge mother of an obstacle – metaphorically and literally.
And so, this week I began attacking my Sisyphean task. Following Josh Drummond’s lead, I’m making it my One Thing.
My main goal in life for now – something that I am committing to and declaring publicly – is to shift that pile of mulch. It will remain my top priority every day until it’s gone.
No excuse is going to stop me. It might not be fast – I am committing to one wheelbarrow per day – but I will do it. One wheelbarrow at a time.
I came home from my counselling appointment this week and the mulch pile was on my mind. So I went out with the dogs and got to shoveling.
I moved three wheelbarrows before an exertion headache set in. I didn’t know they had a name until I looked it up this week, but it’s not new. They’re the reason I stopped playing sports as a kid. They’re a special kind of pain.
Shoveling the mulch isn’t the problem. That’s the easy bit. It’s moving it to where it needs to be – down a hill, through a gate, up a hill, over an electric fence, and into the planting area.
All on boggy, wet, uneven soils; with a wheelbarrow heavy with soggy, wet mulch.
My whispy hairs started sticking to the sweat on my face. I got grumpy. I quit. I’d been working for 30 minutes.
But looking at my before and after pics, I could see I’d made at least a little progress. I learned that each load took about 10 minutes to shovel into the wheelbarrow, transport, dump, spread, and return.
That’s not that bad. I can commit to 10 minutes a day. It’ll be good for me.
I don’t know how many loads are in that pile, but I don’t think it’s less than 100. If I look at it as a huge giant pile, I’m never going to do it. We’ll never live in that house.
But if I look at it as 10 – maybe even 20 – minutes each day. If I remember a bottle of cold water, and a hat to keep my hair off my face. If I throw on some headphones and a good podcast or music for motivation and/or distraction?
Maybe – just maybe – I can move this thing. Maybe it’ll even be gone before 2023 is.
Sure enough, on Wednesday I moved another load of mulch. On Thursday, I moved one and Richard moved one too. Friday was an epic 3 loads from me. Yesterday, I knocked out another three.
That’s 12 loads since Tuesday. It’s made the barest of dents, but it has made a dent!