Chris and I have different opinions on sticks.
Our house sits on a few acres in the country. Our trees were planted decades ago by my grandfather, as he turned the farmland he bought in 1970 into a home for his family of seven. We moved here in 2017, a few years after my grandfather died, a few months after my grandmother moved to an assisted living community.
Our house is old and so are the trees.
When a storm comes, when a strong wind comes, or, sometimes, when absolutely nothing comes, our yard will be littered with sticks and branches. Since we moved here, I’ve stopped dreading rain. We no longer have basements in the city that will flood if the storm drains gets too full. Now I have a thirsty garden with tomatoes and peppers and squash. As my grandpa used to say, “There’s no such thing as too much rain.” And, while some people in some places might feel differently, me and my house on the hill agree.
I work from home and use any excuse I can to take breaks from writing. This might sound lazy, but I’m a better writer when I walk away from the words for a bit. Going outside, taking a walk, picking up all the sticks in my yard—that makes the words come back. Moving makes the words become unstuck.
Sticks in the yard thrill me. I wait until I’ve rewritten the same stupid sentence five times, then I head outside to gather branches.
I pick up every little stick I see: small twigs that fit into the palm of my hand, medium-sized sticks good for a dog’s mouth, and large branches I have to drag to the burn pile. I want them all picked up. I want them all gathered into our fire ring.
I leave no stick behind.
This is the opposite of my husband.
He occasionally gets to the yard full of sticks before me. Maybe it’s the weekend, maybe he’s come home from work and I’ve not yet made it outside, maybe I did my laps already yet more sticks appeared. He’ll walk around the yard talking on the phone and grabbing sticks as he strolls.
But he only gets the big ones. He only picks up the large sticks, the ones we shouldn’t run over with the lawn mower, the ones you can see easily from the road or the porch or the swings. He doesn’t bother with the small sticks.
“They’re good for the yard,” he says. “Leave the little ones alone.”
He heard this from my aunt and tries to use it to his advantage. This drives me crazy. I don’t want the little sticks in my yard any more than I want the big sticks. I want all the sticks picked up. I want a yard without sticks.
I know if you ignore enough small sticks, they eventually become big sticks. They become piles in the yard, areas of sticks not broken down enough to help the yard do anything but refuse to grow grass. I know if you make enough excuses, more and more of those little sticks you ignore become medium-sized sticks you ignore too. It’s a slippery slope of ignoring sticks. It starts small and feels inconsequential. But then you realize the next size isn’t that big of a deal either so you leave those in the yard too.
It becomes—over time—a yard full of sticks.
It becomes—over time—easier to just not care about the branches either because it’s too late and we’ve ignored too much and now all the grass is dead.
The little sticks become big sticks if you don’t pick them up.
The little sticks can kill everything if you’re not paying attention.
I’d rather pick up the little sticks. I’d rather do the extra work right now to pick up the small ones so they don’t—one day—overwhelm the yard, and we wonder why we let so many sticks get by. I’ve lived just enough life to know that what we choose to ignore always comes back. Ignoring doesn’t make it go away; ignoring makes it come back bigger next time with more consequences.
A few sticks can become more sticks very quickly.
So I pick up the little sticks and the medium-sized sticks and the big sticks. I pick up the twigs and the branches. I walk around my yard because moving my body makes the words I’m paid to write come back, but it also means less yard work the next time I go to mow.
I always pick up the sticks. I love picking up the sticks. My body doesn’t always love it though; I’m almost forty and sometimes it’s hot outside and I’ve got to dodge the dog poop. But I never regret the work. I’ve never sat down on the porch after a few laps around the yard picking up sticks and regretted my choice.
Picking up the sticks has always been worth it. My current self likes it and my future self thanks me.
So I pick up the sticks.
This is, of course, not a story about sticks.