Sedge.

This is a field of broomsedge.

In the last week, I made two day trips up to this field, which happens to be in Jay, Florida, about an hour north of our place in Navarre. The drive up to Milton is pretty in a way that I always assumed Florida could be, but hadn’t seen yet – quiet! Trees on the side of the road! Rivers meandering languidly through the forest! Milton itself, which you pass through before reaching Jay, is a cute historical town of brick buildings and character. I saw advertisements for a farmer’s market and cursed the 20 miles separating me from fresh vegetables.

Back to the broomsedge. It’s not actually a sedge, but rather a bluestem, a member of the PoaceaeĀ  family. It grows to about a meter tall, or sometimes even taller. It was historically used to make brooms, hence the name. Broomsedge grows well on poor soils and comes back quickly after burns, of which there are plenty on the Florida panhandle. This characteristic has made it invasive in Hawaii and weedy in California, but in the southeast, it’s right at home.

Imagine yourself in this large field of broomsedge, which has turned straw-colored. It’s early morning and the grass is bathed in the sun’s rays and framed by a few tall, green trees.

Now imagine yourself pulling up this broomsedge, one clump at a time. For hours. When you’re done, there will be a large empty spot in the field. If you look in one direction, the sun, now high in the sky, will be beating down on the yellowy stalks. In another will be the void you have created, with a large pile in the middle. Your back will ache, your fingers will be blistered, and you will be covered head-to-toe, even under your clothes, in a layer of black soil. You will look like you’re returning from a coal mine.

This is how our work trips were. I listened to NPR podcasts to pass the time and drifted off into my own little world, where all I focused on was pulling one handful of grass after another. I lost track of my boss and coworkers, and lost track of time. The hours seemed like an eternity and yet I was surprised when it was already time to eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

We pulled up several truckloads of broomsedge and transported it back to the island, where we plant it in the sand.

After a morning spent inland, being back on the beach was a shock. A bright, reflective shock. The sand was so white it almost seemed sterile, while the ocean was an impossible shade of blue. The colors of this beach are some of my favorites, but the landscape seemed static after a morning spent in another ecosystem.

Today, I finished my 25th consecutive day of work. Only two of them were pulling broomsedge, but at least a dozen were planting it. Now, I am done with both tasks. We have a lot of work still ahead of us, but rearranging the distribution of one of the southeast’s characteristic plants won’t be part of it.

I have an entire week off as a thank-you for my work, and I’ll spend it in Atlanta, Georgia and Santa Rosa Beach, just down the panhandle. I can’t wait for a little R&R and a trip to see my wonderful grandparents.

Wood.

The good ol’ MacBook is back in working order, which means good things for my blogging capacity. I also have a million e-mails to catch up on, an article to write for the Valley News, a press release for the Outdoor Center, and am basically swamped with computer-centric tasks that I had been able to avoid for a week.

And what a blissful week it was. After our rollerski intervals on Saturday morning, I hopped in the car and headed home to Lyme. My dad was at work and my mom was out brush-hogging, so I started by making some pesto. And by some pesto, I mean that it will take my parents at least a year to eat all the pesto that I stuck in their freezer. By the end of the exercise I had run completely out of pine nuts, almonds, and parmesan cheese, but the kitchen smelled amazing.

I spent the rest of the weekend, and all of Monday, working outside. My parents are busy people and although they spend every weekend working on their land, when you have 100 acres it’s hard to keep up with everything you need to do. On Sunday, we all worked together, clearing logs out of the blueberry field so that Mom could do more brush-hogging, and then cutting up and moving sections of a large tree that had blown over onto another tree in one of the upper fields. Along the way I got in several fights with raspberry bushes, climbed a tree to help attach a tow-rope to pull it down with, and got diverted picking crabapples and fox-grapes for jelly.

On Monday I was left on my own to fill the woodshed for winter. While this sounds simple, it actually wasn’t, and took me all day. First, the leftover wood from last season had to be taken out of the woodshed so that if could be stacked in the front. Then, I had to move the new wood from the summer “drying” woodshed in the garden to the winter woodshed by the house. This meant stacking it in a small trailer, pulling it across the lawn and the driveway with the lawn tractor, tossing it over the split-rail fence, and then stacking it in the woodshed. One I had filled the back row with new wood, I stacked the older, drier wood in one half of the front row.

It was a lot of wood to stack. That was the only thing I did all day, stack and move wood.

Most people would consider this very boring. A number of my friends told me that didn’t sound fun at all. And sometimes, I would probably agree with them. But it was a beautiful weekend to be outside, no matter what you were doing. Fall is coming to New England, slowly but surely, and the days were blustery and blue. I wasn’t distracted by e-mail, work, or training; I was just outside, tossing wood around. I found a rhythm and was happy to stay in it. There is a zen to manual labor, especially if you don’t do it all the time.

As I said, sometimes I would hate this sort of an existence. But it was what I needed at this moment in time, to disconnect from everything that had been worrying me or stressing me out, even subconsciously.

Now it’s back to the daily grind of rollerskiing, working in the office, and having to be on a schedule. I miss home and wish I was still stacking wood.