The split rail fence was already here when we moved in years ago.
“It’ll be perfect if we get a dog,” one of us said. Still no dog, though we haven’t given up on the idea. We’ve also never treated the fence and so watched it silver and soften and thicken with lichen.
Lichen are not one organism but a fungus and an algae growing together in a symbiotic relationship. On Saturday morning, I tackled the fence with a paint scraper, carefully prying up each one in what felt satisfying in a mindless, meditative way. I also felt a bit like a monster destroying tiny, perfect worlds.
Nature abhors a vacuum, which is never more evident than on an old rotting fence. Take away one thing and another fills in. I scraped and thought how true this is for vices. Love is the only thing that truly fills, but even love isn’t without pitfalls.
After the fence scraping and lunch, I scrapped plans to run on a trail by myself and brought my littlest kid along. In June, I’d like her to come along on a 5K I’m planning to do with a couple sober bloggers. I wanted to see if 3 miles is doable for pint-sized legs.
We were full speed ahead for the first mile. The second mile saw more breaks to rest upon benches, peer down ominous looking grates, pet a giant poodle, and stare in fascinated horror at one long-dead deer that appeared to be melting back into the ground.
The third mile is when we both got covered in tar. Tar! One second we were leaning over a bridge to get a better look at trout wiggling in neat rows in the stream below and the next my little girl said uh-oh and raised her chubby arm to show it was coated in shiny brown tar.
I decided it would be best to wash it off in the creek, which is really code for “here, you can’t keep all that tar for yourself – let me smear some on my hands so they’ll stick to the steering wheel!” Not only was I unable to clean off any tar, I sunk my new running shoes into a thick stew of mud.
On the rest of the walk back, my little girl held her tar arm behind her back when we passed others. “What if it never comes off?” she asked. In her mind, she had already graduated kindergarten and gotten married and raised a brood of babies, all with a gummy coat of tar on her good arm.
“We’ll get it off,” I said and smiled to show her I meant it.
“But what if you can’t?” she asked, already wise to the fact that parents can’t fix everything, especially ones with muddy shoes and sticky tar all over their driving hands.
We made it back to the car and a canister of wet naps, which occupied her until we reached home and warm, soapy water and a good scrub brush.
Now, if I’d just gone those 3 miles on my own like I’d planned before scraping lichen, I guarantee I wouldn’t have come home covered in tar. I also wouldn’t have noticed the melting deer or pet a giant poodle with my little girl. Relationships are messy, and we are richer for having them and letting our hands get dirty.