There are lots of outdoor skills with a very steep learning curve. When it’s come to making sea salt, splitting wood, or starting an outboard motor, I’ve gotten up to speed pretty quickly. Shellfishing’s fairly straightforward, and I went from being a rank novice to a published authority in no time. Even the chickens aren’t that hard.
This is not to say I’ve become a master of any of these things. I’ve simply become competent, more or less.
So many skills have a Sisyphean learning curve
Other skills don’t come so easily. Fishing, for example. Dominic, the Zen Master of Trout, trolls by our back door most mornings from April to November. He’s caught more fish in our lake than anyone ever has or will. He routinely hooks twenty or thirty in a day, and his record is over fifty. And, get this – he doesn’t even like trout! He releases them all to be caught again another day.
Dominic knows exactly what lure, at what depth, using what technique is the right thing for the time of year, the water temperature, and the cloud cover. He knows this because he’s been fishing this lake for thirty years, and keeps meticulous records.
Hunting, I suspect, will be a lot like fishing, and I expect to suck at it for a long time. Gardening, too, is very tough to master. And brewing fermented beverages is much harder than it looks. So many skills have a Sisyphean learning curve – you struggle up the long slope and, just as you think you’re really learning something, you’re sent tumbling back to the bottom by a wily trout, a fast-moving pheasant, or the late blight.
The presence of actual, genuine stones should have been my first clue that stonework is a skill of the Sisyphean variety.
When I first tackled the stone walls that will form the pedestal of our wood-fired oven, it’s not that I thought it would be easy. It’s not that I’d thought I’d build a thing of beauty, like a Lew French fireplace. It’s that I honestly figured that fitting stones together wouldn’t be so difficult that, if I devoted time and effort to it, I couldn’t turn out a decent product.
It turns out that building a decent product is damn near impossible.
I blame the stones. While they have many fine qualities – attractiveness and durability come to mind –flexibility isn’t their long suit. A stone is secure in its identity, and its self-esteem is such that, if it doesn’t want to play nice with the other stones, no amount of cajoling will change its mind.
Trying to jostle, chisel, and hammer two pallets of independent-minded rocks into a unified whole has proven to be one of the most difficult undertakings I’ve undertaken since we began the Starving project over a year ago. I’ve already disassembled it once and, with help and a few boulders from our friend Rick, built it back up again. It’s marginally better than it was the first time, but the emphasis is on marginally.
I know it’s putting the Sisy is Sisyphus to refuse to tear it down yet again and build it a third time, but that’s what I’m going to do. Partly, this is because I don’t have any confidence that the third attempt will be any better than the second, but it’s also because we want to actually bake pizza some time before hell freezes over.
So, as spring wears on, I will continue to jostle, chisel, and hammer to the best of my emphatically meager abilities. As soon as I’m done, though, I’m going shellfishing.