Monday, May 8, 2017

Wear Out, Not Rust Out

Those who don't like books, or those who don't like the act of reading books, may not appreciate my recent post on the reading I've been doing, nor will likely have little interest in this one.  If you find yourself however, preferring printed ink on paper to digital projections of words; if you don't feel empathy with the coldness of an iPad, but are satiated by the softness of a simple page or the weight of a binding; if you feel most joyful in a comfortable room surrounded by shelves and stories; then I know a book you'll love.

In my recent blog post, I was waxing on the pleasures of reading Beverly Nichols and garden reading in general and I had just finished Nichols' Laughter on the Stairs.  His next text, however, Sunlight on the Lawn, grabbed my attention quickly, swept by a strong current of language and thoughts straight over the written waterfalls into a pool of garden philosophy and pleasure.

Nichols has a gardener, "Oldfield," a recurring character from his books, full of hard-won wisdom and observations about life.  One example, expressed in Sunlight on the Lawn, occurs when Nichols finds Oldfield training a rose to a wall, sans gloves, and asks him about it.  Oldfield then "...had turned to me with a kindly smile, and had said: I reckon some of the young 'uns would be wearing gloves for a job like this.  But I don't hold wi' gloves.  What I allus say is, a man don't put on gloves when he makes love to a woman.  No more he should when he tends a rose."

I'm with Oldfield.  ProfessorRoush doesn't tend roses with gloves either.  In fact, I would post a picture of my forearms as they appear currently, freshly flayed from a much-needed weekend of trimming rose canes, but I'm afraid that the photo would finish the faint-hearted among you.  Suffice it to say that tending roses is a little rougher on the skin then most sessions with feminine flesh.

Early on, however, in Sunlight on the Lawn, Nichols relates a conversation with Oldfield that has a much broader application to life than his list of activities better done without gloves. The background is that Oldfield is aging, and despite it, still works long days at strenuous labor.  Beverly tries to get him to cut back but Oldfield won't.  Oldfield expresses it, through Nichols, like this:  "I want to wear out," he said very softly.  "To wear out.  Not to rust out."

"To Wear Out, Not Rust Out."  Of the great bumper-sticker slogans of gardening, that one ranks pretty high on my list.  Or, as Beverly Nichols put it further, "to pass on with one's old spade still bright from use."  My spade, upon my demise, won't be bright from use, but it just might have moist clay still clinging to it, if I'm fortunate.   I'm often questioned, by my wife, by family, by friends, of why I stay so active and have so many hobbies.  Sometimes, at my most tired, I myself wonder why there are entire weeks when I haven't sat down until I collapse into bed at night.  Now, thanks to Nichols and Oldfield, I have a good answer.

"I want to wear out, not rust out."

(Aside:  The hoe in the picture above is my paternal grandfather's tomatoe planting hoe.  I can't fathom the years of use represented in this hoe.   Look at the number of nails at the top, multiple repairs to hold the head on.   The sweat-blackened area, halfway down the staff, is worn smooth and a bit smaller by calloused hands, and the hoe balances perfectly if you hold it there.  A relic of a good life lived hard.)  


  1. Thanks for introdcing me to this author!

    1. You're entirely welcome. The Merry Hall series is a good one, but Beverly has others more connected to gardening.

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