Sheer exhaustion likely simply took over as he stood leaning on the axe handle, leaning the direction towards his cabin down the hill, towards his pregnant wife preparing some meager something for supper as she sat on a chair out front, towards the open ground leaning towards the river a quarter mile beyond. A light breeze lovely with autumn scents ruffled his hair and cooled the sweat dripping over his body. Six months since he spied this section of ground. He’d cleared trees to add to the open ground that he could cultivate in the spring. Four months since he’d completed the tiny 10x10 foot cabin that would protect them through the winter. Three months since they’d exhausted the last of the dried beans and cornmeal they’d brought with them. Two months since he completed the small smokehouse in which he could cure enough meat to see them through the winter. Two weeks since he’d seen his nearest neighbor who worked a farm a couple miles distance, and that only close enough to wave. Six hours since he’d climbed this slight rise, intent on felling and chopping up one more tree, adding one more tiny bit to what he might one day call a farm. One more tiny bit to his world. And two hours since he’d swallowed the last of the water he’d carried up with him.
He gazed at the scene in front of him and he tried mightily to see in it the pastoral scene his sister had painted to hang over the mantel of their father’s home back in Connecticut. A beautiful scene of a neat farmhouse and barn, straight rows of healthy crops and fat livestock, all happy under a blue sky and a yellow sun. It had captured his imagination as a young man; he’d felt drawn into it. He could see himself as part of the artwork, contentedly nurturing its little world. It had so enraptured him he’d felt compelled to bring his young wife west to coax from the wilderness just such a paradise. He’d stood near to this spot many times over the past six months and thought of that painting and projected it onto his little farmstead, and he tried now to do it again.
But he couldn’t.
The world before him seemed only roughly hacked out of the earth, ragged and torn, a propagation of toil and poverty. He felt lightheaded, dizzy; he felt as though he were somehow above himself, floating like a spirit, trying to grab a vision of present and future perfection that refused to achieve focus. He felt so tired; so worn out. He let his head drop. He wanted more than anything to simply lay down, close his eyes, and let the world go dark.
He walked slowly back to his wife, instead. Plopped down on the ground next to her. “You worked yourself too hard and didn’t drink enough water, didn’t you?” she asked him, and he just nodded and reached for the water jug next to her. “I told you, more clearing can wait. You needs spend your days foragin’ and huntin’ and fishin’ and adding to our food stocks. Trappin’ a pelt or two might also bring a few dollars we could surely use.” He shrugged. “Darlin’,” she asked, “Wouldn’t you like to spend a couple days down at the river just fishin’? Just fishin’ and sittin’. Look how tired out you are.”
He took another swig of water. “D'ya ever wonder if I’ve brought you to ruin? If this was the right thing to be doin'?”
She gave him that look of hers; that look that strongly suggested foolishness on his part. “You’ve seen me getting’ sick many a morning of late?” she asked. He nodded, slowly, because he always proceeded cautiously when foolishness on his part was being suggested. “Well, that’s what all this is right now,” she said and swung her head in such a way as to indict the land around them. “Just a little morning sickness.”
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.