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The declining necessity of chores

The human soul craves tasks close to the earth, jobs like splitting wood and canning vegetables, chores which, if one imagines living in a different time, would directly contribute to one's physical survival.

The bustling modern world of endless convenience could use some good, solid, calming, necessary chores.

To people who burned wood for 50 years in poorly-insulated farm houses with inefficient stoves, the notion of relishing chores might seem crazy.

Going back to chores also might not appeal to people who milked 30 cows twice per day for 60 years and went to the co-op meeting smelling like manure, no matter how hard they scrubbed.

But we live in soft times, I don't care how bad the economy gets.

Today, almost nobody who raises vegetables has to. Almost nobody who cuts firewood has to.

Almost nobody who rides a horse has to. Almost nobody who salvages bits of cloth to makes quilts has to.

When we do cut wood or can vegetables, it is a little like kids playing house: Yeah, it's romantic, but if an important opportunity arises, like a job in town, we forget the chores.

We take jobs utterly unrelated to our survival because those jobs pay money to buy not only canned tomatoes for 57 cents a pop (try canning them yourself for less than 10 times that), but HD flat-screen televisions.

If you stay home and can tomatoes, all you have are a bunch of canned tomatoes. Forget the TV. You wouldn't have time to watch it, anyway.

Last week, I was splitting wood. Oh the fun of putting up a nice stack of split wood and getting it under cover to season.

But if I ever decided not to cut wood, the electric off-peak heat would kick in and I would still be warm.

Something tells me that putting up a pile of firewood would feel a lot more satisfying -- and a whole lot more deserving of a big meal of pork roast and mashed potatoes -- if I knew that if I didn't cut wood, the house would get cold next winter.

I do not want to go back. Those poor people who had to cut wood or be cold had other worries. They also had to milk the cows and till the fields and butcher chickens and churn butter. I am sure they felt overwhelmed most of the time, especially when the kid count got up to a dozen.

But we have swung so far the other way that it is impossible to think of a single chore on my list that I couldn't put off for months, or just skip altogether, without hurting me one bit.

Cutting wood? If I add up how much money it saves me, I believe that my time cutting wood pays under $3 per hour.

I could get a job at the convenience store for $8 per hour, pay the power company $3 per hour for heat and have $5 left to spend on a flat screen TV.

Canning vegetables? Forget it. I have never tried it, but I know that home-made canned goods would cost about $19 per jar if the canner got minimum wage.

Subsistence living can't be fun, we say to ourselves as we kick back to watch the Twins.

Except: Those who have done it in the past seem to have nostalgia for it, and those who are doing it at present, namely the Amish, seem like the calmest people on earth.

A 90-year-old farmer I know from here moved to a warmer climate, where it rarely snows.

According to his wife, if it does snow he runs out to shovel the drive at six a.m., even though the snow would melt in two days.

At about 6:30, the next door neighbor, also from back north, comes out, grabs the shovel from him, takes over and says get inside before you die of a heart attack.

She's 76. She, too, longs for a necessary chore.

A little while later, a 34-year-old neighbor jogs by in Spandex. She never misses her morning jog -- rain, sleet, snow or heat.

Oh, how she huffs and puffs and struggles along the customized running path.

But shovel her own drive? That would be a chore.