Mother is a master at the art of puttering. I never saw anyone who could accomplish more without deliberate intent than she can. On a sunny warm day, she dons her work clothes, a pair of faded slacks, a shirt of Dad's with frayed cuffs and collar, comfy, ancient sneakers, and a sturdy pair of gloves. When Mother sallies forth into a new day, a quiet sense of purpose descends over her cabin in the Maine woods, for she is going to do what she loves best: putter.
I watch her step out the back door of her cabin, grab the rake leaning against the brown shingled wall, and survey the yard. "What's it going to be this morning?" I wonder. The choices are prosaic: rake leaves, restack wood, scratch around in the garden, transplant something, collect stones for her stone pile, gather kindling, or rake the beach. She meanders toward the woodshed.
Now I know exactly what she's going to do. It is what Mother always does, and the end toward which most of her efforts are bent, and that is to bring a higher sense of order to what appears to the uninitiated as already expressing the epitome of heaven's first law.
You haven't seen an orderly woodpile, yard, or beach until you've seen Mother's. Her never-ending activity is preserving the neatness of these - and related - areas. For Mother, satisfaction is not dependent upon the attainment of order (that is a given), but upon the process by which it is maintained.
I watch her pick up several unruly logs that have rolled off the end of the latest cord of wood stacked in the woodshed. Then she rakes bark chips and errant twigs into, yes, a neat pile. She lifts the old green metal dustpan from its hook above the stacked wood, scoops up the pile, and walks over to the woods to deposit the refuse where it belongs, among its own kind.
While she's over by the woods, she notices a rock that would have gone unseen by any other than Mother's sharp eye. She picks it up in her free hand and returns to place it in with the other stones she's collected. It's a lazy, warm day, and I'm still standing idly inside the screen door. "I think a row of stones will look nice along the edge of the fern garden," she comments, peering in through the screening at me. I nod in agreement.
"The ferns seem to be doing well," I say. Mother transplanted them, a few at a time, the past week.
"They should probably have some water," she reflects. She finds the watering pot and heads for the lake to fill it, rake in hand, also. When she doesn't return immediately, I walk to the front door of the cabin, which faces the small lake, and from there see Mother raking the beach and occasionally swiping at the leaves washing up along the shore. The watering pot sits filled on the dock.
After Mother has tidied the narrow, moist beach, she proceeds up the path, dragging the rake prongside-up with one hand and hefting the watering pot with the other. The thirsty ferns drink the water she pours on them, as she bends down to pull weeds. Then she moseys over to the little toolhouse that stands next to the woodshed.
Returning with a trowel, she marks the perimeter of her fern garden by digging a shallow trough - a repository for the stones that will define her newly created garden, I conclude, having returned to my post at the rear screen door. I enjoy watching Mother, tracing her steps - and thought processes - as her day unfolds to an inner beat.
It doesn't seem to bother Mother that I am merely observing her activities and not participating in them. I think she knows it's difficult to jump aboard something as unpremeditated as puttering, and anyway, I know she'll call me if she gets in over her head.
I turn from her bent form as she continues her weeding and pick up a book I had started the day before.
I am deeply engrossed in it when I hear Mother's muffled call. "Can you give me a hand?" I step out the back door and look around. "Where are you?" I shout.
"I'm under here," she answers "under the cabin!"
TO fully appreciate this, you need to know that this cabin is really an old Maine camp, built a half-century ago. It sits about three feet off the ground on stacks of cinder blocks and piles of wood strategically placed beneath it. It consists of a main room with a huge stone fireplace in the center, a bedroom, and a front porch with a room-size closet at one end.
"I need a couple more shims," Mother says. "They're in the woodshed to the right."
"What in heaven's name are you doing?" I ask.
"Jacking up the camp," she replies breathlessly. I rush to the woodshed and come back with a handful of shims - discarded shingles. I can see her extended gloved hand. It gives the impression that she is holding up the cabin with her other one. I wriggle toward her and hand her the shims. Then I hear a series of hammer whacks. I'd like to say I notice the camp level off, but I don't. However, when Mother crawls triumphantly out and walks around to the back door, I follow. She steps into the cabin, strides confidently across the floor above where she figures she inserted the shims, and smiles in satisfaction.
"There, I guess that does it," she says smugly.
With her puttering proclivities, happiness is assured for Mother, and for those around her. While I have confessed to being more of an observer than a participator, I reap the rewards of her puttering in other ways, for Mother is never complaining, impatient, or short-tempered. Her unhurried puttering is an extension of her unruffled nature, and blessed are those whose lives are touched by Mother's.