This morning I spent several others immersed in house and yard-related tasks, and thought of the man vs. nature themes of two classic books.
I have just completed re-readings of Hemingway's great little text The Old Man and the Sea, and Steinbeck's equally gripping Of Mice and Men. The former concerns a fisherman wrestling with the fury of the wild, and the latter a migrant worker coming to terms with his close friend's wild brute strength (filtered through a childish mind). Both protagonists, in the end, see their simple dreams--and, in a sense, their fragile sense of purpose--demolished by a nature beyond their control. Santiago the fisherman loses all but the skeleton of his massive marlin to the instinctive, unreasonable hunger of the sharks, and George sees his chances of buying his own land grow dimmer with Lennie's act of manslaughter.
"The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley,” wrote Robert Burns in the poem that inspired Steinbeck's title. I felt such frustration this morning as I reflected on the two novels and completed the mundane tasks that were my priority. My best laid schemes were far different for this day; the nature of home ownership had sent them "a-gley." I was taking a day off from the office to do some writing, some marketing and some strategy work. My surroundings were to be a coffeeshop or a bookstore. It was a block of precious time I had cultivated in my mind for days, the gift of acquired solitude in the midst of java-ites.
Of course, Joseph Campbell reminds us that the ultimate nobility of the mythical hero is his or her return to serve society after the rush of the great adventure--even if it is only an adventure of the mind. So perhaps there is something creative, something sacred, in prioritizing the simplicity of a well-kept home--perhaps in the spirit of another Hemingway standard, A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. After all, I have more luxuries than Santiago, George or Lennie ever tasted, and tonight in suburban shelter I will sleep. Perchance to dream and scheme anew the interplay of words and coffee.