Monday, November 16, 2009


It’s the Season of the Lists. Every year around this time, some middle-class survival instinct kicks in (or is it just a siege mentality?) and I go around making lists of the things that have to be done before the long winter comes: Gutters to be cleaned, leaves to be burned, trees to be cut back. This goes back to my childhood, I suppose, when I used to help my dad change out the screens for storms on lead-sky autumn Sundays with the Bears on the radio. To this day, I associate most domestic chores with the image of Bobby Douglass running for his life.

At the top of my list this weekend was installing a new chimney cap, a job that involves me climbing up on the roof. I hate climbing up on the roof. I’ll do it when I have to, but first I have to psych myself up a little, talk myself into it, a little like a parachutist getting ready to jump out of a plane. The payoff, though, is the view. You can see a stream cutting through some woods behind our house and a chain of ponds off in the distance and an old barn and, on days like yesterday, smoke rising from a few burning leaf piles around the neighborhood. I was checking all this out, when I started to hear a strange racket coming from the woods, just 30 yards or so from the house. It sounded like grunting pigs. A few seconds later, a doe came tearing out from behind a tangle of honeysuckle, full speed. She was sprinting like a thoroughbred, ears back and eyes wide. Charging after her were two grunting bucks. They looked—-well, let’s just say they looked determined. It’s mating season. The doe led them in a loop around our yard, jumped over the stream, and doubled back into the woods. Then I lost sight of the chase, though every once in a while I could hear some thrashing in the woods and more grunting. I guess that doe was on the bucks’ to-do list.

I’m a little compulsive about making my lists, but not always so successful at actually completing them. I find my lists all over the house. Lists of calls to return, lists of books to look for at the library, lists of things to buy at the grocery store. The really old lists that turn up inevitably seem a little pathetic, with their outdated priorities. They’re like a record of the futility of my days. But I suppose lists are hopeful things, too. As long as you’re making lists, you can’t be totally sunk in despair. (Umberto Eco in a recent interview: “We like lists because we don’t want to die.”)

I knocked a few things off my list yesterday (Watch horny wild animals get busy? Check.) and let a few more slip. I’ll make a few more lists today. It’s on my list of things to do.


  1. I like the idea of making lists of things you don't have to do, but want to do. And those might be lists worth preserving, unlike an author's laundry list (a literary criticism cliche at which we primary source researchers like to sneer)!

  2. Jeanne, someday I will make a list of all the things I should do but have no intention of ever doing.