I recently spent a weekend building a picnic table, easily the most ambitious building project that I've undertaken to date. To the handier readers of Tyrannosaurus Ranch, this may seem no great feat, but it was something of an undertaking for me and I'm glad to have done it.
I was prompted to build the picnic table by several things. The first was an article that came out some few years ago discussing how millennials, that much maligned generation of which I am on the razor's edge, are not nearly so capable when it comes to DYI home repair, auto maintenance, etc. as were are forebears. Much of the response from the millennial crowd was to point out that perhaps our Boomer parents should have helped us hone these skills—a fair point, indeed. But to speak for myself, I couldn't help but feel that the criticism was a fair one and that the younger generations' inability or unwillingness to take on manual labor tasks was a loss to us.
But, as I said, that was some time
ago that the article came out. I didn't exactly run right out and sign up for a
woodworking course. But since reading that, the idea has been bopping around in
my head that it might be worthwhile to become handier. Reading Wendell Berry's The
Unsettling of America recently brought the idea back to the forefront of my
mind, because though it is about agriculture, Berry's notion that we lose
something important when we only strive for convenience, leisure, and
efficiency in our lives resonated.
Finally, one of my new year's
resolutions for 2021 was to stay offline as much as I possibly could. I got off
to a rough start and had to recommit on February 1, but since that time (a
whopping 12 days as of this writing), I've done a pretty good job of disengaging
with the online world. I hope to perhaps discuss the why and wherefore — and
also the effects — of this decision, but for now, I think it is sufficient to
say that when you aren't screwing around on the internet all day, you have a
lot more time to get things done — things like building a picnic table.
From idea to execution (I won't say
"completion" as I still need to stain the thing — waiting on the wood
to dry out some) I think the picnic table took less than a week. Like most
projects, it took twice as long and cost twice as much as I'd hoped, but I was
able to get from start to finish on the build only going to the hardware store
three times — far fewer than I'd feared.
Though there were one or two dark
moments, especially relating to getting the damn thing level, it was overall
relatively easy, though somewhat physically demanding — I was sore for days —
but ultimately satisfying. Certainly time better spent than scrolling through
You know, at the beginning of this pandemic thing in which we are all still, as of this writing, embroiled, it seemed that people might use this time to slow down, to relearn some of the skills we'd lost to the speed and convenience of modern life. I hope I'm wrong, but it seems to me that that ethos has somewhat dissipated, and I fear that we will come out of this ever-more plugged into the online world, isolated from reality. I hope not. But resisting the pull of the smartphone/laptop/iPad screen will take concerted effort. For my part, I'm trying to avoid all nonessential internet (I work remotely so turning it off altogether is impractical—and yes, I see the irony of posting this on a blog), write more, and take on more building projects.
Only problem is, I only know how to make picnic tables.