There is a dump truck load of creek gravel at the end of my front porch. This wasn’t by accident, and no one played a trick on me. No, I told the truck driver to dump it in that exact spot, even after he asked me if I was sure and even offered to spread it out over the driveway. I just laughed and told him that I planned to put it in a lot of different places, eventually. It has been there a while (over six months), most of it anyway, because I have used some of it for its intended purpose.

I also have a wheelbarrow that I bought more than 20 years ago. It is one of the big jobs because back when I was a little more optimistic about things like gravel and mixing concrete, I just knew a smaller one wouldn’t do. Back in the day I would mound it up until stuff was rolling off the side and push it all over the place. I mixed concrete to fix the foundation under my house, and mortar to lay three courses of block when I raised the house. Now it rarely gets used, except maybe to move the inevitable tree limbs and cut weeds.

There is a round-bladed shovel sitting in my garage, and it remains in virtually the same spot for months on end. I’d like to say its as old as the wheelbarrow, or that I work so hard I just break the handle out of a new one every week; but of course, my mother always frowned upon lying, especially when it came from one of her kids. So, let’s just say I have worn out a few shovels, but not as many as I have broken, lost, or “loaned” to a new home. The one currently occupying the spot is around 4 or 5 years old and still has most of the paint on the blade.

Last Sunday I decided (and of course, regretted) to put all three of these items together and see if I could fill in the low spots around the front of the porch. I immediately realized a few things when I started. One was that creek gravel is in fact heavier than I remembered. The second thing was that there is far more bending involved in shoveling creek gravel than I remembered. And on the first (of very many) breaks to catch my breath I watched the sand fall through the numerous holes in the pan of the wheelbarrow. Lastly, when I lifted the handles of the more or less full wheelbarrow, the handles had that almost spongy feel something gets when it has reached its limit.

Normally I would consider replacing something, especially a tool, when it starts to wear out. But my feet, knees and back also had that “spongy” feeling, and I obviously can’t replace them. After I dumped the gravel and used a rake to spread them around, I sat down on the porch to “just catch my breath” and a thought occurred to me that made me laugh. Unless I wanted to buy a new wheelbarrow, I better not overload it; and I was grateful to have an excuse to “go easy” on it. Sort of worked out for everyone concerned, didn’t it?

But there was another funny thing that occurred to me, though much later. I was still strong enough to lift a wheelbarrow load of gravel and push it, even if every joint in my body thought doing so was an incredibly stupid idea. And along with soothing my somewhat bruised ego, there is a lesson to be found in my days-long regret. Effort (like the effort I invested 10 hours a day for years) builds strength that lasts. Or at least the memory of it does, and that memory can be jogged a little when necessary. So, if you are active when you are young, it’s more likely you can stay active when you are older. And when you are older, a little activity helps keep you moving as you continue to get older.

Every job is about the tools you use, and if you use your body then even though your handles might get weak, they will still work at least a little. Activity has its benefits, the best of which is that it facilitates more activity. But we need to be smart about it regardless of what age or shape we are in. I can’t count how many tons of gravels I have moved, and I have moved piles of gravel that tall in a single day. But that wasn’t yesterday, and it definitely wasn’t Sunday. The snow this winter might fall on that pile before it reaches its intended destination. But I will get it moved even if it is only one shovel at a time. At least that’s what I tell my wife. … But I have the dump truck driver’s number, just in case.

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