Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Ambition Is Expensive
by James Glaser
February 5, 2010

I suppose it is expensive no matter where you live, but I am finding the South more costly than it was in Northern Minnesota. Of course I was living out in the woods, and the closest town had 280 people. But down here I am living in the woods, too. However the town closest to me, Madison, Florida, has several thousand.

It could be that I left Minnesota a few years ago, and now that Wanda and I bought a house, I am finding building materials have gone up in price. Before we moved here, we were renting a house in Tallahassee. When you rent, you don't work on the house, you don't build things in your yard, and if something breaks down, somebody else has to fix it. Renting is way less expensive that owning, but I like owning because I get to make the place the way I want it.

Some things are cheaper. Treated lumber seems to cost less, but they sure get you on deck screws. Four pounds for $25 bucks. I said to the guy that it seemed a bit high, and he smiled and said, "We sure like selling these." Wanda bought a can of spray paint and it was over $6 dollars. The last time I bought any it was $2.99.

Here are the real reasons that it is more expensive down here: I go to town more; I have more projects; I can garden all year long; and, here is the biggest reason of all, I have more ambition down here.

Northern Minnesota is way more laid back. When it is below zero, it is kind of hard to get up the ambition to head to town. You tend to wait so you can do everything you have to on one day. I read more up North, and I think I slept more, too. Summers I worked as long and as hard as I could, then working tapered off in the fall and almost stopped in the winter.

Spring was filled with thought, but not much action. You poured over the seed catalogs and thought about the garden and all the things you wanted to do, but the snow was melting, and the lake was covered with ice sometimes into May, so you couldn't even think about planting. Meanwhile, your basement was filled with little plants under lights as you were trying to get a jump on the short growing season. Because of the ice you couldn't put your dock in, and it was still cold. So, you read a lot, relaxed, meditated, and slept. Hey, I said Northern Minnesota was laid back didn't I.

So, back to life in the South being more expensive, if you are sitting in the house, reading and sleeping, you are not out spending money. My workshop was right across the road from my house, and my biggest worry was that my glue would freeze. I had to bring that into the house every night, at least I had to until I built an insulated box with a light inside that I stored my glue in—kind of a reverse refrigerator. Of course if it was down to 20 below at night, it took a long time to heat everything back up to a working temp. That meant going over early and cranking up the wood stove, and going back home to relax and read until you figured the shop was warm or the stove needed more wood. I'll admit it, I miss that laid back life, but like I said, I have more ambition down here in the South.

Here it is January, and I am outside constructing a building and having a ball doing it. When I was up North, I would work with Jimmy Martin every summer, and we had fun. I do miss him, and I get a lot less done without him. Tuesday I had to put up the ridge so I could start putting up my rafters. Now you can put up a ridge by yourself, but there are a lot more steps involved.

First you have to put up a two by four on each end of the building, and then you attach the ridge board to one end and then the other, but then you usually have to go back to that first end to get it level. That means a lot of ladder moving, and if you drop a tool or forget the screws, you have to put everything down and climb down and get what you need. Plus I miss the stories and jokes we told to each other, and how we always knew how to solve the world's problems. We did nice work, and we laughed a lot. I miss the laughing most.

But I still have a lot of fun even if I am by myself. I still measure twice and hope to cut once. I still make mistakes, but now nobody ever sees them. There are a lot of different ways to build things, and I miss the back and forth talking about how we should do it. Now I always get my way, and my way is not always the best way.

The answer to the increase in ambition is the weather, no doubt. The only projects you are going to take on in January in Northern Minnesota are to shovel a new path to the shop, to the gas tank, or maybe to the out-house. Somebody might try talking you into helping them put out an ice house on the lake, but I wasn't into ice fishing, and most people knew that.

Down here in the South it is like early summer up North. There is no weather excuse. So, with projects going on year round, you are buying supplies year round, too. This morning Wanda and I went out to breakfast. It was 55 out, and I wore a tee shirt and a vest. By the time we got home it was too warm for the vest. My tools were warm, the sun was out, the birds were singing, and the ground was dry. I could not think of one reason to sit in the house.

Down here you feel guilty reading in the day time. Down here you sleep at night, and naps are really short. We have flowers blooming, and it is January. After a life in Northern Minnesota, my mind and body know you work and you work hard when the flowers are blooming because soon it will be winter. The only thing is down here, winter never really comes.

So here I am working away, because my body has been tricked into thinking the snow will fall any day now. Everyday I use up materials and have to buy more. With the weather nice, new projects keep popping into my mind.

The Lemoyne Art Center asked me to show a sculpture in an upcoming show, and all sorts of thoughts started coming, and everyone of them involved going to Blountstown to Red Wood Bay Lumber Company to buy wood. Now you can't go to Red Wood Bay and expect to buy just what you need. They always have some board that isn't what you were looking for, but something extra that you just know you have to buy now, otherwise it will be gone next time.

Buying wood is so fun. They have every kind of wood growing in America, wood from every place else, wood you have never seen, and wood you have never worked with. I'll admit it. The temptation is usually too much for me, and wide boards are my down fall.

Well, I know what the laid back lifestyle is like, and now I know what a life filled with ambition is like. They both have their pluses. Ambition costs more, but then you see a more results, too. I guess I'll spend the money, and keep on working. There is going to be a time for reading and relaxing, but that will have to wait until I get everything done.

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