I am a keeper of lists. Mundane lists: a “To Do” list, one on my work desk, one at home. Day-to-day stuff: “rake the yard;” “dogs to Vet;” “pay bills.” Lists of the piddly little stuff that’s easy to overlook. I keep them handwritten on small paper tablets and take no small amount of satisfaction from lining them out as I complete each task.
When the list is fully lined out or, more often the case, dog-eared and worn, I tear it off, transfer any unfinished tasks to a new sheet of paper and start all over again.
The “unfinished tasks” parts of the lists are the ones that nag at me. They generally start with the word “clean” or “organize” as in “clean the garage” or “organize the office.” Those get carried over to the extent that if I were to go to a print shop and have To Do lists printed up in a standardized form I might was well have them as part of the form.
Each form might be numbered or use bullet points to delineate tasks and the first lines on each page may well read: “clean the workshop”, “organize the basement” or “clean the basement after you organize it.” They’d stand as reminders both of tasks to accomplish as well as a mocking notice of things undone, a run-it-up-the-flagpole-for-all-to-see sign of failure.
Those are the small lists I keep, minnows in the big pond of true lists. The big lists, those are another thing altogether. The big lists deal with the deep water of life. The Deer Camp List. The Birkie List. The Travel List. The Boundary Waters List. Those lists have some heft to them.
They all started small and then grew over the years in a manner almost organic as with a garden planted and nurtured that matures over the seasons. I tend to those lists as a gardener coaxes life from thin, hard dirt; carefully, patiently, filled with optimism. The big lists take life, grow, branch out, bear fruit.
The big lists never stop growing and changing. I modify them, prune them back if need be, add more when the need arises. I stare at them on the computer screen where they live in a digital mulch. I consider each line on each list; what to keep, what to trim back, what new to add.
The lists are never finished. They are alive and germinating. They stand in boring black and white columns on a computer spreadsheet until the day when I need them and they rise up like a spring flower pushing skyward through mud and leaf.
The week of the deer season I open the Deer Camp List and its first cousin, The Deer Camp Menu List. I print the lists and spend days digging into my storage area digging out blaze orange gear that sees the light of day for nine days of the entire year. [Memo to Self: Add “Organize Hunt Gear” to my To Do List.]. I parse each item, pack it, line out on the list: Choppers; Big Boots; Blaze Orange Kromer. I smile in satisfaction.
Each list brings memories of hunts and canoe trips and ski times. The Boundary Waters List has several columns and one of them is labeled: Solo Trip 2017. I went alone that year and the list addresses that. But it also brings back the memory of that year when Fenway was younger and stricken with Blasto and very sick and at the eleventh hour Sally said, “I need to say home with the pup. Go alone.” And I did.
Solo Trip 2017: the list brings memories of those days with a critically ill dog and a determined vet and Sally and I awake at night with worry.
The Birkie List is more than a simple ledger. For years, after each race, I’d add notes of what the weather was like, what I used for skis, how the race went. So I know that in 2004 I was at a buying show and flew home on Friday night; got in at 10:30. I was on the road at 5:20 the next morning to make the race on time.
In 2007 I overdressed and was too warm. In 2011 it was 12 below at the start; I never warmed up. I had slow skis in 2013; a cold day on new snow in 2014; had fast skis in 2016.
Big Lists. Big memories. Both.
The past week deep was spent in the world of a Big List: the Boundary Waters List. There is a new column on the list: Solo Trip 2019. I’ll go it alone this time, not because of sick dogs, just to do it. I worked on the list all week. Old lines carried forward, new ones added; the garden of the list trimmed back some, filled out with new growth, changing.
I printed the list, looked for each item [Memo to self: Add “Organize Camping Gear” to To Do List]. I piled the gear on a table, put a neat check mark next to each one on the list. I found everything I needed.
I packed it all up; the down sleeping bag and jacket in a waterproof bag; cook gear and food in separate containers; rain jacket and camera gear in a day pack. I used a yellow highlighter for each piece of gear on the list. The list is four pages long.
Then I dumped everything out and repacked it, double checked the list, wrote a small “OK” next to everything on every line. I stood back, list in hand: Solo Trip 2019. Ready to go.
The lists are a foundation on which I build. The lists are a link to the past, a nod to the present. My lists are my tree; a solid trunk with spreading branches lifting skyward toward dreams, the fruit borne in memories rich, full and sustaining.