You thought I was kidding about this? No. If you're mulching right, it'll happen. I worked heavy gardening/light landscaping jobs on and off between 2006 and 2010. If you're doing the work properly, it's exhausting. I used to watch my coworkers, the pretty girls not breaking a sweat, the "I work out a lot" guys in white basketball shorts that stayed white all day, respectively daintily pulling a weed or doing a little hand-snipping of twigs. They talked about keeping their nails nice. They talked about sports. Meanwhile, me, ol' Mulch-shorts, covered in filth, hauling rocks, turning the compost (hint: if you haven't done this before, it smells like death), doing the work no one else wanted to do... you get the picture. I didn't fit in. It was hard to not be resentful. It was hard to stay awake long enough to shower. I fell asleep standing up in the shower more than once during those years. In the summer of '10, I was almost solely responsible for mulching an entire estate, and the mulch had to be hauled across a busy road, one barrowful at a time, and then spread by hand. The "gardener" would arrive in yoga pants, snip a few flowers, and leave. I was crawling under shrubs, brown mulch stains up to my elbows. It was great working by myself, but between the brute physicality and the isolation, I started feeling stupid, so I read a lot of books on my lunch break, kept music going all the time (Coldplay's "Strawberry Swing" was a big one for me that year and I'm not ashamed of that). Since then, I've mostly been working office jobs, where your brain is over-busy, and your body isn't busy enough.
So when my church announced its missions trip was going to be restoring a dilapidated church outside Boston, mainly working on landscaping projects, my first thought was along the lines of "oh, hell. I have to go, don't I." The work I knew I could handle, but I was dreading the socializing, the small talk, the "getting to know people" part of relationship building that I find so tedious. I made a deliberate effort during the week to respond with "and what do you do?" when people asked me what I did (don't laugh! CARING IS DRAINING).
The church we were at, while a big enough building, is comprised of roughly 15 congregants, mostly elderly, leaving the demands of upkeep to only a few able-bodied folks. It's too much. A few groups had been there before us (no thanks to the Baptist youth group who cut down a bunch of brush and then left it on the lawn, where we had to move it before we could start work), and a few more are scheduled to go after. I came away profoundly grateful for quite how many people are able and willing to participate in the maintenance of our church grounds and building.
I didn't have time to read books or listen to music. Nobody accused me of being too antisocial, so I guess I did alright. Honestly, the best way to get to know people IS while working. It certainly keeps me from overthinking things, not only in the immediate conversation, but also in the grand scheme. The "stuck," circuitous thoughts that plague me in my everyday life were almost totally absent during this trip. The anxiety attacks I've been having regularly at work for months now disappeared. I slept WELL, not the usual "working dreams", where I wake up exhausted. I'm grateful to have gotten to know this bunch of folks a lot better - the kind of bonding that occurs when you all look and smell disgusting. It was a treat to see how much you can get done when people work well together, and work hard. My farmer's tan is now several shades darker, even if I never did get a photo-op with a small dark child to post on my Facebook so that everyone would know I did a missions trip. P.S. Now that I'm back, if anybody wants to just give me money, that'd be fine.