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In a Racist Society, There’s No Such Thing as Fair Labor

What are you working for?

Carvell Wallace
LEVEL
Published in
6 min readFeb 2, 2021

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Photo: Martin Schalter/Unsplash

Here in Northern California there have been tremendous windstorms recently, with gusts sometimes getting up to 90 mph. A piece of Highway 1 washed away and fell into the ocean. There has been lightning, an occurrence formerly rare for this part of the country.

A good friend who has moved out of the city and off the grid now rents a tiny cabin in the mountains. I go up there on occasion to write and help with some of the labor that comes with living off the grid and in the woods. Digging ditches to prepare for floods, setting traps for rodents, putting up owl boxes to attract birds to help with the aforementioned rodents. And, of course, wood gathering. The entire winter runs on wood: gathering wood, chopping wood, curing wood.

I grew up and have always lived in cities and the occasional town—always in a place with municipally provided water and electricity, always in a place where chores consisted entirely of dishes, sweeping, maybe some toilet brushing. I am not used to subsistence chores, chores that must be completed in order to survive. But I am learning them.

Recently, a surprise snowstorm (also something of a rarity) occurred where my friend lives. The trees buckled under the weight of the snow and the wind; entire pieces, some of them weighing upwards of a thousand pounds, collapsed. I went up there to help her break them down and move them away from the road, away from the solar panels.

It was steady labor. First figuring out together how to set, check, and operate the chainsaws, dismantling them, adjusting tensions, setting chainbreaks, and oiling parts. Then it was a matter of working through the big trees one limb at a time, sawdust flying, the smell of burning wood. My friend had gone off to work on another tree and I was by myself . Once I had broken down a major tree that threatened the solar panel, the only source of power for the cabin, then came the slow tedious work of de-limbing the smaller pieces using a combination of shears and saws and hands.

Snow was still on the ground, though the afternoon sun had emerged. Still cold enough to see breath but now with a thin layer of sweat forming under my…

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Carvell Wallace
LEVEL
Writer for

This is where I experiment. This is where I learn to write.