After 15 years maintaining hiking trails, I was restless and sore, and I had the chance, as a writer and an online teacher, to eke out a living in the woods less painfully. Nowadays, when I run up against a problem at my so-called job, someone always quips: "It was a lot easier sawing up logs, wasn't it?"

But it wasn't. Not by a long shot. Sure, real work is more straightforward: a task you can see, a task you can finish. But nothing, not one thing, you do in front of the computer is as hard as physical labor. The fact that labor is harder than you ever imagine, harder maybe than your body can endure, is what makes it so satisfying. 

Laurie glared at the orthopedist.

"What can I do about it?" she asked. She was thinking rest, ice, physical therapy, maybe as last resort, surgery.

"You can get some Mexicans to do that work for you," he said.

Now she was angry. Not just at the doctor. It's no secret that, anymore, non-whites do all the physical labor for Americans, whether in a Chilean vineyard or a Washington apple orchard. She was mad at the truth: that labor is undervalued. What's galling isn't that she's underpaid or underinsured, only that as a white American woman, she is expected to expect more. 

Real work is too dirty and difficult. Real workers are disposable.

"I think I'll just try some exercises and see how it goes," Laurie said.

Laurie's claim was rejected. The cause of her pain, wear and tear over 25 years, was apparently too hard to pinpoint or verify. She started an appeal, but eventually she gave up. The whole ordeal, she said, was taking time away from real work.

Giving up the claim was indulgent and probably stupid. We have friends who have succumbed to chronic pain, to clerking part-time at the mini-mart, to depending on a spouse for income. But she didn't care.

She stood to leave the orthopedist's office, to head back to work, to the orchard where she belonged, pain and lasting damage be damned.

You're going to look like hell in 10 years," he said.

She didn't say what she was thinking: You already do.