I watched a harvest video this morning that had me bawling. It was essentially just 13 minutes of combines and harvesters moving around a wheat field, showing the process. There was some good “steward of the land” music playing, but beyond that, certainly nothing that would prompt tears. And yet, farming makes me cry. Any country song about farming? I’m in tears. Commercials for John Deere? You bet I’m blubbering. A facebook video about a harvest? Worthless and introspective for a solid 30 minutes after. Irrationale, yes. But farming just moves me!
This past weekend I was having a discussion with Dear Husband about pursuing our dreams (mostly rationalizing why I should finish my doctorate, and soon) and I pointed out that despite the fact that, “I hate farming,” I supported him in that dream. He looked a bit aghast for a moment. It was almost as if I’d said, “I hate chocolate” to a woman. Now, in hindsight, I realize my wording was a bit too strong for the moment (not that I’ve told him that yet). I will confess my blunder so he won’t worry about my mental state, but I just haven’t seen him yet to do so since he’s working out of state.
This man wants to farm. He wants it to be his livelihood, as it is his father’s. He wants to care for the cattle, oversee our crops, cut hay from sun up to sun down. He wants to buy more acreage, build fence for the next 20 years, and leave a big legacy of farming for our children. He wants to quit welding and be completely supported by the land. I get that – really I do. As his wife, it is my duty (obligation, responsibility, dare I say, joy?) to help him reach his dreams. As such, I’m a reluctant farmer.
While he works out of state bringing home the bacon, I tend the farm in his absence. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of the chickens I haven’t yet let out of the hen houses (I will soon) and the bottle I need to fix for the (mostly) blind calf we’ve been nursing back from a bad case of pink eye. I’m thinking of the goat kid I need to check, because we’ve also been nursing her for about a month from a bacterial infection, and the carrots I reluctantly need to dig out of the ground because it’s too hard to pull them out, and I didn’t “soak them a bit” last night (as he’d very logically recommended). I need 200 more carrots like I need a hole in the head, but I can’t abide the waste, so I’ll dig them out. I’m glad it’s not winter, and I begged and pleaded with him to be home for the winter so I wouldn’t have to break ice. I loathe breaking ice. I’m convinced my death will come from being charged by a bull (or arguably worse, a cow with a new baby calf), slipping down an icy hill side to get to the pond bank, and planting myself on the ax head. Still, I’ll do it for days, weeks, months if I need to because I want to support his dreams.
Being honest, though, that’s not my entire motivation. I idealize farming. With this one task, I feel a connection to the land, to time, to God, and to my family that I can’t get from the profession I love (education). I hate the feel of dirt when I’m pulling carrots, but I love producing our food, having fridges and freezers full of our own (healthy raised) meat, and canned goods lining my shelves reminding me of how much I hate August because its’ peak canning season. Spaghetti in the winter really tastes better with my homemade tomato sauce. Miles and Ruth both adore being in the garden harvesting. Telling these kids we’ll go pull carrots is tantamount to saying, “Let’s go to Six Flags!” Just sheer enthusiasm. In fact, as I was writing this, Miles schlepped in from the garden cheerfully announcing he’d picked some peppers for me (not sure what state the pepper plants will be in when I head out to check).
When I go out in the mornings to reluctantly chore (not overplaying the Martyr role here, just highlighting how very *reluctant* I am), the sun is cresting the neighbor’s hills to the east and the grass is wet and the smell here in mid-Missouri is just fantastic. My Zyrtec and Benadryl can’t touch the allergy issues, but you can’t beat the smell. Even the smell of damp animals is appealing – not wet dog smell, just the smell of sweet animals who nudge you when you come to feed and water them, reminding you that you’re connected to something greater. I feel so spiritual at these times. I feel so grateful to have these blessings, to have the health, the time, the energy, the means to mosey about my beautiful acreage doing rather mundane tasks (and repeatedly stepping in poop of some sort). I feel like I’m part of an incredible cycle of life when I am riding the 4-wheeler (with the kids seated behind encouraging me to drive faster, even though I never do) along the edges of the hot fence to make sure the calves (it’s always the calves) don’t get out the hot fence because the real fencing had to be put off again so he could go back “to work” to pay the bills.
It’s ironic that working on the farm is about 10 times harder than MY work, and I’m going to presume, also harder than HIS work (probably not 10 times harder, though, since welding is some seriously manual labor). Then again, it’s about 10 times more rewarding (beyond a monetary valuation). I imagine much of the connection comes from knowing that rain (or drought) or critters or too much sun or too little sun or bugs can affect the crop that comes in at the end of the season (and I’ve long bemoaned to my farmer-girlfriend how I hate the insecurity, the financial insecurity, of farming). Thanks for always letting me gripe, Christy. We could lose the cows to pink eye, we could lose them while they labor, we could lose out on the crop costing more to put in than it yields. All that being said, it makes one more aware of the inter-dependency of Man-Land-God. I think that I idealize farming because it’s I honestly can’t think of any other vocation (or livelihood, if one prefers) that has such a splendid inter-dependency, and such an inspiring opportunity for introspection.
Last, I think I idealize farming because I was such a wanderer for *so* many years, and never really sunk in roots anywhere. Seriously — I’ve moved 34 times in my life. Although Addie and Rebecca turned out splendidly as a result of those gypsy days, and know greater diversity and love and acceptance than any parent could hope for, Miles and Ruth will grow up with a tie to ONE place. I can’t begin to imagine how that will influence possible differences in their upbringing, but I know there’s very little sweeter than watching a 4-year old boy run out to the driveway so he can hop up in Grandpa’s tractor, even if it’s just to unload a pallet of wood pellets and won’t take 5 minutes. I mean, this boy will RUN to a tractor. Ruth will sit there and cry because she wants a turn, but is too little to bounce around on the buddy seat at this point – but the day will come when she’ll get to ride in the tractor (because Mama is all about equality of opportunity and none of this sexism stuff). Someday (soon) they’ll be running out to gather the eggs and check the afternoon water levels for the animals, and (continue) to traipse all manner of dirt in on their boots, and Miles will bring in 10 buckeyes that get dropped around the house for me to pick up when I’m cleaning. They’ll have a tie to land and community that I didn’t know growing up, and while some part of me envies them that, the other is so glad that they can decide one day if THEY want to farm this legacy their father and I have left them. That thought gives me goose bumps. Sure, they might hate farming, decide to sell the land, or have a nasty sibling squabble over the estate when we die, leaving no one with enough money to actually run the farm. Still, they *could* farm it if they wanted. That’s justifiably weepy, isn’t it?
Now it’s time to put on some Willie Nelson, cook for my Labor Day camping trip, and clean my house.
PS — Pavla, I’m not smart enough to write about the harms of Monsanto, but I AM smart enough to know I like my food grown naturally, without chemicals when possible or genetic modifications.