20. The Rhythm of the Farm
I'm not a particularly musical individual. I don't play any instruments (tried to learn the guitar with the encouragement of my uncle when I was 13, made little progress and quickly lost steam). I'm not an excellent dancer, and it takes a lot of concentration for me to even hold a rhythm. My girlfriend is quite disappointed that I don't really enjoy attending live music, but she's stayed with me and only occasionally pushes or drags me to a show.
But I have found a rhythm I actually do understand lately. It's a cadence I can keep easily, that comes naturally to me. It's the rhythm of the farm, and it manifests itself in several tempos:
Daily – Of course, the first thing a farmer does daily is wake up. He puts his pants on the same way you do. He likely has a morning ritual comprised of breakfast, coffee, and checking the weather forecast. In my experience, this routine is often narrated by the sounds of the local public radio station. When he arrives in the field, he makes an assessment: what needs to be done today? The answer here may very easily have shifted from just 10 hours ago, depending on whether a herd of hungry deer may have passed through overnight, or perhaps an unexpected order for heads of lettuce has come in and needs filled. The farmer then spends the next six or ten or more hours ticking things off the list, always in order from most urgent to least. The list never gets to zero, and often new tasks get added throughout the day. But you can't work forever, and eventually quitting time (or dark) always comes. So that's when rest, relaxation, supper, and often cold adult beverages are achieved.
Weekly – On Monday, the list is at its longest. The week ahead is filled with potential and converting that potential into harvest starts here. He weeds, seeds, plants, transplants, tills, waters and feeds his way through Thursday. On Friday, it's harvest day: he cuts and picks, washes and packages, and if he's on his best behavior, he tallies the numbers of goods as he goes. By the end of the day, he's loading the truck with tables, tents, signs, bags and veggies. Don't forget the veggies! Because tomorrow, Saturday, is market day, when he'll check in with all the loyal customers, and hopefully meet some new ones. He'll sling his product all day in the hot sun until he's got no more edibles or energy to give. So it's a good thing tomorrow is Sunday, the day of rest.
Yearly – The growing season has a very deliberate and consistent downbeat to it. Not much growing can start before the ground thaws in March or April. But the farmer is often eagerly at work in the greenhouse before then, trying to anticipate the weather and sprouting batches of tender seedlings. By May, it's usually full go, with tillers running and starts being buried neck deep in dirt. June, July, and August are usually a balanced boogie of trellising, addressing pests, watering, harvesting and re-planting. September and October are the months of bounty, when even the slowest crops are coming to maturity. And while on this trip, I've heard several WWOOFers ask, “What do you do in the winter?” The answer is always that there is still work to be done. Winter is the time for repairs, (weather permitting) planning, canning, drying and reflection. He orders seeds and supplies for the coming year. The work days may be shorter and involve fewer physical steps, but the farmer must use this time wisely, because the falling snow always melts eventually.
I feel myself drawn to these rhythms in a very ineffable way. Over the last few years, I've danced these steps in my own garden with increasing ease and understanding. And immersing myself in the farm life on this WWOOFing trip has infused me even more with a desire to keep the tempo moving forward.