My Own Story
May 24, 2012 § 7 Comments
With Apple, our primary milk cow, dried off in anticipation of her early June freshening, we have not been milking for nearly two months. Yesterday, we finished the last pound of the butter we’d made, and when Penny took the boys to music lessons, she actually bought butter… for the first time in probably half a decade. I guess 150-pounds isn’t quite enough to get us through the year. Lesson learned.
Not many people would consider milking cows and making butter “convenient.” I mean, you’ve got the actual act of milking and butter-making; during the flush of early summer grass, this is an hour-per-day proposition. But truth is, that ain’t the half of it, because you’ve also got the hay that needs to be put up and fed out; you’ve got the shelter that needs to be constructed and maintained; you’ve got the water that needs to be kept unfrozen all winter long; you’ve got the calves that need to be reared and then… what? Slaughtered? Sold? Bred and milked themselves? You’ve got a life that must be forever bent to the needs of those big, lumbering, cud-chewing beasts. There will be no vacations, no sleeping in, no late nights on the town. So many tasks, so many compromises, and all for a bit of milk and butter.
All that considered, you might think we would relish the two-month break we get every year as we allow Apple her annual respite. But the funny thing is, our idea of “convenience” has been utterly transformed over the years. Now, we consider it inconvenient to buy butter. Now, we consider it inconvenient to seek out milk of the freshness and quality to which we’ve become accustomed. And what of the days spent riding the hay wagon, hauling and stacking the big, scratchy square bales until we are literally shaking with fatigue? No doubt there will come a time when I am no longer able to maintain this task, when it will be not merely convenient, but essential that I hire it done. But I dearly hope that time is many decades hence.
I believe that the contemporary definition of “convenience,” which seems to have evolved to be shorthand for whatever allows us to go about our overly-scheduled lives with the minimum of disruption, is deeply flawed and downright destructive. And it is not hard to see how this definition is the product of a commodity economy that very much wants us to believe we need to purchase the products and services that are so delightfully convenient. Microwave meals are “convenient”; so too are snacks that come in squeezable tubes. Iphones are convenient, and apparently, no more so than when they talk back at you. Wireless internet. Kindles and rear seat DVD players. All of these things – and so many more – are pitched as time and labor savers, as ways to smooth over the rough edges of our busy, fragmented lives. But somehow the carrot of the convenient, less hectic life they promise remains forever dangling just out of reach. I mean, think about it: For all these convenient time and labor saving devices, how many people are less busy than they were a decade or two ago?
I have come to see how my choices and actions can be reduced to a simple question: What am I saying “yes” to? By doing this, or buying that, am I saying “yes” to a world I want to live in? Or am I simply saying “yes” to the story I am being told by the commodity economy? It’s a simple, almost trite way of looking at things, I’ll grant you that. But what’s interesting is that almost every time I say “yes” to something that fits the contemporary definition of convenience, I see how I am choosing to be part of that story.
Maybe that’s why I like keeping cows. It feels like I’m writing my own story.