February 5, 2013 § 5 Comments
Seeing as how I’m still putting the finishing touches on my keynote for this weekend’s PASA conference, I’m going to post a couple of short excerpts from some upcoming projects.
We quickly settled into a rhythm: I’d reach through the open gate of the wagon, pluck a bale off the pile, and place it on the elevator, which is little more than a revolving row of large metal teeth set into a steel frame. Leaned up against the barn from ground to third story haymow, the elevator looked a bit like a ladder, albeit one tilted at a worryingly shallow angle. The upward churning teeth sunk into the soft underbelly of each bale and carried it up, up, up, until it plopped off the high end at Rye’s feet, at which point he would grab the bale by its twin loops of twine and muscle it into the growing pile behind him. Since we couldn’t hear each other over the elevator’s racket, Rye and I communicated by hand signals. He raised his arms and shook his hands in an imploring motion; at first, I assumed he needed a break, but the motions only became more imploring, and I realized he was asking me to place the bales closer together, so there would be less down time between each one.
Within an hour, we had the majority of the bales unloaded, and Melvin had finished milking. He emerged from the milk house and we all set to moving them from the big pile Rye had made, carrying each bale a hundred or so feet along the length of the loft floor, to where we could stack them neatly along the back gable wall. Melvin and Rye stacked the low bales and, being by far the tallest of the bunch, I stacked the top rows. In the vast, open space of the barn the stacks looked almost inconsequential, and I knew it was maybe three days worth of feed for his small herd of cows. Three days out of the 200 or so days they’d need to be fed hay over the year, and for a moment I thought about all of the essential work that happens that most of us never see, that goes unheralded and unnoticed. Unappreciated.
The three of us stood for a moment in the broad opening to the haymow, and for a second, I wished to see us from below with our silhouettes visible against the barns great, yawning mouth. I thought about how, as much as anything else, I wish to instill in my boys a quiet appreciation for precisely the sort of work we’d just done and for the people who devote their lives to it. Such work and people are rare things, I think, and getting rarer, in this era of mechanization and industry built on artifices of productivity: Money made from money, and not to meet any immediate need, but for the sake of nothing more than mere accumulation.
And, from the keynote itself…
I believe there comes a point at which more information might actually be counterproductive, when the flow and volume of all those facts and numbers becomes little more than a distraction, an almost impenetrable logjam between ourselves – not just our intellectualized selves, but our whole selves – and the world around us. I realize that this view is antithetical to our contemporized relationship to information, which the Internet and so-called “mobile devices” have driven to new levels of codependence. We live in the “information age” and we are told that the ability to beckon Siri at a whim, to have her call forth in her stilted, digitized voice any small bit of trivia we find ourselves tragically bereft of, is one of the great perks of the 21st century. Perhaps more worryingly, this view is antithetical to our contemporized expectations for our children who, we are told, must be groomed to compete on a global stage. To do so, we are to believe that they must be armed with the standardized information that will allow them to vanquish their peers and return the United States to its former glory. To this end, last year five states voted to increase the amount of time their children will spend in school by as much as 300 hours annually.
At this point, it is probably important to distinguish between information and knowledge. And while there are many ways to explain this difference, perhaps the most succinct is to point out that knowledge – true knowing – depends on experience. It depends on doing. It is, more often that not, a curator of skill and, in so much as those skills must be learned from others, knowledge is also a curator of relationships. Knowledge demands patience. It demands investment – not in money, but in the true currency of our lives: Time.