Work of the Mind

April 23, 2014 § 18 Comments

Cree snow shovels in progress

Cree snow shovels in progress

The boys and I busted out early this morning to scout turkeys, for turkey season is nigh and the fellas are full of hope. I did not want to go into the woods at 5 a.m. but I did, and once I was moving it felt good enough. We sat for a while at the edge of Melvin’s back pasture but did not hear any gobbles. We were home by 6, did chores, cooked breakfast, and that was that. Another day begun.

The past couple of weeks have been pretty intense, what with the book and the onset of spring proper. Most mornings I’ve been at my desk by 5:00, managing to stay put for maybe a half-dozen hours, before heading outside until dark or nearly so. There is much to be done. The upper greenhouse needs new hip and base boards and a door built. We need a new chicken coop. There is still more firewood to be split and stacked, and perhaps even more to be pulled from the woods; I thought I’d be well and done by now, but the deep snows of March kept me out of the woods. By the time our various tree orders all arrive, there will be somewhere around 200 trees and bushes to plant. The copse of fir I started clearing January needs finishing. There is a large pile of sawlogs awaiting the mill’s toothy embrace. And so on. It is not a small amount of work.

In one of the chapters of the Chelsea Green book, I talk about the skills we call on most. More and more, I’m realizing that skills of the hand play a relatively minor role in the success (or lack thereof) of our holding. It’s the skills of the head that get us through, and perhaps none are so important as equanimity. Yesterday was one of those days when I almost lost my cool; I felt as if I could not keep straight in my head everything that needed to be done, and in the process even the smallest and simplest of tasks came to tower above me like a penance for misdeeds I’d long ago forgotten or perhaps had never even recognized as such.

At 5:30, when I remembered that I needed to bring the seedlings in off the porch – a 15 minute job, if that – I almost lost my shit. Penny was still planting peas, there were no plans for dinner, and the house was a mess – dishes high in the sink, muddy foot prints from one end to the other, something like six consecutive loads of clean laundry in a jumbled pile at the top of the stairs, and so on. But the boys chipped in and we got the seedlings tucked away for the night and I made strawberry smoothies for dinner and Penny got the peas planted and I put away the laundry, wiped up the muddy prints with an old tee shirt, and did the most offensive of the dishes. You know what? It was still only 8.

For anyone out there who hopes to someday grow their own food, cut their own firewood, build their own buildings, kill their own pigs, and so on, here’s my unasked for advice: Learn the skills of the hand, definitely, because lord knows, you’re gonna need them. But the real secret to making this place work has little to do with work of the muscles. The real secret is doing what needs to be done without letting what needs to be done become bigger than it actually is.

Truth is, it’s the work of the mind that gets us by.

 

 

§ 18 Responses to Work of the Mind

  • Good one! And so true!

  • sara says:

    Thank you Ben. This was so timely. I was journaling about this early this morning… feeling overwhelmed with the length of the to-do list plus chores and how these Spring days, with all their loveliness, seem to grow the list(s) exponentially.

  • I am preoccupied by the challenges of balancing a life of the hand and a life of the mind. That preoccupation got its start when I was nearing the end of college. By the time I halfway through grad school, it had taken over my days. Not long after finishing grad school, my wife and I bought 12 acres on a mountain and here I am.

    At the university, the life of the hand is unheard of. In the farm community where I grew up, the life of the mind is unheard of. It wasn’t long after I left my family’s farm that I started sensing the tension between the two. With the passing of a few more years, I started to realize I had to somehow live in both worlds if I was to remain sane. Here I am. Sane.

    As for balancing the hand/mind on a working homestead—yes, there is that balance, too. I’ve found that an overabundance of coffee on an April morning is really dangerous.

    • Eumaeus says:

      as long as i get outside and to work on something physically involved quick, the overabundance of coffee seems to be okay. if i linger long the bean’s energies are not properly directed and my wife yells at me to get out…

  • “Yesterday was one of those days when I almost lost my cool; I felt as if I could not keep straight in my head everything that needed to be done, and in the process even the smallest and simplest of tasks came to tower above me like a penance for misdeeds I’d long ago forgotten or perhaps had never even recognized as such.

    At 5:30, when I remembered that I needed to bring the seedlings in off the porch – a 15 minute job, if that – I almost lost my shit. Penny was still planting peas, there were no plans for dinner, and the house was a mess – dishes high in the sink, muddy foot prints from one end to the other, something like six consecutive loads of clean laundry in a jumbled pile at the top of the stairs, and so on.”

    This!
    I am sooo gratefull that I am not the only one “fighting those battles”!
    Thanks for reminding me.

  • noel miller says:

    Perfect timing. I have a tiny suburban homestead, and I feel like I’ve been running around like a chicken with its head cut off just preparing my two raised beds and making bread and such. I can’t imagine how it feels to actually run a full-fledged family farm. But if you can keep your ish together than I sure as heck can. Thanks for the words of wisdom.

  • Sandra Ragsdale says:

    The longest journey begins with the first step. I find that when I have too much to do, I just start doing the thing I most don’t want to do and then I feel good about my self-discipline and everything else seems to fall into place.

  • NeoNoah says:

    It was country here for a long time, but the small town that was nearby has become quite the busy city almost to our doorstep. It is so easy now, when I am tired and dirty(lovely dirt) with barely enough energy left just to shower, to call in a pizza delivery. Thanks for helping me to remain in the mindset to find a bit more grit and get our own supper and help clean up the mess.

  • Kent says:

    There is no question that I am able to accomplish an amazing quantity of work if I FIRST engage my mind to: 1) compartmentalize the seeming overwhelming myriad of “stuff” into discrete manageable tasks, and 2) launch into accomplishing each discrete task with a positive attitude. Thanks for reminding me of this important tool we all possess between our ears!

  • Pam R. says:

    Often feel overwhelmed here. Lately it’s the 13 yr old and 28 yr old vehicles falling apart. Gardens needing planted, money to be found for various and sundry, and then on top of it, the daily chores. Often, just plain overwhelming, both head and hand.

    Sometimes there’s days we just can’t drag ourselves out for much, depressing. But then a beautiful spring day appears and we step back and run at the to do pile again and make headway.

    It’s enough, to keep us going.

  • Eumaeus says:

    “I almost lost my shit.” Hewitt, there is a really nice display on local food at our main library in downtown Indy (i had to do a stint today there) your book, Town that food saved, is front and center. You da man. I tried sending you a picture but it didn’t go through. I heard talk about people enjoying spring…. yeah, it is that time of year i tend to think i can get stuff done before the weeds win. the time of optimism. i make myself too busy. BUT i recognize it. and as my penance- i take time to look at how buds are swelling and (cliche_ smell the flowers on the all blooming – now asian pears, amer. plum and stanleys and the very begining of the apples. and then those first asparagus meals start… and i tried milkweed shoots today for the first time and i’ll be damned if they don’t taste just like asparagus – peeled them a little and cooked them all together with some volunteer garlic. and then “it’s all good from diego to the bay”

  • LyndaD says:

    Sounds like you need to apply that big brain of yours and call in some friends for a spring hoedown or bbq or whatever you guys call a “busy bee”. Clear the backlog and eat some “grub” which here means food and beer.

  • This is so true for us right now. We’re in the midst of a huge transition from town to off grid homesteading. We lovingly call it our homestead, but really, it’s a 10 acre field. We’re making the move in just one month and I’ve been running in circles with all that needs to be done… packing up the house, pounding a well, getting a garden started, building a small house. Last week, I lost it. None of the kids would even come near me. ;) I decided that we needed to break down the tasks into manageable pieces, instead of focusing on the whole picture all the time. It’s far too overwhelming. As a result, this week has gone much more smooth and I’ve gotten a lot accomplished. Anyway, it’s nice to know seasoned veterans feel that way sometimes too.

  • I’ve had several days of walking the line between sanity and its opposite lately. A visit from my mom, the never-ending list of to-do’s, the lost wallet, the mountains of laundry and dishes, the sick boy, etc. All that and much more in the course of each and every of the past 8 days. And yet, in every case, I get to the end having accomplished more than I thought possible and with a sense of contentment. I’ve always had busy days, but being a mom has given me an edge on contentment that wasn’t my previous norm. Something about all the work being worthwhile. Thanks again for putting my thoughts into words, these days there’s precious little time for me to do that myself.

  • ncfarmchick says:

    I can’t quote you exactly but you mentioned in an earlier post something about what will get done now will get done and what doesn’t will get done later (or something like that.) While there are timelines in farming, many deadlines that bother us most are really self-inflicted. Good to occasionally step back being honest with oneself and say, “No, I don’t really have to do that now, I want to (or, I want the end product, so I have to do xyz to get there.”) Seems to help take the pressure off so you can just move on.

  • Dawn says:

    Sharing that “secret” because you worded it a lot more eloquently than my usual ranting. Self-discipline is a very productive skill to possess.

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