Generally, I am not a huge fan of tired aphorisms. They have always seemed to be so obvious as to not be worth saying anymore. That all changed these past two weeks, when I figured out first hand why that first person felt compelled to say out loud, “many hands make light work.” Last weekend, my buddies Mike Larivee and Marie Dennan were kind enough to spend their Saturday afternoon battling 12 foot tall blackberries vines (no seriously, see below) and this sticky little plant that known as any of the following: cat brier, greenbrier, or smilax.
You see, on one of my many walks around the fence line of our main pasture, I decided that I wanted to expand the fence line to include more woods and scrubby stuff to accommodate more goats and pigs who like to eat such things. My plan was fueled by my realization that the new fence I had planned was in fact the spot of the original fence line. I quickly learned why it had changed. It seems that if you let a fence line grow over with smilax and blackberries you have a choice: spend backbreaking hours getting cut up by thorns or build a new fence. Over the past 50 years, the latter option had been chosen at least twice on this pasture, resulting in a much diminished pasture. So, our reclamation work was indeed daunting (we ended up abandoning about 1/4 of it in the end). We actually ended up clearing off two distinct abandoned fence lines in order to reclaim usable t-posts.
We got a hellofalotta work done on Saturday. That’s great enough, but more than that I’m struck by two things:
1. My friends are pretty incredible. Mike and Marie gave up a day of their weekend to get cut up, bug bitten, sweaty, and tired with me. More than that, they seemed to enjoy themselves. Now, I’m known by my friends for being a grumpy, curmudgeonly fellow, and I’ve done more than my fair share of complaining as this farm thing gets up off the ground. However, all that negative feeling washes away when you get to work with your friends, which brings us to point number two:
2. Farming on your own is not easy. We have this image of the farmer (admit it, he’s white and male in your head too), as this burly guy who loves his solitude and can take care of himself. I’m convinced this person does not and has never existed. Don’t get me wrong, I value solitude more than the average bear, and working alone is both enjoyable and character building. Maybe its just the burliness that I’m lacking, but this week, without help, it seems like things take double or triple as long as they would with another person. Lifting plywood at the hardware store becomes a chore that tires you out before you get to use the stuff; forgetting a tool at the house means you have to pack all the other tools up and make another trip because there is no one to watch the worksite while you are gone; and most importantly the beer at the end of the day doesn’t taste nearly as good as when you toast with friends over your hard work…not that the beer is so terrible on your own.
I think a lot of people go into farming or idealize farmers because something about our culture elevates the loner, the person who’s self-sufficient, the John Wayne cowboy-guy. However, in my very, very, very short experience farming, I have begun to suspect the successful farmer is anything but. Sure, you need grit, you must love working outside with your body, you need to be willing to work hard and be alone, but as Wendell Berry describes this work:
“We are working well when we use ourselves as the fellow creatures of the plants, animals, materials, and other people we are working with. Such work is unifying, healing. It brings us home from pride and from despair, and places us responsible within the human estate. It defines us as we are: not too good to work with our bodies, but too good to work poorly or joylessly or selfishly or alone.”