Thursday, May 15, 2008

Finding Our Work


"You are always working so hard out here."

A familiar voice jolts me. I look up from seedlings and weeds, a trowel clutched in one hand and mud smeared across my legs. A neighbor smiles at me as she walks her yellow lab by my yard.

I suppose to the untrained eye, I do appear to be "working". Dirt has taken up permanent residence under my fingernails and stains the cracks and cuts in my hands. Wood chips, yanked Santa Barbara daisies (I have way too many of those) and tomato cages litter my front lawn. I grin back and wipe my hands on my shorts. Sweat dribbles down my forehead, soaks between my shoulder blades. "I'm getting there," I answer, gesturing to the flowered expanse humming with bees.

Watching my neighbor meander up the street, sipping her iced coffee, I think, this is not work. I know what work is and this ain't it. For nearly a decade, I occupied a chilled office overlooking a pinch of the Golden Gate Bridge. I spent my days pecking away at a keyboard, writing somebody else's dreams. Neither heat wave nor cold spell affected my wardrobe. Lunch was gathered from the food courts choking the San Francisco bay and eaten in front of the computer or at a meeting.

That may not sound like work. Certainly, my muscles never strained. I never wiped sweat from my hairline, dabbed sunscreen too late on reddened shoulders, or massaged beeswax lotion over cracked fingers. It was not work for the body . . . but for the spirit and for the soul.

We are not meant to live our entire lives inside, watching the trees and the ocean through a glass window. We should not be removed from the seasons, unable to pinpoint when spring's cool afternoons give way to summer's heavy heat, relying only on the 11 o'clock news to know how to dress our children for school. From the cubicles, offices and corridors, we cannot smell the thick perfume of orange blossoms, cradle a wriggling earthworm in wonder before settling it back into the soil, or hear the dizzying drone of bees at work. We cannot pluck snap peas from their flowered vines, sample a barely red strawberry, or dig for new potatoes.

Beany recently commented that she purchased $19.50 worth of fresh produce from a farmer her own age. She reflected that she makes roughly the same amount for an hour's worth of desk work and felt, in a way, that he had worked much harder for that same $19.50. While I agree with her that farmers should be paid more, I would argue that that farmer had worked less hard than she, if he had worked at all.

Undoubtedly, the farmer was up before dawn, watching the sunrise, feeling its warmth finger across the land, smelling the earth on the produce he had picked as he drove to market. Day in and day out, he buries his hands in the dirt, eases out weeds, gently guides cucumber and squash vines. He wages war against snails and slugs, gophers and aphids - seamlessly switching strategies to outsmart the elements and coax a harvest from the land. As that farmer goes to bed, however, he has sun and wind soaked into his bones. He has been intimate with the earth, the soil, the slowly shifting seasons. His body is tired, beyond exhausted. I know, though, that his spirit must sing, alighting on wings over our brightly lit offices, grey cubbies, and stark elevators before settling into five acres of freedom.

That is not work. It is heaven.


23 comments:

Nicole J. said...

Really beautiful. I heartedly agree.

Kristin H. said...

I like your blog :)

eco 'burban mom said...

Again, beautifully written! There is something satisfying and quantifiable about planting, weeding, growing and blooming that just doesn't happen while typing away at a desk. Ooops, that's what I should be doing right now! Gotta go! :o)

Going Crunchy said...

I have farmers, planters and gardeners in my lineage. My aunt always said she can either have an hour of digging and planting or an hour of therapy. She choses to plant.

Beany said...

That's a good point about it being not work.

Every evening I look forward to the few minutes I spend with my plants fussing over them making sure that they are still alive and coming out of my work induced coma. And its certainly one of the more pleasurable things I've gotten introduced to.

Joyce said...

I'm glad you said we are not meant to live our entire lives inside. I have always felt that we are really meant to live outside most of the time. It is harder to do in a colder climate, but my brother-in-law lives in Sweden, and he says people go out and walk and play winter sports all winter long, even sitting outside to eat lunch (because that's the time of day when the sun is out). How did we come to be such inside people? At least the gardening, walking and biking that the green movement promotes should help to counteract this to some degree.

Melinda said...

Beautiful post, GB.

She-Ra said...

I was in my yard/garden "working" all day. It was hard and I'm exhausted but in a good way. Trying to finish the veggie planting and continuing the war on the chameleon plant that is trying to devour my lot. Covering the grass with other plants bit by bit. Everything I do leads me to 3 other things that need done. But rewarding at the end of the day.

kendra said...

Great post. Anything that you enjoy doing, no matter what the subject matter, no matter how hard you labor, is not work. Lucky for us we enjoy the 'work' of growing our own food.

AJK said...

Wonderful post. It reflects my sentiments exactly. I'm currently sitting, clacking and pushing buttons in an air-conditioned office, dreaming about my future urban homestead. I just started on a new journey to self-sustenance. I love being outdoors, checking on each plant to make sure they are doing well, seeing their progress and battling the slugs. You can see my progress on my blog. Best of Luck to you!

Wild Orchids for Trotsky said...

This is a beautiful post. Having grown up in dairy farming country, though, I'd have to add that these days it *is* very hard work to be a farmer (especially a small farmer), in exactly the monetary sense you mention. Competing with huge farms run like national corporations, the small farmer rarely makes a good living (and often has to supplement that income working another job). Support for small farms from those who shop at farmer's markets really helps, though, as do organic farming cooperatives which buy from small farms. Thanks for some great thoughts and word paintings.

pink dogwood said...

I totally agree with you. Every evening I come home from work and spend some time in my yard pulling out weeds and - I love that time of the day - a great de-stresser.

you write so beautifully - great post.

Melanie J. said...

Man, can you write! I discovered you just in the last week or two and it's like sidling up to an old friend. Thank you so much for your shared escapades in the world of green; you've given me some great ideas and a pile of motivation.

spelled with a K said...

my gardening activities are usually done immediately after my job is done. That way I can eat dinner and face my family feeling like I actually accomplished something.

The results speak for themselves, just ask my wife.

Jennifer said...

I could putter in my garden all ay. My husband always says... "But it's SUNDAY! We don't HAVE to work! We can just relax." And he's right! BUt he doesn't understand that digging and planting and weeding IS relaxation.

Lori said...

Thanks for the beautifully written post. Although I'm still very new at this veggie gardening thing, my husband has already noticed that I'm a much happier, better adjusted person after I come in from gardening. It certainly doesn't feel like work as I know it.

Raw Food Diva said...

hey greeny ditch the sunblock it is poison. always wear a hat & gloves in the yard and invest in some white linen or cotton long sleeve blouses. Cover up is your best sunblock. Remember our grandmothers always wore hats and gloves..there was wisdom in that.

kale for sale said...

You cracked me up about no season affecting your wardrobe. You've been here! - She says in a black cashmere sweater on a 90 degree day.

CindyW said...

It is funny how everyone sees work so differently. I worked in a corporate campus, where every building had the same layout. Employees can go from building to building knowing exactly where the elevators are and where the bathrooms are. While it is efficient, it is also oh-so creepy. It's like living out a futurist movie where seasons don't matter and locations don't matter. The single most consistent view includes same-sized cubicles, with "white-collar" employees staring at their laptop, no matter which building you go into. Matrix-ish.

Alec said...

Awesome post. There was an article in the NYT yesterday about living in Kyrgyzstan and how some people have gone back to basically living off the land like in the old US frontier days instead of working in old Soviet era factories. As I read the story I thought, hey that doesn't sound so bad to me! I wouldn't mind living that life!

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/15/world/asia/15kyrgyz.html?scp=5&sq=Kyrgyzstan&st=nyt

Maddie Can Fly said...

You hit the nail right on (my) the head. I wear sweaters and wool socks year round in my freezing office. Never use A/C at home as I never thaw out. Love being outside and hate every minute trapped in this office. Can't wait until the day comes when I'm free!

ruralaspirations said...

Your writing is so lovely. Thanks for a great, inspiring post. Again. :-)

Christy said...

I agree. Farming doesn't feel like work at all. It is just so satisfying. Now trying to teach a bunch of teenagers something they don't care about, that is work!

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