When days get hard around here, I often feel the presence of a door that marches along beside me, beckoning me to open it. For some reason it is labeled ‘The Easy Door’. What it refers to is me calling up someone I know inside that set of towers I once worked in and asking for a job again. But I am not fooled.
On the plus side, the Easy Door would bring a regular pay cheque, a chance to don my clean clothes, an opportunity to do thinking and writing work again, lunch with colleagues, alone time in my car on my way to the city listening to my audio books, and a chance to work in ‘the bigger picture’ on things that affect the world.
But I am all too aware that the Easy Door is actually a hatch. If I open it, down I would fall into the place where I no longer have control over how much time I spend with my kids. It is a place where I spend money to make money (clothes, parking, lunch, gas…) It is a place where I don’t actually feel good at what I’m doing. I actually am never quite sure what I am doing in the bigger picture. Apparently there is a Minister up there in that tower somewhere making decisions that may or may not include my excellent ‘scientific advice to management’. I’m guessing what I did matters not at all in the larger picture.
Here on the farm I get dirt under my fingernails (along with other unmentionable smelly stuff). I scrub out the dirt and join my family in a van ride to the city twice a week to deliver real food to real people. We get excellent feedback. Am I changing the world? I think not. Do I feel like I’m doing something meaningful? Oh, yes! Every single day.
My mother is big on reminding me when I complain about a hard day that this was the life that I chose. She is right.
A soldier goes off to fight for their country in a war. A mother awakens to feed her baby in the middle of the night. A person wakes up before the sun to put on running shoes for her marathon training. A farmer secures food for family and community. These choices are not easy in the day to day, but the larger passion that draws the person is what sustains them.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Choosing to grow and raise food is not easy. Things don’t always go as expected. The opportunities for complaining are limitless.
This morning I visited my pastured chickens in the field to make the daily move of their mobile pen onto fresh grass. Two things happen when the creek of the metal frame starts to budge. My thirty odd birds go crackers over every inch of new grass exposed to them. And three cows come trotting across the pasture to clean up any stray grain that may have been left behind where the pen once was.
Today I noted that only two of my three Jerseys came running. One was lamely limping her way over far behind the crowd. It was my old girl, Lilybelle. The one we’ve never been able to breed after numerous attempts. The one who’s eyes are saggy and she looks as though she’s 110 years old. We don’t know how old she actually is. She always looks pregnant so we are fooled every year about the calf that never comes. I scratched her on the side of her face when she arrived just as she likes it and realized that with this lame foot of hers may well mean we will be blessed with a mountain of ground beef very soon. This kind of realization is hard and heartbreaking. But the show must go on. And we all have to earn our keep. And my job is to put various meats in the freezer.
With every bit of might and will that I own I have decided to stay home on this farm and be closer to my kids, my land and my life. My life is definitely my ‘choice’.
We all have beliefs that guide our lives. Even the belief that global warming, peak oil and pesticide usage are only concerns for extremists is a belief system. Some risk their lives for their beliefs. I traveled to Africa in my mid-twenties because I was utterly obsessed with Louis Leakey’s ‘angels’ that had given their lives to work with Great Apes. Dian Fossey (played by Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist movie) literally gave her life as she was murdered in her bed for the Gorillas she was protecting. Jane Goodall is, well, an undeniable hero for the animals that she has fought for going on 50 years of her life now.
Birute Galdikas was the third angel. I met her in Vancouver some years ago as we were working on the idea of a reforestation project in Indonesia. I babbled on and on about my dreams of working with apes the way she did. After apparently too many minutes of me talking she stopped me, looked me straight in the eye and said: ‘your reasons are too selfish. It isn’t about you. You have to do it for the cause’. Gulp. At the time I knew she was right.
We all bend (or break) for the things we truly believe in. That is how we know we've found our place. Whereas, we only dabble and dip into the things we kinda like and that rock our world, but the things we would DIE for? Bet you don’t have a long list for that. I know I don’t.
What I do know is that I would rather die than give up my health and happiness and family’s well-being for a pay cheque. I suppose what we are willing to die for is the corollary for what we are living for. When things get hard, we stick it out because we have truly made a choice that matters more to us than life or death itself.
I often wonder what sort of ‘choice’ I’ve made here. It is not the easiest choice if you look at it superficially. I’m sentencing myself to a lifetime of endless work, unfinished jobs, mountains of poop, needy living things and a tired body. But when I look at the alternatives, the choice to stay here on the farm is an easy one. I passionately believe in making nutritious food grown in a healthy environment available to my family and my people.
And don’t get me wrong, the complaining might be great but the perks are also fantastic. Fresh air, children who play wonderfully in their space, feelings of accomplishment, overcoming obstacles, tiny moments of pure pleasure and appreciation as a butterfly lands on your arm or a wind dries the sweat from your brow. Making a meal out of food that has come from our own hard work is the beginning, middle and end of fulfillment for me right now.
No matter how many times I consider dropping it all and walking (or falling) back to my cubicle in the city, I keep coming back to the same conclusion. I thank God for the health that we all have for today. This health is partially a product of a certain kind of simplicity we are letting into our lives. I cherish this immensely.
When things get hard, I remind myself that it is not a difficult life that I have chosen. If I were to give up farming, at this point anyway, I may as well lie down and go to sleep. Every part of me that cares for my family, my body, this earth, my community would have given up.
And I choose to live.