I like to do different things. Sometimes I like to do things differently, too, but that’s not what I’m talking about right now. What I mean is that I am happy to have a diversity of works at hand. Not just one kind of work, all the time. This is one of the reasons that this life, on the farm and homestead, works for me. There are many kinds of work to do.
The work varies at any given moment. We’ve got to have an eye on the chickens, which have different needs from the turkeys. Beans need to be direct seeded and cabbages planted in blocks or trays many weeks before they go into the ground. Potting soil for mini blocks is different than soil for trays. Carrots don’t want to grow in a freshly manured bed, but tomatoes tolerate directly decomposing food scraps. A hoe uses a different part of my back than the digging fork, and altogether different muscles are involved in hand weeding and transplanting.
That’s not to say that I’m good at all these jobs. There are some I’m not good at AT ALL, but it rounds out because I have a real knack for other tasks. We all have our gifts, and those can be a comfort when faced with other works that are more challenging to our disposition.
The work also changes drastically from season to season. Come Spring, we are covered in potting soil. Our minds are continually calculating row feet per seedling and how many blocks fit in a tray. Is the moon waxing or waning? Fall is different. Now there are tomato cages to stack, beans to shell, squashes and sweet potatoes to squirrel away, and hunting season to contemplate.
There’s this wonderful principle I’ve been contemplating lately. I’ve heard it discussed by yogis and people who meditate. Simply put: If you do something long enough, you get good at it.
I think it’s completely true, and I love to think of it terms of our work in the garden. There are jobs we do often, and we get good at them fast. Hoeing for instance. After the long winter’s break, I feel rusty at hoeing. It takes a row or two to warm up, and then my body remembers, and I can feel myself set a good working pace. Then, there are tasks that only come up once a year. If we don’t take good notes, we can easily forget any good system we developed for keeping the weeds from growing into the tomato cages, for instance. Sometimes we learn more slowly. It takes more seasons, more years, to get good at some things. And that’s OK. As long as we keep our will strong, we continue to grow, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. It’s also worth noting that it’s easy to get good at doing things we don’t intend, or even WANT, to do.
Think about your mother, as an example. Most likely, you’ve spent hours, over the course of years, sitting together at the kitchen table, or on the couch in the living room. If she has a well worn habit of crossing her right leg over her left and leaning on her left elbow, there’s a good possibility that you have a piece of that habit as well. So, your left shoulder may be nearer to your ear than your right, and you may have neck or shoulder pain because of that. Each time you lean on your left elbow, you get better at it.
It’s hard to stop a habit. They come and get us before we know we’ve been had. I can hear a song on the radio that makes me think of some rough time in my life, and before I know what hit me, I’m re-living the angst of that old story. And each time I let that whole scenario play out in my head, I get better at feeling that way.
But there’s a beauty to this. Each time I catch myself at a habit that I don’t like, and interrupt it’s unconscious flow, I get better too. And each time you let your shoulders down, even out your spine, and breathe deeply, you get better a that, as well. Just the act of seeing the habit, catching it before we strengthen it one more time, is a wonderful thing.
I really enjoy the acts of new work – inside and outside myself. I may or may not succeed at growing an exotic fruit or herb, but the act of trying expands my mind and helps me stay flexible. The garden always changes, and we always change it, too. If we change something that provides better food, or more joy, then we’ll try to repeat that change again, and get better at it.
If we relapse, or forget to catch ourselves in an unconscious act, it’s not a big deal. As long as we remember again, and again, we will slowly change ourselves.
In my opinion, this is one of the great things about being human. Each day, I can walk out the door, smell the air, and feel the world around me. I bend my body to the changes of the seasons. The world changes, and the universe itself echoes with continuous movement. Each of us is made to grow and change, whether we intend to or not. The ability to take whatever small part of our lives that we can change into our own hands is a marvelous gift. I hope that each of us will accept that gift, and that by using it, we’ll get better at it.