One of the things I’ve learned on the farm is patience. I am thinking this as I sit on the steps of the chicken house waiting for the last hen to decide it’s time for bed. She is still outside, pecking around, hopeful that she’ll find one last beetle or seed before flapping up to the roost. I know that if I go into the chicken yard and try to shoo her toward the building, she will run the other way. That’s the way chickens are. So I wait.
The waiting is not so bad. It’s the cusp of evening and a cool breeze tickles my face as I stare across the dimming pastures. Birds are singing their evening songs and, across the road, the lambs are bleating for their mamas. I can see them in the pewter light, running down the hill to catch up with the ewes who are waiting-like me.
To my left, the cows begin to mosey through the gate and I know that will lead to another kind of waiting because, after I capture this last chicken, I will fill the grain bucket and carry it out to pasture for the three calves I’m still tending. The cows will stand around me in a circle, staring at that grain and hoping I’ll leave so they can butt the calves out of the way and steal their meal. But, I am seasoned in patience. I deliver the food and then upend the bucket. I’ll sit there until the calves finish, jumping up and waving my arms or pitching pebbles whenever a cow ventures too close.
Perched on my bucket, I glance over at my garden. I’m waiting for the first cucumbers, tomatoes and beans. Seeds planted in late May have finally begun to look like they will bear. Every day there is a new unfurling, a new flower, a new leaf, a new pod, a new bug. Gardening is all about the waiting and then the dealing with what comes along, knowing that whatever it is will be different from yesterday.
So, I wait for things, but when I really study the farm, I realize that I don’t know anything about true waiting. When this farm was first settled, I’m guessing the meadows and pastures were all covered in trees and rocks. There’s a small graveyard in our front meadow and a gravestone that tells me that Samuel Wilson died here in 1862 after living only 47 years. Did he get to see the fruits of all his labor after toiling each year to clear another few acres? Did his wife wait anxiously for the garden to produce its first green bean or ear of corn because they hadn’t had any fresh fruits or vegetables for nine months?
With a round baler, a weather window of three dry days means we can harvest a significant amount of hay in a short time. I like to think of Sam Wilson scanning the skies all summer long, hoping for fair weather clouds so he could proclaim to his bonneted wife, “This is it! I think we can get some hay up this week.” He would have hand-scythed, raked, shocked and then stacked enough hay to get him through the winter. What we harvest in one day, Sam would have patiently accomplished over the length of a summer, watching his hay stacks grow slowly, anticipating fat cattle in the snow.
Sometimes I fear that modern life has stolen our ability to go slowly. I see this especially in the young who carry so much at their finger tips. I watched a group of my son’s friends in conversation not long ago. They were all holding cell phones and i-pads and, as the conversation flowed, they referenced things. They argued about movie stars, history and their friends relationships, casually scrolling through the world with their fingers to exclaim, “Look, see, I was right.”
I wonder. Would Sam Wilson, long dead in my pasture, have looked at how fast the world is moving and told us we were missing out on the joy of things gained slowly, or would he have said, “Hot diggity, where can I get a round-baler?” Generations move forward. What’s lost is replaced with something new. Is life better or worse as a result? I might know the answer before I die. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.