Friday, July 10, 2015

All dressed up...

Mid-January 1996

And just nowhere to go. It is May 1. My tractor and planter, and Jan’s tractor and finisher, and the trucks, and the drill and the farmers are all ready. We were poised to plunge into planting like nine year-olds into Christmas presents. But it rained. We stand here, plantus interruptus, struggling with the immediate future.

Jan, in her usual efficiency, has meals prepared, frozen, and catalogued for use when busy. I have regreased every zerk, checked bearings, tire pressures, seal, gaskets – I even scraped out with a screwdriver whatever was growing in my water jug. It’s like that old Bill Cosby joke about a coach whipping a football team into a killer frenzy in the locker room before the big game only to find the door locked shut. As denial fades and the realization sinks in that a multi-day delay is in store a “Now what?” problem faces us.

Luckily for Jan, she has housework to do. It’s a lot harder for guys like me, who’s every fiber of being has been focused on planting. Refocusing those fibers is a lot like trying to get your mind on the sermon after hearing sirens go by the church. Since we have all been here before, there are some time-tested day-killer exercises that all farmers can use.

Weather fretting
No matter how grim the situation climate-wise, someone can predict worse. Usually, this guy lives close to you. “Why, I remember when it rained everyday for 32 weeks and then turned wet,” he’ll say, in an attempt to lighten everybody’s mood. The theory here is that by naming aloud the worst possible fears, discussing them boldly in great detail, and maintaining a stoic appearance, we can actually brace ourselves for the reality. It is not true, of course, but we all feel braver by thinking the unthinkable and imagining how it doesn’t worry us after all. This behavior seems to be caffeine-related.

Getting readier
This activity can lead you into an unfortunate laying on of hands. Fool around in the shop while it rains and the next thing you know, you are taking things apart looking for a “noise” or worse yet, to see “how it works.” With today’s machinery, replete with plastic housing, nylon fasteners, and delicate electronics, an unemployed curiosity seeker with a pair of pliers all too frequently leads to: (SNAP!) “Dangit!” On the other hand, it does solve the problem of what to do today. 

Author Richard Adams described a condition in rabbits he called “tharn,” which occurs in moments of stress. Rabbits sort of lock up mentally and sit motionless in perfect terror. Jan and I adopted this word to describe, among other situations, what happens to a child watching TV. Farmers, too, can go tharn. This type of suspended animation provides mental and emotional relieve. Good examples are mowing the yard, golf on TV, or waxing something. You can be brain dead for all of these activities, but at least you are not actively frustrated. 

Spending money
This is the inevitable by-product of going to town for some Stuff. Actually, all we intended to do was pick up some bolts and brake fluid, but we go to talking with the salesman and Voila! - we now own a new_________(fill in with your choice of unneeded item). Or we drive into town for lunch on a rainy day and stop at the mall. Remember, an idle credit card is the devil’s workshop.

Driving to X for Y reason
Sitting behind the wheel of a pickup presents an exercise that gives both the illusion of accomplishment (going down the road) with the effortless distraction of a familiar activity. The driving itself can consume empty hours, regardless of the fact that a phone call can accomplish the same task in minutes. An added benefit is that you can reconnoiter other farm areas to see who is ahead of you, or more wonderfully, to see who is lagging. Misery not only loves company, but will drive over to visit.

Often we do a lot of something we normally do just a little too much of, like eating or sleeping. However, this is not easy to keep up for long, as even farmer’s bodies have self-imposed limits. Even being crabby, a traditional habit during busy seasons, can be overdone.

Wasting time is not an easily learned art for many in agriculture. We really don’t have the distractions close enough at hand to make it easy. I marvel that we do as good a job of it as we do.

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