As I’ve already loudly lamented, I have been working at my law practice in an uncharacteristically round the clock way for quite a few weeks now. The all-consuming big firm style of legal practice I thought I had left behind when I started my own office in 1980 seems to have temporarily swallowed me up again. The carefully crafted balance which allowed me three days a week on the farm, hardly ever letting my work intrude, has for the time being been upset.
The allure of money and the excitement of battle are, indeed, powerful forces. And they have in this instance consumed me to the point where I have even found myself thinking about a much more corporate approach to farming. As my time on the farm has been reduced to where I sometimes feel like a remote observer, I can see how the managers of agribusiness go so awry in their approach to farming.
Despite the decline in my participation, the farm is in very good shape. Between Peter, Kyle, and two highly motivated summer helpers, Aidan and Christian, the garden has been almost completely planted, the sheep hooves mostly trimmed, the pastures seeded, the fencing mostly fixed, and the migration of our burgeoning pig population (an unexpected litter this week!) to summer quarters is well under way. The new heifer calf, whose mother rejected her, is being lovingly cared for and has been christened Sweetie Pie. Most of the areas of the mess and debris of winter have been cleaned up, and we are about ready to move our turkey poults, now that they have feathered out, to their sleeping porch. I think the farm already looks great, though whenever I say that, Peter says “If you don’t look too closely.”
Despite all this, I found myself thinking last week about ways we could operate the farm remotely, maybe by harnessing the power of robotics. The original impetus for this idea was an article a few weeks back in the New York Times about cows now being able to milk themselves. They saunter into the barn whenever they feel the need to be milked and hook themselves up to robotic milking machines. The farmer monitors the action remotely from a computer and only intervenes when something needs fixing.
Since we don’t milk or drink milk, I started imagining how we could spend lots of money on other advanced technology that could do our farm work without our physical participation. Maybe a robotic camera could be deployed to monitor the livestock movements, making sure they are where we want them to be. Or maybe we could find a drone weed whacker that, once set in motion, would trim the weeds from the entire electric fence line. For those of you who know our Luddite tendencies, this would be quite a remarkable change in approach. It’s not a coincidence that I was having these thoughts at the same time as I was strategizing returning to the City last Sunday evening, a sad reversal of my pattern of the last 14 years, of extending my time on the farm as much as possible.
Fortunately at some point last Sunday, I snapped back and regained my senses. Yes, my work must and will get done. But it became glaringly apparent that there must also continue to be some kind of balance. Working on the farm, I was finally reminded, gives me the mental balance to navigate the other world. In its gentle way, the restorative power of the farm prevailed.
How did this happen? The farm, on that perfect summer Sunday, first of all brought back to me the power of the life cycle. When I arrived with her bottle that morning, Sweetie Pie bounded up and nuzzled me as I stroked her head. She then drained her bottle in minutes, tugging so hard and biting the nipple with such urgency that I experienced a sense of parental gratification, and maybe even a little of the fierceness of the mother-child bond.
Then, at our lunch break, as Peter and I sat out in the shade of a giant sugar maple and surveyed the cows and sheep grazing in the pastures, we suddenly became aware of the loud and insistent bleating of half a dozen lambs. They had, in the course of their playful explorations, figured out how to squeeze under the gate from the pasture to the back garden. When they were not bleating at being separated from the herd, they were bounding and skipping about in the path along the vegetable garden. Their antics evoked the child’s elation at playful exploration.
And then, Sunday evening, as I was doing the chores we heard incessant uncommon squeals coming from the piggery. I found one of our youngest piglets caught upside down between two fence panels. Freeing him was a reminder of the dangers lurking along with those joys of youthful exploration.
Observing young life adjusting to the world into which it was born, reinforced for me the idea that successful navigation of the life cycle is the world’s first order of business. The squabbles over money that lawyers often deal with are, by comparison, far less momentous, even when the dollar amounts at stake are staggering.
After a day largely devoted to the very centering tasks of weeding and planting, I entered our recently rebuilt outdoor shower, stripped off my farm duds, and reveled in a moment of perfect refreshment. I felt connected to the fading blue sky visible through the branches of our Himalayan rose. As a cooling evening breeze wafted over me and a cascade of hot water washed away the day’s deposits of dirt, straw, vegetable matter and animal poop, I couldn’t imagine a greater feeling of contentment.
Finally, after a relaxing Sunday dinner that included our own beef as a main course and a salad of spinach, mixed baby lettuces, beans and sugar snaps, all fresh from our garden, Peter convinced me that the thing to do was pull up a comfortable wicker chair to the east end of the screened porch to watch the evening firefly show. As dusk gathered, and a bright haloed half moon appeared through the trees, an enveloping calm descended on the farm. its sound track was low and mostly subtle–the rhythm beat out by a tree frog and a chorus of regular chirps from insects I could not identify, all punctuated by the occasional raucous cry of our peacock. But what I began to sense above all was the comforting silence of our farm animals, who were curling up in the secure lap of the night. I found my plan to return to the City dissolving, and soon figured out a way to stay the night. I relearned the lesson that to cope with the pressure cooker of a lawyer’s daily life, I need the truly restorative peace of the farm.