Wisdom of a Hardscrabble Farmer
Fantastic essays to read in a troubling world
Yesterday we scratched the surface of the wide-ranging topic What is your life? Knowing this was going to be a multi-part theme, this very long guest-post is a sample from someone who is a prolific writer, and a type of person America needs a lot more of – Hardscrabble Farmer.
He runs a farm in upstate New York, and consistently belts out incredibly well-written essays about his life and observations. He also contributes to The Burning Platform and Zero Hedge websites when he has time. Many of you may have already read. But his writing is well worth re-reading from time to time. A fantastic and honest look at life from someone OUTSIDE of the cities.
Most city people in 2015 cannot even comprehend or visualize this subject matter, regardless of how vivid and clear it is. It would be too difficult or even “boring.” Too many words.
These types of writings are not boring to us. Read these two and enjoy.
Wisdom of a Hardscrabble Farmer
By Hardscrabble FarmerI think a lot of people-even here – use the word “job” as if it were something to aspire to. Working for others in exchange for wages is definitely better than being in the FSA, but not by much. When money had value and companies had loyalty to employees and benefits were a given it was the kind of thing some men were willing to do in order to support a family because they didn’t have the confidence/aspiration/drive/capital required to create something of their own, but these days a job is no more a guarantee of economic security than a college degree is.
Maybe its time people start reexamining the purpose of life and what you do with the limited amount of time you get.
I started out in one of the hardest working, lowest paying positions on earth- as an infantry private. Those four years were an economic black hole, but it gave me the discipline and the confidence to go out in the world and make my own way. I started my own business with my own two hands and a few tools and by the time I was 45 I had amassed enough capital (not to mention a wife and children) so that I could drop out of this rat race. No debt, no worries, no keeping up with the Joneses, just a profound satisfaction with all the choices that I made over the course of my life that led me here.
Today I do what I want to do. I spend every day with the people I love and care for the most. I work with my whole being- mind, body and soul in the outdoors where men should be. I eat better than Gordon Ramsey, sleep the sleep of the just, eshew materialism and there is a line of people who beat a path to my door to buy our surplus production for top dollar and praise me for it. In short, there isn’t a thing in my life that leaves me unsatisfied or with regret.
We have a little cottage on the property that we have tricked out with a chef’s kitchen perched on the edge of a hilltop with a view of the pastures and ponds, where our renters- skiers from the city in Winter, writers on retreat, entrpeneurs who want to get away from it all, pre-retirees searching for their next step- and every last one of them falls in love with this place, how we live and what we do. It is a palpable envy- though not in a bad way- for something most Americans have forgotten completely in their quest for a job, or a career, or their fortune and that’s a life. A real life, where you provide your own sustenance from your own land using your own wits and hands, surrounded by a loving family.
Somehow we got off course. We lost the thread and forgot what the meaning of life is and this substitute – this pale world of I-gadgets and McMansions, insurance policies and anti-depressants, 401K’s and SUV’s has left an entire generation or more in a state of abject defeat. I look out on the rest of the country and see people who have bloated themselves into Macy’s Day sized bodies on poisonous snacks, who scribble allover their bodies with nonsensical tats, who dress like whores or aquire mountains of debt just so someone will notice them for a moment in a sea of dissatisfied malcontents. Most people couldn’t tell you where their food comes from, how their newest electronic toy works or why they continue with this empty charade day after day, but their behavior screams for meaning.
People have stopped living their own lives. They perform for the public like trained bears, posting every last act on Facebook as if that were proof of their existence, jabbering away with their thumbs like deranged mental patients rather than swinging a hammer or holding the hand of the person next to them.
Our whole society, top to bottom is sick, deeply, seriously ill. We went down a path that led to anger and alienation, depression and dissatisfaction, greed and ennui – every act, top to bottom, from TARP to Knockout King is a manifestation of our poor choices and there is no fix for it short of abandoning everything we’ve done for the past half century.
People talk about the collapse as if it hasn’t happened yet when all you see when you look around is rubble. From a distance, at the right angle and in a good light the Colliseum looks brand new, but we all know that it’s just a shell – and a stark reminder – of what was.
By Hardscrabble FarmerWe spent the better part of the day chopping corn on the north slope of my neighbor’s farm. He drives the tractor with the old John Deere 35 and I drive beside him in my truck pulling the dump trailer behind me. The fields are set on a north facing slope with a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. The trees are giving off the first color of the season and from a distance the russet tones have overtaken the deep greens of only a week ago. Each pass between rows requires that the truck maintain a distance of less than two feet between the chopper and the trailer that catches the silage as it flies out of the blower. We installed two pieces of plywood standing on end to catch the spray of shredded material, but to hit it precisely the speed and the interval must be maintained to within a tolerance of inches at a speed of five miles an hour on a fifteen degree incline across a field filled with buried boulders and hidden declivities. I have learned to use the passenger side mirror as a my sight and the model number of the tractor as the target. The chute that serves as the ejection port can be operated by hand to adjust for height while the tractor is in motion, but only if my neighbor looks back over his shoulder while driving. To avoid colliding requires a constant state of intense concentration on both our parts; to do the job properly, to catch every bit of the corn in the trailer requires something more, a complete trust in the abilities of each operator to do exactly what is needed, what is necessary. This is our third year working together on this project and each year we refine the chore based on the conditions of the field and the weight of the corn at harvest. In the end we clear his field for tilling and I am able to put seven acres of high protein feed away for Winter, both of us better for our combined efforts.
We had a very dry Summer and the forage this year was not as good as it should have been but we managed to keep the animals fat and happy by managing their grazing carefully. The final calving tally was our best yet and the herds and flocks have grown into a number that allows us to sell one or two when things get tight and not suffer the loss. There is a cycle that is becoming clearer, year by year, and in it I am starting to sense something much more profound than the old world we inhabited, though I cannot say exactly what it is. I would love to say with conviction that God is playing a role in our lives and using our combined efforts to help us discover Him, but I don’t want to lie to myself. Maybe there is nothing to it at all, but I can’t say that either. There is revolution in the purest sense of the word, a greater turning from season to season, year to year that manifests itself in everything I do and whatever the engine is that drives it, it does so with the same intensity and purpose as our turns around the cornfield.
Yesterday my oldest son dropped by in the morning to lend me a hand with cord wood. I cut blocks from the stack of hardwood trunks I had stacked by the trout pond last Winter while he operated the wood splitter. We worked together at a good pace, processing about a cord an hour until he finally asked if we could take a break for lunch. I sent him up to the house to get something for the both of us while I took over on the splitter. The wood was bone dry splitting into clean blocks of quartered firewood; cherry, beech, birch, maple, oak and ash, each one bearing the distinctive coloration and grain of its species. When I cut the logs I took the time to remove the burls and the branch holes to use later on the lathe. The spray of chips from the chainsaw cover the ground and serve as future soil along the edge of the pond. Every so often a fish breaks the surface to grab at a late season insect that has fallen there, concentric ripples spreading outward until they dissipate. No matter how often I look up from my work I am always stunned by the beauty of it all, the soft maples blazing scarlet amidst the golden flutter of poplar leaves, the cattle grazing in the upper pasture heads looking towards me with an occasional lowing bouncing off the terraced hillsides. The temperatures have been unseasonably mild in the past few weeks and with the exception of an early frost a couple of weeks ago, it has been nearly perfect weather for working outdoors. Between the wood orders and the last of the fence line going in there has been precious little time for anything else, with darkness creeping up on us earlier and earlier as the days go by.
We’ve stocked away a large store of winter squash, bags of dried mushrooms, sweet corn, freezers full of sausages and smoked meats like bacon and hams against a Winter that looks, to my eyes at least, just over the horizon. Outside of our life the world limps on around us, I see it every time I leave the farm to drive into the Capitol to renew a license or pay an annual fee to someone for something as required by law. There are the seemingly endless knots of adults wandering around in the middle of the day with nothing to do, the increasingly obvious signs of economic dissolution in shuttered stores and FOR RENT signs emblazoned on practically every commercial business I pass. When I stop in to buy a new pair of boots or work pants I am shocked by the price hike from not my youth, but in the last year. Every part I need for equipment repair requires not only a deposit, but an increasingly longer wait between order and fulfillment and in most cases, for whatever reason I find that the first attempt almost always delivers the wrong part, the incorrect size, or the dreaded excuse that it is “out of stock”. These days I make pieces by hand, reconfigure or trade with someone who has what I’m looking for locally. Our old Asplundh wood chipper, a monstrous chuck and duck, seized last week so we pulled out the Ford 6 cylinder engine and set it on the work table in the hay barn to rebuild. Out of curiosity I priced a new engine and it was more than twenty times the cost of a rebuild with a ten week wait, payment required in advance. For less than three hundred in parts we will have it back in operation by Sunday.
There are times when I ask myself what I can do about the world we are living in, about how far off course we seem to have gone in so many ways, but then I refocus on the things I can do and set about getting them done. After our lunch my son and I loaded the same trailer that held the chopped corn with firewood and drove the delivery to a home that sat above the lake. We usually drop the load in the driveway for the owners to put away, but this one had requested that we stack it in the woodshed and so we spent a good hour and half in the thick, humid air placing each stick of firewood with care until the shed was packed tightly with seasoned cord wood. We talked about a lot of things; F.Scott Fitzgerald, Klezmer music, his latest girlfriend, why 7th grade was important, favorite foods. The work was steady and so was the pace of our conversation and before we left I thanked him for his help and he thanked me for letting him. I watched him drive off down the long lane that led to that house on the hill and I stood there as the first of the long awaited rain began to fall, thinking that I had done just about everything I could to improve the world we live in. Outside of that I’ve got nothing else to offer. There is a season for everything, there is growth, death and rot and what goes up must come down. The leaves, like the long looping circles we drove harvesting corn, were turning yet again and down below the woodshed the lake slowly vanished before my eyes as the downpour intensified and I thought for just a moment about Gatsby standing on that dock, facing the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.