Monday, November 1, 2010

The Yeoman's Labors: What I'm doing most waking hours

Though it is not a word we often use, the word "Yeoman" is loaded with meaning. The word dates back to the anglo-saxon, where it was used specifically of a young man who fights but specifically for a purpose or ideal. In this sense, it was essentially synonymous with the word cniht, which, through much mutation, has become our word "knight." Sometime during the middle ages, these two ideas divided, and while the knights went on to their over-idealized stories of war, while the yeomen busied themselves about farms. Yeoman were, in large part, the first private landowners, and were renowned for their hard work - to the point that, today, the position of Yeoman is awarded "especially for work requiring great effort or toil."
To name a few who praised the yeoman: Thomas Jefferson argued strongly for the Yeoman farmer, and saw this agricultural gentleman as the backbone of a strong system of democracy or republic, and vital to the development of a voting culture. GK Chesterton drew analogies between the demise of the "much mourned yeoman" and the demise of the small shopkeeper. Professor of Theoretical Physics Michio Kaku praises the "yeoman work" of experimentalists who "keep theorists honest." 
So, what does this all have to do with what I'm doing? Well, first off, I'm working hard at agriculture, and trying to be a scholar at the same time. The agricultural work is a scholarship to itself - learning how to use various farming implements, re-learning how to use all the tools my Dad taught me to use in the garage (actually, Dad, those are rather fond memories, thank you), and learning about how to tell crops are ready, how to dry buckwheat without over-ripening it, and all these things I seem to have picked up without really paying attention to them.
At the same time, much of the work that must be done doesn't require a terrible amount of mental activity - and so it's the perfect time to use my ears. I have been almost constantly listening to audio books. It's amazing how much one can get through if one has some 8 hours of uninterrupted time listening to audio books (8 hours counting travel to and from the farm - we work about 6 hours every day.) I finished "Inherent Vice" by Thomas Pynchon, "Brain Rules" by John Medina, both in one week. Thanks Librivox and the LA county library system for having audio books available online....
Another thing I'm immensely enjoying about the work we do is the variety. Partially, this is due to the variety of weather, which I have also been enjoying here. I am also thankful that our hosts do not ask us to work outside in the rain - it would be plausible, even reasonable, but unpleasant, and injury and sickness would be more likely. Still, there are many jobs to do, and since it's a small farm, usually we finish up each job in one or two days.
Sorry, everyone who works in an office. I don't miss it, at least not yet.

As an example, this week's schedule (this week was an abnormally long week, as complications resulted in us having sat-sun off last week, and sun-mon off this week)

Sunday: Day off. Explored Obuse, went to the festival. Tried odd foods.
Monday: Rainy. Cleaned in the farmhouse.
Tuesday: Sunny. Weeded the vegetable garden, and sorted beans. (If I remember right)
Wednesday: Off and on drizzly. Worked in the fields, harvesting buckwheat and building stands to dry the buckwheat.
Thursday: More buckwheat (soba). Lots more buckwheat.
Friday: Our lead-worker (who takes us to the farm) had a day off, so we stayed in Obuse, clearing chestnut fields. Lots of picking up hulls, clearing branches, preparing for a small bonfire. 
Saturday: Felt rather emblematic of the work we do here, in that it was entirely dependent on rain. We were supposed to help with a whole-community trash-cleanup in Obuse. However, it started raining, so we went up to the farm. Of course, it finished raining just about as soon as we got to the farm. Still, finished sorting those beans, which felt good to finish this week. Did a bit more cleaning the farmhouse. Picked some veggies to bring back for the weekend. (Radishes, Spinach, Apples)

Many people think of working in the fields as backbreaking and somehow terrible, but so far it has not been such for me. In fact, I there are a few points I would like to bring up as a kind of argument for agriculturalism.
1. I did a lot to keep myself occupied working at a desk - but there was still a lot of mind-numbing repetition. Here, I get a lot of variety.
2. The view. This can't be emphasized enough. Nobody has an office like this. Fresh air. I can look up at the hills anytime I want (and they are gorgeous hills). When I get tired, no one is pushing a deadline on me. I just stand up, look up at the hills, and look and look.
3. Seasonal changes. We're working pretty hard now, because it's harvest. In about a month, harvest will be completely finished, and we will be working almost entirely indoors. I'm looking forward to the seasonal changes. Something about it feels right and natural. Besides that, no repetitive motion strain injuries!
4. Mindless work. There's actually something good about it. Mostly, that I can listen to my audiobooks and lectures without disturbance. Sure, my office work involved my brain more - but usually it was just enough that I couldn't actually pay attention to anything else, and little enough to keep me bored.
5. I'm getting my exercise. Really, it's awesome to get done with work and not have to go to the gym. Harvesting buckweat, gathering husks, you name it, you get about 6 hours exercise a day, and you can do it in a more or less athletic fashion (I prefer jogging point to point sometimes in the fields, others do not.) This level of physical activity has actually left me feeling more (not less) energetic on the weekends. Or maybe that's just the fresh air and cool weather. Did I mention that air?

I don't want to sound like I'm bashing office work or manufacturing work - just that I'm finding great happiness doing something else right now, and that I would highly encourage anyone else who is interested in trying it to try it. Try it on a small-farm, though, if you can. A big farm is quite a different matter, and there you will be doing the same thing day after day.

Anyway, I'm afraid I should get to sleep. Sorry this post isn't up to my literary standards. I've been working hard on an ebook, and a few research projects recently. Much to do, much to do.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the post. Thanks! It was like a peek into the daily life.

    One question: Are your meals prepared for you or do you and Grace get to cook?