God the Creator had made man into His own image, and that meant that every man and woman who dwelt under God’s light was a creator of some kind, a person with an urge to stretch out his hand and shape the world into some rational pattern. -Stephen King, The Stand
At first, the hardest part of the work on Josep’s farm was getting him to give it to us. He was such a gracious host that he always insisted that we take time for ourselves. It was a nice gesture, but when we weren’t working, we were bored and cold. As we settled in and got more comfortable with each other, Josep found ways for Rachel and I to be useful aside from cooking dinner.
I was struck by how much of farm work is picking up something from one spot and stacking it in another. I suppose that’s the nature of most manual labor: reducing entropy. Each morning, while I was feeding the cows, Rachel cleaned the stables. This involved shoveling caca into piles that were loaded into the tractor and then dumped onto a mound in the middle of the field, later to be used as fertilizer.
We spent one morning separating chicken wire from the wood of a broken down rabbit coop that I named Tetanus City, and stacked the wood for use in the fireplace. The next day Josep and I gathered more firewood from the forest, and stacked it in large piles by the house. There were two days where Rachel and I created a wall from a pile of used bricks sitting in the middle of the newly constructed stables.
In Spring, Josep will plow the pasture and plant grass. The field is full of rocks, some as big as my thigh. If they are not moved out of the field, they will break the machinery used to plow it.
Like a lot of office work, the task itself wasn’t difficult. The difficulty was staying motivated. Recognizing this early on, I came up with a brilliant solution: Rock Golf. I built a ring and scored points by throwing rocks at it (using Whose Line is it Anyway scoring). I figured this would keep me entertained long enough to forget that I was simply moving rocks from one spot to another.
I thought I was pretty smart. But then, as also happens in the office, someone came along and pissed all over my idea.
After my ego subsided, I realized that Rock Golf wasn’t such great idea. There’s a reason why golf balls are round and fairways are manicured. Also, I really, really suck at throwing things from more than 15 feet. Especially heavy rocks. But by this point I had started to build something, and started to wonder how big I could make my “hole”. ”Picking up rocks” became reframed as “gathering raw materials for construction”.
The work was so peaceful - being out in the field with the cows, listening to their bells, getting to know their personalities (watch the video below). Most are curious, some are grumpy, a few are quite affectionate. Over three days, I probably spent 12 hours in the field working on my rock project. A quarter of that time I was building my castle, which provided no real value to Josep over simply dumping the rocks into a pile.
Maybe it was a waste of time - a selfish indulgence. But finding a way to keep it interesting caused me to put in more effort, be more invested, and ultimately collect more rocks. The drudgery of menial labor is lessened when endured for the purpose of creation.
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