Chores, labor, monotony, routine, physical. All describe my life here at the ranch. Each morning we rise just before seven (a comfortable hour – yes: I know and am thankful) to feed the horses, sheep, and chickens. We clean out paddocks, change straw bedding, scrub water tubs – all before breakfast. As each day’s work comes to a close, again – time for chores. Before dinner, of course.
Some days are harder and longer than others, but all are built on and around the schedule that our charges demand. The animals and plants in our care depend upon this continued and regular attention, and it forms the backbone of our life here.
Often, words like “chores,” “monotony,” “labor” and “routine” enliven a host of negative connotations among disciples of the so-called modern day, eliciting responses as mild as “simple” and as harsh as “PEASANT.” It’s why you probably never heard your high school guidance councilor suggest that you explore farming as a creditable career. But what many suit-wearing, cultured sophisticates don’t understand is that within the confines of a life devoted to physical routine, there lies an invaluable opportunity.
And that is: watermelon.
Every day here, Emily (my housemate, colleague, and companion) and I get up together, do chores together, make breakfast together, ride together, clean together, study Spanish together. And each day, after a laborious and yes – monotonous – morning and early afternoon, at an hour that varies slightly from day to day, our keen awareness of the day’s progression indicates to our sixth sugary sense that it is time. We descend upon our little outdoor kitchen. One silently opens our modest, gas-powered refrigerator. The other reaches past the spiders for our single cutting board and only chefs knife. And together, we butcher four thick dripping triangles of crispy red watery goodness from the godly green egg of mother melon.
This is the power (or at least one of the powers) of routine. Because when routine becomes a lifestyle – not just a “workout” or “diet” or “happy hour” – it is transformed into ritual. And rituals have meaning.
Any myopic belittlement of the agrarian lifestyle on the part of academics, paper-pushers, suburbanites, or politicos does nothing more than belie any commitment to meaningful pursuits they’ve signed for in student debt, contracts, mortgage payments, or oaths of office. To claim one understands meaning in a human life without understanding the things that make that life possible – how a well-pump works, when to plant tomatoes, or what to do with a dead chicken, to name a few – is poo-diddly-doo.
Don’t get me wrong here – there are certainly many other non-farm-related routines that have the power to become sacred. But there’s something really especially powerful about a ritual that is so fundamentally entrenched in, well, fundamentals. Food, water, shelter. The true necessities of life.
It makes the watermelon all that much sweeter.
Full Disclosure: I’m not only living and working on a ranch, but reading Joel Salatin’s “Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal.” Hence the bitterness.