After this summer that was our first in over two decades without the frantic cutting, planting, weeding, and irrigating of four acres, I’m already amazed by how hard Jeriann and I worked—it actually seems impossible now, because already I’ve recalibrated the set point of “comfort”. I still recall the joy of being in the field, of my body moving, heart pumping, muscle memory and unconscious understanding making the equivalent of a harvest “dance” that lasted five hours or more every day, and I rationally know that I could still do it, but it does, on initial observation, seem impossible as I watch the new owner and his workers go at it.
I’m not entirely into the lackadaisical stage, since I just finished spreading eighty yards of bark onto an area that would be lawn in a normal landscape. One spud forkful at a time into the wheelbarrow, dump, one spud forkful at a time onto the walkways and between the plants, it would have seemed an enormous task to me as a twenty year old, one I would have balked at were I asked to do it, but one I understand now as just another task to be undertaken not as an instantaneously done project but one to be whittled away at, perfectly doable if I just work at it with undistracted intent and don’t work against myself with thoughts—thoughts which I’d have had at twenty and even at thirty years of age--of what I’d rather be doing, of its unpleasantness in relation to other things, of the heat, of the dust, of the bugs…
And then there was the energy spent on the mental gymnastics I’d use to try to get out of the work: excuses, lies, weaseling around the task, doing it shoddily. I pretty much always made any work harder by making it more than it was. Now, I imagine an alternative reality, a twenty year old “me” with the understanding I have now, and envy that imaginary self for what he could accomplish. Alas, so much of what we do is undoing what we’ve done and what’s been done to us…
Judging from posts from new flower farmers elsewhere on the net I’m thinking that the ideas of comfort and convenience lured many to the profession. Maybe they thought having a farm and business meant being the boss and thus being free from the stress of a regular job (I did). Maybe they had an image of being amidst nature, strolling through the blooms, leisurely picking weeds on their own property on their own time in their own manner at their own pace (I did). Maybe they got caught by that old idea, seemingly new to those too young to have seen it before, that took hold in the 1960’s (which I fell for!), the one about finding your calling, getting meaning from your work, rather than slaving away under the thumb of factory work or at a desk. They all seem enthralled by the idea of a particular state of mind, the default mode of comfort.
Such an idea’s not much different—except in scale—from the junkie’s search for the perfect high, the alcoholic’s aim for the “just right” feeling of drunkenness and abandon, or the religious search for Nirvana, and I’ll bet my life savings it proves to be just as elusive (it did for me). Human existence is a compilation of many states of mind and clinging to any particular one of them can only result in failure. The ideas of comfort and convenience may be used as guides, but as aims they can only get in the way.Just as you can’t leave a job when you want to, you can’t leave the farm as you please—that three day family reunion, that concert you wanted to see a couple hundred miles away, that camping trip, aren’t options unless you want to lose control of the weeds and the harvest and lose your customers’ faith in you.
You don’t feel like doing something, you don’t like to cut cosmos, roses are prickly, you’re tired, you’re depressed—you can’t call in sick like you can when you work for someone else, you can’t avoid a task without paying the consequences of having to do twice as much the next day, making what was manageable into something unmanageable.
That leisurely pace you envisioned won’t get the flowers cut, the weeds pulled, the seeds planted at the rate your more active and dreamy mind planned—ramp it up, get your heartbeat beyond its lay-on-the-couch-watching-Netflix rate.
And that’s the key, right there: in your mind you think you know what comfort is, because you’ve never felt the comfort that comes from exertion and so don’t know that comfort’s default mode is adjustable, that it isn’t just one place in the terrain called consciousness but wherever you put it, right there between too much and too little, between exhaustion and boredom.
You can be comfortable resting with a book in hand, you can be comfortable hiking up a mountain slope, you can be comfortable cutting a bunch of flowers every minute as easily as cutting one every ten—when you freeze the idea of comfort at a specific place in your mind and then try to fit reality into it, you deprive yourself of possibilities (and profit) that exist if you just let your mind and body adjust to the flow of necessity out there in the real world.
Laborers and owners alike need to rid themselves very quickly of the preconceptions of comfort—first, that there is such a thing, and second, that they really would want it if there were. Rest is not happiness, nor is ease. You think it is only because you’ve been overwhelmed by their opposites and your mind takes you to them for counterbalance.
The leisurely pace your mind envisions doesn’t match the hungry pace of your business needs: if you don’t exert yourself when cutting, when weeding, you won’t earn even close to what your template of a minimal existence demands. If you opt for leisurely pursuits over doing what needs to be done because you “deserve them” and “you’re the boss”, be assured that your endeavors will fail—you can compartmentalize your life into the components of work and play only when you toil for someone else, when others in the workplace can take over your duties, but no one has your back when it’s your farm. Comfort and convenience are not options in flower farming—or, you might say, in anything.