Mom was worried … very worried. When Tracy (my wife) and I bought our little ranchette, my mother exclaimed, “What? Are you sure? You’re a city boy!” Mom had a point. In my younger days, I did enough manual work to last me a lifetime; by the time I left college, I was over manual labor. When we lived in St. Louis, I complained every time I had to mow our lawn … our lawn that wasn’t much bigger than a decent-sized living room. But I have to say, for a city boy, I love life in the country. (Kind of the country –we live less than 10 minutes from the Flagstaff Mall.) The air is clean, the sky is clear and the stars light up the night. What’s not to love? For a city boy, the answer to that question might be the physical work that comes with country life.
Since we moved to Doney Park this summer, I spend much more time on manual labor than I have in a very long time. My day starts around 4 a.m. After feeding the pups, I head to the barn to feed and clean up after the hooved ones (our horse, Trigger, and two little goats, Gordie and Ollie). There’s nothing particularly difficult about the work – put some hay out, give Trigger some grain, clean up the results of their eating (I’m in charge of input and output). In addition to the daily routine, there’s always something to be done – moving hay around, mowing, filling in prairie dog holes … there’s always something. My latest project involved moving almost three tons of gravel manually (no machines, just me, a shovel and a wheelbarrow). This is all work that the old me would have despised, but the new me actually relishes. Why? Well, I’ve been pondering that very question.
It may sound silly, but I really like accomplishing something before most folks wake (or even think about waking up). No matter what happens during the rest of the day, no matter how frustrating or chaotic, I take comfort in the knowledge that the animals were fed, the barn is clean and the paddock is poop-free. Sure, in the overall scheme of things these little accomplishments aren’t much, but they make me feel good. We don’t take enough pleasure in our tiny accomplishments. Try this. Before you head to bed tonight, take two minutes and think through your day, cataloging all of the little things you accomplished. I think you’ll be surprised and pleased.
Although I’m not tilling the soil, in a small way my labor puts me in touch with the earth, and with the cycle of the seasons. In summer, I fill burrows, in winter, I shovel snow. Fall is a nice respite between heat and cold. Spring brings new growth for grazing. In our modern, mechanized lives we lose touch with the cycle. (Although I love watermelon, something’s out of whack when you can get it in winter.) As Kahlil Gibran wrote, “You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth, for to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession….”
My labor also provides quiet time for reflection. The tasks I perform don’t require much conscious thought; it’s pretty routine grunt work. This gives me time each day when it’s just me and the animals. The noise of the day is yet to come, it’s time to ponder. Even if I’m not pondering about anything in particular, it’s a nice time to just let the mind go where it will.
Mostly, though, I think I take pleasure in my manual labor because it’s an expression of love for Tracy. Gibran also wrote, “Work is love made visible.” In a small way, my work at home is a visible expression of my love for Tracy. She’s always wanted a horse, and she loves the lifestyle that goes with our little ranch. So what if I get up early? So what if my back’s a bit sore? Aren’t those small prices to pay to show my love? Keep this in mind when facing onerous tasks. If you do it for yourself, it’s a slog. If you do it for others, the slog become service to those you love. A little shift in perspective banishes the drudgery and lets you see the value of even the most mundane tasks. Try this and you might find a small bit of joy in the formerly tedious tasks of life. FBN
I am grateful to serve as dean at Northern Arizona University’s W.A. Franke College of Business, home to over 3,500 students, and faculty and staff who are dedicated to the success of those students and the economic development of Northern Arizona. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: franke.nau.edu/. I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Email your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter @cvanslyke.
By Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D.