Friday, October 9, 2009

Finding My Work

From the bean of Green Bean.

Originally published on May 15, 2008.

"You are always working so hard out here."

A familiar voice jolts me. I look up from seedlings and weeds, a trowel clutched in one hand and mud smeared across my legs. A neighbor smiles at me as she walks her yellow lab by my yard.

I suppose to the untrained eye, I do appear to be "working". Dirt has taken up permanent residence under my fingernails and stains the cracks and cuts in my hands. Wood chips, dead vines and tomato cages litter my front yard. I grin back and wipe my hands on my sweats. Sweat dribbles down my forehead, soaks between my shoulder blades. "I'm getting there," I answer, gesturing to the flowered expanse humming with bees and lounging pumpkins.

Watching my neighbor meander up the street, sipping her latte, I think, this is not work. I know what work is and this ain't it. For nearly a decade, I occupied a chilled office overlooking a pinch of the Golden Gate Bridge. I spent my days pecking away at a keyboard, writing somebody else's dreams. Neither heat wave nor cold spell affected my wardrobe. Lunch was gathered from the food courts choking the San Francisco bay and eaten in front of the computer or at a meeting.

That may not sound like work. Certainly, my muscles never strained. I never wiped sweat from my hairline, pulled a sweater too late on reddened shoulders, or massaged beeswax lotion over cracked fingers. It was not work for the body . . . but for the spirit and for the soul.

We are not meant to live our entire lives inside, watching the trees and the ocean through a glass window. We should not be removed from the seasons, unable to pinpoint when spring's cool afternoons give way to summer's heavy heat, relying only on the 11 o'clock news to know how to dress our children for school. From the cubicles, offices and corridors, we cannot smell the thick perfume of orange blossoms, cradle a wriggling earthworm in wonder before settling it back into the soil, or hear the dizzying drone of bees at work. We cannot pluck snap peas from their flowered vines, sample a barely red strawberry, or dig for new potatoes.

A friend once commented that she purchased $19.50 worth of fresh produce from a farmer her own age. She reflected that she makes roughly the same amount for an hour's worth of desk work and felt, in a way, that he had worked much harder for that same $19.50. While I agree with her that farmers should be paid more, I would argue that that farmer had worked less hard than she, if he had worked at all.

Undoubtedly, the farmer was up before dawn, watching the sunrise, feeling its warmth finger across the land, smelling the earth on the produce he had picked as he drove to market. Day in and day out, he buries his hands in the dirt, eases out weeds, gently guides cucumber and squash vines. He wages war against snails and slugs, gophers and aphids - seamlessly switching strategies to outsmart the elements and coax a harvest from the land. As that farmer goes to bed, however, he has sun and wind soaked into his bones. He has been intimate with the earth, the soil, the slowly shifting seasons. His body is tired, beyond exhausted. I know, though, that his spirit must sing, alighting on wings over our brightly lit offices, grey cubbies, and stark elevators before settling into five acres of freedom.

That is not work. It is heaven.


The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

Beautifully written and oh, so true! Working 9 to 5 and hoping for a clear day on the weekend to enjoy the outdoors. Running errands on lunchtime. Watching the changing seasons from a fixed panel window on the other side of the office?

Does my “dirt under the fingernails” envy show very much??? :)

Say hello to the earthworms for me!

The Mom said...

I couldn't agree more. There is no way I would want to go back to the hard work of being an RN. My neighbors make similar comments as they watch me build new beds, spread compost and plant my homegrown seedlings. Then they stand and admire the wonderful produce that I pick, amazed that I am some magical creature that can produce food.

wendyytb said...

Such a wonderful post! I have chosen part time work over full time so that I can spend more time doing the things I love...visiting grandchildren, gardening, and painting. One feeds the body, the other, the soul.

jimmycrackedcorn said...


Kellie said...

Amen to that!

duhgee said...

Well written, and a clear awareness of the other reality - the life (and quality) that tends to be forgotten. In contrast though, I think the same could be said of the intellectual stimulation and broad-reaching results that can come from work 'in an office' as we achieve landmarking accomplishments, create innovative solutions, and build collaborative relationships with exponential value. The farmer in your post may likewise look with some envy at the work we do in the same way we envy the work and quality of life he has. The greatest perspective is with the individual who finds the balance, and discovers the wonder both in the office, and in nature.

Jessica Nichols said...

What a beautiful piece of writing! You are very gifted with words. For a minute there, I felt like The Farmer.


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