“Do you know what time it is?” I ask Roger one day while we are switching a full hay wagon for an empty one during a break picking up bales. I have the tongue of the empty wagon in my hands as Roger is backing the tractor up to me.
“I don’t know,” Roger says over his shoulder looking down at the tongue, “after dinner but before supper- best I can do.”
“What time is supper?” I say trying to nail him down a bit.
“After afternoon chores. Is the tractor close enough?”
“A little more. What time are afternoon chores?”
“After dinner. How’s that?”
“That’ good.” What time is dinner?”
“After morning chores and before afternoon chores. What part of this are you not getting?
“I’m not getting what time it is,” I say dropping in the hitch pin and connecting the wagon to the tractor.
“Oh, is that what you want to know? It’s time to get back to filling this wagon.”
On the farm, time is based on getting done what needs to get done plus all those things that come up that Roger didn’t know needed to get done but still has to do. When done is done he can do what needs to be done unless a new do has to be done in order to do what’s left undone. His undoing is not knowing what dos need doing to get done what does need doing. Clear as farm time.
Farm time is all relative; relative to the cows needing to be milked or let out or let in, relative to how full the hay wagon is, relative to what still needs fixing and relative to the approaching weather on the horizon. Clocks don’t make any difference. Nor, really, does hunger, at least to Roger. The practical reason for this is that it is often just easier to finish something than to stop, go back to the house and get something to eat and then go back to the job later. This is why I always have snacks in my car or pocket if I think a chore is going to take longer than I expect. This is why I always have snacks.
But this is the seduction of farm time- time doesn’t matter. Things are done when they need to be done and then you go to sleep. Chores-eat, chores-eat, chores-eat, sleep. Repeat the next day. Lunch is in the middle of the day, breakfast is after morning milking and supper is before evening milking. Just don’t ask exactly when.
I have always thought that the appropriate farm clock would not have numbers on it signifying the hours of the day but instead should have udders on it of varying fullness signifying how close is the next milking. “I’ll meet you at half an udder in the afternoon” or “It’s getting to be full udder in the morning. Better get up to the barn.”
Farm time also knows no days of the week. Monday, Tuesday, Saturday, Sunday- makes no difference. There are no chores on the farm that are dependent on a particular day of the week. There are no- if it’s Tuesday it must be time to __. Tuesday is just another day, as is Monday, as is Saturday; the chores don’t change. The cows they come, the cows they go. There’s milk to be collected, hay to be spread, fences to fix, silage to feed, stalls to clean. A day is a day and they are all on the same farm time, call it anything you want.
Farm time is what I miss the most whenever I am traveling. The unforgiving everyday world of time kidnaps my thinking and I spend my days a hostage to the clock. The plane leaves at 7:02. How many minutes to get through security? How much time for my connection? What day is the meeting? What time is the dinner reservation?
On farm time cows leave when the milking is finished and arrive when their stomachs are empty and udders are full. Meetings are held until the wagon is full or the rows have been cut and connections occur twice a day when milkers are attached to udders. On farm time days stay in fields and barns and hours are kept in your pocket.
Even on a grander scale farm time ignores convention. Convention lets calendars control what days are for work and what are for play. They tell us when schools are out or when vacations are in or when play dates or prom dates are scheduled. We all count the days as we look forward to something and tick off the months until it is such and such season. And holidays are defined by how many shopping days remain and when the sales begin.
Months don’t matter so much in farm time. Haying begins sometime in June and lasts until late summer but it may begin in late spring if it is dry or go into September if the weeks have been wet. “I have an idea of when I would like to start haying or moving the heifers or riding my motorcycle but I’m never really that close,” Roger tells me. “It comes when it does and no sooner. It’s hard to schedule the weather.”
“Yeah, I know, I’m always behind. Or so it seems,” says Roger whenever I report on the advanced haying or plowing or cutting I see on farms elsewhere in the state. “But it always gets done so I don’t worry about it. Some farmers want to say they were the first; first to mow, first to plow, first to fill their barn. As long as it gets done, that’s all I care about.” And somehow it always does get done. A week or two of rain will stop the haying or planting or spreading of manure but a few days of sun will set things right again. It may seem a bit haphazard but that’s because your timing is off.
“So, who actually runs this place?” I ask Roger one morning in the barn.
“Run the place? Who runs the place? If you mean who does most of the work then I guess I do but the old man works and Trish works and you work here too.”
“I mean make decisions, figure out when it is time to move the calves or start haying or cut corn.”
“Oh, if that is what you mean, dad and I talk about things but we never agree on anything. Mother Nature actually makes all the decisions around here. She sets the times, figures out the seasons, tells us when we can and can’t do things. Mother Nature keeps the time, we just do all the work.”
Mother Nature doesn’t consult a calendar or a clock, things just happen. And when they do Roger responds. With all there is to do on the farm it’s not hard keeping busy. When you work for Mother Nature you better work with her or else you won’t be working at all.