Thursday, September 1, 2011

Two Months Left - The 3/4 Retrospective

The end is in sight.
Today is the first day of September, which means that I'm three fourths done with this farming apprenticeship. That's two months, or nine weeks, or sixty one days, to be precise.

Since I failed to do a mid-year report in July, I shall do one now, and call it my three fourths year perspective.

The thing everyone talks about with farming is how hard it is. I really couldn't tell you how many people seemed utterly surprised that I would be working on a farm - including farmers, even - and said something along the lines of, "You know it's really hard work, right?"

Well, I was certified as a wild land fire fighter for two years, and I wouldn't call the pack test a cake walk. I eat well, I'm in shape, and I'm healthy. I work out. I hike. Do I look that delicate or frail?

Despite my scoffing, however, I admit that I underestimated how hard this would be on my body and my mind.

We're right in the middle of what Susan calls the mid-season burn out right now. When we first started harvesting all the summer produce in July - tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, to name a few - it was new. It was exciting. And it wasn't lettuce. But six weeks and three times a week later, I'll admit a little bit of the shine has worn off, between the itchiness of the tomato plants and the okra and squash spines that make your fingers bleed, the backaches and the bending over and the bruises.

Dean is fond of calling our work the "farm fitness program." It's not an inaccurate description. When I first arrived in March, I was sore for a couple weeks - the kind of sore that comes from using those muscles you don't usually use. But in the last month or so, it's morphed into a soreness that never really goes away, a fatigue compounded by never really stopping. 

We do get time off, obviously - usually Sunday, and often part of Saturday afternoon as well. But frankly, it's wearing to just have one day off a week. There's something about having two full days off that recharges your batteries much more completely.* When I first got here, I was going on hikes in Shenandoah National Park nearly every weekend. My last hike was in late June. These days, all I want to do with my time off is lay around reading, or watch a VHS in the living room.

There's also an aspect I didn't consider before I got here - one that I've experienced before in AmeriCorps, so you'd think I would have known better. That is the act of living and working with a small group of people all day, every day, for months on end. I know that Autumn and Brian, Dean and Susan will be valuable friends for the rest of my life. But at the end of each day, all I want to do is be alone.

So yes, I admit it. This is hard work - harder than I'd really thought it was going to be, mentally and physically. But that doesn't mean I don't love it.

Time for an anecdote: when I was working at a Boys and Girls Club in Georgia a couple years ago, I went to a Methodist church in the area a few times. I really liked the guy who preached, and one of his sermons really stayed with me. He talked about how the hardest part of a journey is towards the end. You're tired, you just want to be home, and you don't know how - or if - it's going to end.

I recognize the feeling I'm having right now. I had it around this time last year and the year before in AmeriCorps. I'll call it the middle-of-the-journey blues. The end is coming, faster than I anticipated. I'm tired. I'm sore. I miss people at home. I'm not sure what I'm going to do when this is done. But I'm not entirely ready for it to be over, either.

*I still don't know how Susan and Dean manage to keep going with basically no days off, except for a two week vacation in summer. They say it's different when it's your own farm. I'll take their word for it.

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