My lovely bride and I were taking a leisurely stroll through the pasture Tuesday evening at sunset. Well, that’s not quite true. We were closing up chickens at sunset, collecting eggs, separating the dairy calf and preparing to move one of the layer houses. But whatever we were doing, we saw something beautiful. Something my phone couldn’t quite capture.
So as I show you the first picture, look past the ground trampled by the cattle during the heavy rains we had last week that has since been trampled by chickens. It’s a mess. But it’s a good mess. Instead, look at the trees in the background as the sunset imitates fall colors.
A little later Julie and I were checking on the beef cattle and she stopped to take a picture. She was trying to capture the silhouette of the silo in the sunset. I tried too.
The pictures don’t capture the beauty of the moment though.
And they certainly don’t tell the whole story.
Julie was excitedly telling me what she had read in Emerson’s Essays and English Traits earlier that day. There is too much I want to comment on in her reading so I am going to pare it down to the minimum and circle back around to sunset chores with my bride. You with me? Emerson essays, a pretty girl and a beautiful sunset all wrapped up with a neat bow. I think I can do this.
I find Emerson impossible to read. I sometimes get as far as a full sentence without having to stop and reflect. College reading assignments required tight timelines. We just had to read and regurgitate, rinse and repeat. I didn’t do well. I don’t want to read and regurgitate. I want to read and reflect. I got a degree in biology instead of a degree in English.
But the college thing is in my past. I still don’t have the time but I LOVE to read. Love it.
And I enjoy reading Emerson…when I have the time to reflect on it.
There is a little time for reflection while Julie and I finish up our evening chores. Sometimes just as we walk together. Maybe as we wait for a water tank to fill. She read the following and wanted to discuss it:
But quite apart from the emphasis which the times give to the doctrine that the manual labor of society ought to be shared among all the members, there are reasons proper to every individual why he should not be deprived of it. The use of manual labor is one which never grows obsolete, and which is inapplicable to no person. A man should have a farm or a mechanical craft for his culture. We must have a basis for our higher accomplishments, our delicate entertainments of poetry and philosophy, in the work of our hands. We must have an antagonism in the tough world for all the variety of our spiritual faculties or they will not be born.
Julie and I are working together. And the work is hard. The previous evening I waded into the pond to convince the cattle they should stop imitating hippopotami and return to solid ground. After wading bare foot through surprisingly warm and mushy piles on the bottom of the muddy pond (yeah…) and swarms of insects, I returned the electric fence to it’s full, upright position and powered it up then washed the mud and manure off of my feet. This counts, in my mind, as antagonism in the tough world. It builds character. And strength. And callous.
Our eldest was with us when I repaired the fence. Maybe I didn’t have the most pleasant expression on my face. Maybe I wasn’t the cheerful worker I would like to be. I am afraid he thought this was somehow his fault. And in some ways it maybe was but I certainly wasn’t mad at him. I really wasn’t mad at all. I just wanted to finish up and get home. The electric fence had been off. Had the electric fence been on it would not have helped as that leg of the fence was disconnected. These are things Julie and the boy had worked on only an hour prior to the hippogate incident.
But what about the boy? What is his involvement? How are we investing in his character? Is the farm his? Mine? I don’t feel obligated to run the Tom Chism museum. Will he feel obligated to run the Chris Jordan museum or will the farm be truly his? These are the questions I was asking myself as Julie continued to share her reading with me as the sun set on a Tuesday evening in June.
Consider further the difference between the first and second owner of property. Every species of property is preyed on by its own enemies, as iron by rust; timber by rot; cloth by moths; provisions by mould, putridity, or vermin; money by thieves; an orchard by insects; a planted field by weeds and the inroad of cattle; a stock of cattle by hunger; a road by rain and frost; a bridge by freshets. And whoever takes any of these things into his possession, takes the charge of defending them from this troop of enemies, or of keeping them in repair. A man who supplies his own want, who builds a raft or a boat to go a-fishing, finds it easy to calk it, or put in a thole-pin, or mend the rudder. What he gets only as fast as he wants for his own ends, does not embarrass him, or take away his sleep with looking after. But when he comes to give all the goods he has year after year collected, in one estate to his son,—house, orchard, ploughed land, cattle, bridges, hardware, woodenware, carpets, cloths, provisions, books, money,—and cannot give him the skill and experience which made or collected these, and the method and place they have in his own life, the son finds his hands full,—not to use these things, but to look after them and defend them from their natural enemies. To him they are not means, but masters.
I don’t want the farm to master my children. I don’t want to enslave my children to my dreams.
But I do want to share my dreams with my children. Maybe inspire them to have similar dreams. Maybe they will look past my own limited view and carry us further than I imagined possible. With or without cattle.
Julie and I bought a farm because Julie and I wanted a farm. Then we turned the kids loose. We played in streams. We caught frogs and crayfish. We played with kittens born in the barn or jumped from bale to bale in the loft. We went swimming. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. That’s a typical Sunday on the farm. Cows? Pigs? Eggs? Those are a means to an end. The means to an end Emerson spoke of above. The basis for our higher accomplishments. How much brain power is required to shovel horse manure? None at all. But that doesn’t mean we switch off. We think. We talk. We wonder how we can inspire the children and give them a real sense of pride, ownership, vision and place. We explore our perception of the world together.
And we talk about how our reading impacts our thoughts today. My beautiful wife and I. Holding hands and watching the sun set over the barn roof.
I don’t want to enslave my children to my chore list. I want them to have what Julie and I have. Their own dreams. Their own work. Their own thoughts.
Further, I want them to be confident in their own thoughts. Confident in their own genius. Confident in their purpose.
Emerson covers genius in the next chapter and I leave it to you, reader, to discover it for yourself.
You may not want to force your children to continue your path, but you give them the opportunity to choose. The more choices they have, the better chance they have to find their fit. A child in the city has a harder time becoming a farmer, but a rural child can still learn from books on the farm. I will never travel to foreign lands, but I started early by reading National Geographic at my grandparents.
you are wonderful parents, what you tackle here is what I imagine is the hardest part of parenting- knowing they may choose a different path than you. Rock on.