Weeds: Farming calls for serenity
Well, this is a different spring. Field conditions were perfect last week, but farmers weren’t stampeding to plant like you’d expect. A cold forecast kept everyone not quite sure what to do with those $300-a-bag seeds.
“You gonna plant?” “I don’t know. What about you? You gonna plant?” It was like a game of chicken played with field cultivators.
Of course, every one of my forty-something springs has been different. That’s what keeps this work wildly entertaining. Farming is eternally interesting. That is why I have decided to not retire and to keep doing this forever. I’ll let you know how that works.
I spend a lot of winter wondering what kind of spring we’ll get. I know the conditions of the ground going into freeze-up. I know what work was done in fall and what needs to be done in spring. I know my equipment and I’ll spend days prepping it. All those won’t mean a thing if it rains five inches in mid-April.
In summer, I spend a lot of time wondering what kind of fall we will get. Springs and falls dictate how easy or difficult my life will be since I am in the field those seasons. With summers, I am more an observer. I don’t spend time wishing on them; summers will be what they will be.
I can wish all I want for a good spring. I can pray and set up votive candles in my pole barn. In the end, nature will hand me one to work with, whether I approve or not. Here in the northern reaches on the Corn Belt, with our heavy black prairie-slough soils, more often than not, we have struggled with wet conditions. I’ve spent a lot of time with mud.
Nature says each year, “Here you go. Here’s spring. Deal with it.” It’s a lesson in acceptance, especially of those things I don’t control. I’ve come to learn the things I don’t control is a very large category.
Fifty years ago, Stephen Stills sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” Stills was singing about a girl, but I have found the general sentiment useful in a lot of life. “If you can’t be with the spring you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” “If you can’t be with the soil conditions you love honey, love the one you’re with…love the one you’re with.”
That song has spun around in my head lots of days. It even fits when I am with the one I love. There are days Pam drives me nuts. I’m sure the feeling is reciprocal. Even those days, especially those days, I am called to love her. Then the song goes something like, “If you can’t stand the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.”
Speaking of people we love, I had a line I used with friends when we were raising our children. I remember conversations about how challenging children could be, especially in those teenage years. “You don’t get the kid you want; you get the kid you get,” I would say. That’s not a particularly helpful thought. But it gave us a moment in the conversation to nod our heads and sigh.
Now our children are adults, and I am grateful I got the kids I got. I’m not sure what I would have wanted, but the three of them are leading interesting lives, all doing good work. I’m glad God was in charge of that.
Acceptance of what you are given and what you have is a gift. We understand that even when we don’t feel it. Most things I have read about happiness have an element of assent to the things that come your way. A constant state of restlessness or agitation, always wanting something more or different, can be a formula for unhappiness.
We know the Serenity Prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I have seen those words on more walls than any others. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that ninety years ago, though expressions like it go back to forever. Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote two thousand years ago, “Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.”
Serenity is the gift. But it is also a skill. We use it to accept the things that we cannot change, things that are immutable and unyielding. “The things I cannot change” range from global geo-political matters to someone cutting me off for the parking spot I was eyeballing at Schutz Foods. They range from the universal to tiny personal frustrations.
Of course, this is definitely not a call to passivity. The Serenity Prayer prominently includes the wish for courage to change the things we can.
Here on the farm, I accept the spring I am handed. But I constantly evaluate my tillage, machine settings, seed choices, etc. It’s not exactly courage, but I have to be open to changing things up. Plans get written on paper, not on stone.
Courage is the right word in other matters. On a personal level, it might take courage to admit I am wrong to my wife and change my thoughts and actions going forward.
Then, there is change we make as a community and as a nation. It might be that we are in one of those times right now, although it’s hard to tell in the moment. Can we change the ways minorities have been treated in our country? Can we call out and root out the moldy vestiges of racism that we keep in the corners of our collective conscience?
I pray that is among the things we can change, although status quo can be hard and unyielding as a brick wall. I heard a group of older folks being interviewed who had grown up in a segregated town in the South. Whites lived here with better schools, homes, jobs, parks, everything. Blacks lived there with worse and less. It was striking how many said of that world, “That’s just the way it was.”
God will give us the courage to change the things we can, but we have to seek the wisdom. We pray for that. The weather we can’t control; how we feel about and treat others we can.