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Weeds: Give me a break

For a couple of decades, I’ve been an Intermittent Parks Worker at Fort Ridgely State Park. I get called to sub or to help with projects where they need an extra hand. I enjoy the work and the people there. It gets me off the farm once and around other human beings, which my wife thinks is good for me.

An eight-hour day there has scheduled breaks. At 10 and 3, staff gathers in the break room over coffee, soda, or water. For fifteen minutes, we compare notes, adjust work assignments, and engage in silly banter. Sometimes we go to large measures to get us together from all corners of the park. I assume it is required contractually. It’s good to know if you are slaving away with a pruning shears on a hot day that a break is coming.

Obviously work on the farm is different. I’m not going to stop planting a field at 10 if rain is in the forecast. At the same time, a winter day here might allow for a two-hour morning break to eat a muffin and page through farm magazines. “Scheduled” breaks seemed odd to me at first, but they are part of the routine at the park.

All of us do different work in different places. But most take some sort of respite from our toils. It is a “break.” We break up our day, breaking it into smaller pieces. For physical labor, we rest our body. For mental work, we free our mind briefly from its focus.

I am a critter of habit. For years, our mail came around 9:30. That was a perfect mid-morning time to stop whatever farm task I was doing to warm up another cup of coffee, grab a cookie, and see what the outside world had sent to us. In British literature, “elevenses” are the name given the mid-morning tea and biscuit. I’m not British, but this was my elevenses. It was the routinest of routines.

Until, gasp, the Postal Office changed the routes. Suddenly our mail didn’t come till noon. I don’t like change, and I told Pam my life was ruined. She assured me it wasn’t. After a few weeks of staring out the driveway every day at 9:30, I adjusted. Kicking and screaming, but I adjusted. Now at 9:30, I still come in the house and screw around online a bit. The mail is served with noon meal, dinner. Or lunch. Or whatever you town people call it.

It was a good reminder that the world does not revolve around me. For sure not the Postal Service.

Speaking of meals, when I was young, we had every kind of crop and every kind of animal here. Then we had breakfast, morning lunch, dinner, afternoon lunch, and supper. Snacks were interspersed in between. Amazingly most people weren’t fat in the World That I Grew Up In. All those crops and livestock were raised with at lot more back and a lot less machine. Long workdays required sustenance.

My mom despite her thousand daily tasks actually delivered lunch to the field certain times of year. Lunch, not dinner. Dinner was at noon in her kitchen, come hell or high water.

It was during one of those lunches baling oat straw in the sun and sweat that I had my first part of a beer. I was 13 or 14, and some not-very-cold bottles of Hauenstein were in the basketed provisions. I don’t remember exactly liking it. It was wet and more interesting than not-very-cold water. I’ve come to think that every young person should have their first taste of tipple with their parents present under a hot July sun. I was hardly about to get into any trouble out there.

Flashing ahead a few years, in 1977 I spent a college semester in Germany. I remember regularly seeing laborers having a beer on their breaktime at their jobsites. It was part of the culture of that place and time, although I suspect that has changed. One seldom saw a drunk person in Germany. Responsible drinking stood in contrast to the college world I’d left back home.

I told friend Scott who is Safety Coordinator for Mathiowetz Construction Company about that once. I wondered if they should supply beer to the MCC crew for their break. I think his heart skipped a beat.

Beer or not, taking a time to rest, relax, restore is vital. There is a point when working steadily that one’s production declines, and eventually goes backward. We can become unproductive. Certainly, with farm labor, after a long stretch of hours, work becomes less safe.

Nature gives us an apt example of taking a breather. Winter is as if the Earth is at rest, exhausted by three seasons of birth, growth, and ripening. As farmers and gardeners know, every growing season is race from seed to harvest. It is a sprint and a marathon. Winter comes and the fields go dormant, creatures either migrate or slow down. Farmers take extra time to eat cookies and read farm magazines.

Man-made endeavors also have breaks put into them. Plays have an intermission, music has interludes, schools have Christmas vacation, highways have rest stops. In all things, we know we can’t go from beginning to end without time in between to energize, heal if needed, and refocus.

Perhaps man’s most perfect creation is baseball. Inning breaks are built in, ideal interlude for players and fans. They have become haven for commercials, but that is an indictment of hyper-capitalism more than the fine sport of baseball.

The Creator of all this didn’t really need to rest on the Seventh Day. But it is written in as such in Genesis. There it is woven into the very fabric of the universe. Every action has a reaction; every push has a pull; every effort has a resting point. It is why staff gathers in the breakroom at Fort Ridgely at ten and three.

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