Home & Shop Companion #0065
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
As you may have noticed, I have had a week off from writing these letters. There were so many jobs stacked up in front of me, something just had to give. In the garden, there were beds to prepare, compost to spread, seeds to sow; in the field, the hedge cuttings needed to be shifted, the last patch ploughed, fences to mend, and at home, a broken pipe to the septic tank to replace, a job that couldn’t be left any longer. Most of those jobs are now done, only the last one requiring much time, but the bigger backlog was really in my head. It wasn’t just the things I needed to remember, but I needed to free myself from some of the mental clutter of emails, of instruments I needed to check and adjust, of photographs to take, people to call, sorting to do and eventually my website to update. I could go on, but I won’t, because I guess most of us know the feeling. Perhaps I make life hard for myself, doing my outside work in addition to my work as a violin maker, never mind spending time putting fingers to the keyboard. The plus side is that it makes life interesting, but it as sure as heck makes it complicated, matching the pressures of time and money and energy and inclination. So instead of powering through the real work, the proper job, being productive and making another instrument, I have been tidying, sorting, organising, catching up, writing, finishing off, but all the time keeping things moving in the big outside while conditions allow. Because the time that is now will not come again, and if those seeds are going to turn into food, they need to be in the ground, absorbing water and putting up shoots.
Sometimes, when I think back to when I was working for someone else, it was so much more simple; I turned up to work, got told what to do, and as long as I did that satisfactorily, that was OK. But by nature, I am proactive and inquisitive, and through experience I am used to making my own decisions. But sometimes it seems like there are so many small decisions to make, and so many small jobs to do that you haven’t the space in your head to allow your eyes to see clearly. That is how it has been for me, but I know that goes for many others too; I have seen enough people so overwhelmed by toeing the line in uncaring companies that they can’t see how debilitated they have become, some so engrossed in their own projection of their lifepath or overcome by their own workload that their decision making abilities are impaired.
So I have been concentrating on the little things, and my head is starting to feel clearer, and so is the workshop, and so is the paperwork, and so is the garden.
The garden at the moment looks to be just soil, except for the broccoli which we are eating as hard as we can before the buds threaten to turn into flowers, but the weather is still cool so perhaps the message of flowering is not so urgent, but it has been dry, too, almost too dry for weeds to germinate. So I have been watering bare soil, or compost spread on soil, to provoke the weeds into action before the plants are transplanted. The greenhouse staging, by contrast, is full of tiny plants, and some days it has been warm enough to leave the door open to give more air movement in addition to the two automatic opening lights in the roof. At the field last weekend Lucy pulled all the branches from where I laid the hedge, away from the roadside into the field, and Lucy herself is now out in the field at nights too.
Then yesterday, Liz and I took some much needed time off and went for a bike ride, down the lanes, over one of the lift-up bridges that cross the canal, to the end of another lane where we briefly visited our neighbour’s son who bought a 30 acre farm last year. It is in a beautiful spot, well out of the way of motor cars, with buildings in good condition, a pond in the field behind, and week-old chicks in a coop on the sunny side of the house. We didn’t stay long because he had someone there to help split apart his 1980s Ford tractor to replace the clutch, but on leaving, Liz asked whether I was envious – ‘this was what you pictured when we came here, twenty-five years ago?’ Back then, I would have been envious, but there is only a shadow of envy remaining, because that is not the way things turned out, and my energy levels are not what they once were. In the intervening years I have twisted and turned to make the best out of what we could, when and whenever, however we could, and despite what we have not being the ideal set up, it is here where we have steadfastly invested our effort and attention, time and money, so it is really our place, and there is no regret in that. Because, in the end, it doesn’t matter how many acres you have, whether your place is in the perfect location, or how big a tractor you can afford, it is whether you enjoy the work you are doing.
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.