Home & Shop Companion #0079
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
When I was a child, and even more so before that, peppered amongst everyday speech in Britain were numerous common phrases and proverbs – ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ ‘a bad workman always blames his tools,’ ‘biting off more than you can chew.’ There was a proverb for every occasion, and sometimes there were two opposing phrases to suit the speaker’s views, such as ‘many hands make light work,’ or ‘too many cooks spoil the broth.’ Some of these sayings were definitely used to keep someone in their place, a societal judgement on behaviour, but many are pretty useful, perhaps especially the ones derived from farming, ‘make hay while the sun shines,’ ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket,’ and ‘don’t put the cart before the horse.’
Another proverb which has been floating in my mind recently is ‘pride comes before a fall.’ Today, this viewpoint fits uneasily in our swanky, boastful society, or perhaps it should be a warning. Personally, I am most suspicious of pride, especially if pride is translated as vanity or vainglory, which is how I perceive it – an overblown sense of ability or right. To check on my understanding, I looked up the word just now, and one definition was decidedly more modest, ‘a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements.’ With this definition, pride might just move into acceptability, but it still seems too self-satisfied for me. Because, in whatever I do, I see the view from the back door, I know my foibles and failings, and recognise that my achievements are built on what I have learned from others and the continuing help and support I get, just as much as my own efforts.
Nonetheless, I must admit that once hay making was finished a couple of weeks ago, there was a welcome feeling of satisfaction from completing the job successfully. Pride? Perhaps. It depends on your definition.
Then a few days later there came the fall; it is something that often happens to me when a demanding, important, new or challenging job is finished, a low patch follows. Because after concentrating and working hard on one thing, when it is done, the rest of life reasserts itself with familiar and new demands; not so much to feel good about now, hey? And so it was last week; I had a violin which on its very first playing seemed exceptionally good, and then after a while it didn’t, and as I looked over the dried-out field after the hay, it could be so much better, more diverse, more productive, more resilient, and I won’t even mention the vegetable garden, because if you were hoping for a shining example of how it should be done, the vegetable garden this year is not it. It is not a photo you would put on your social media, where all the front doors are newly painted and the doorknobs brightly polished. As I said, I see the view from my back door.
They used to say, and cultural norms still advocate – put your best foot forward, don’t wash your dirty linen in public, face the world with a smile, but I am back teeth fed up with the accompanying superficiality, the game show distractions from genuine problems, the pretty pictures, the saccharine solutions and the shallow communications. A prime example, even in my semi-sheltered and at least partly conscious existence, is Facebook, and the reason I know this is because for good, but mostly I suspect, for ill, I do use it. It started as a way to advertise my work, but it is a blunt tool for advertising, and the whole thing sucks you in, and month by month it becomes more about advertising stuff the algorithms think you might buy, and less about your best friend’s children or someone doing something with their horses. And although I like the pictures of the horses, especially when at work, and I am in various groups devoted to it, I am thinking of knocking the whole thing on the head. It is not because I doubt the intentions of the contributors, but for me there aren’t enough words, and often the words that do appear come too quick, more direct than if we were having a real conversation face to face, but without the tonal variations and facial expressions that moderate the meaning, and which tie us together through the bonds of interest and friendship. Although the comments may be helpful, they are usually too partial, incomplete, too parochial. What can you say, for instance, in two or three sentences, to someone who asks why their horse is doing something wrong, if you can’t see what is happening and the only guide is the owner’s observations, someone who by definition doesn’t understand what is going wrong?
In contrast, I think of the ‘Ask a Teamster’ articles in the SFJ, Doug Hammill’s detailed answers and explanations of what can happen with horses in particular situations, the possible causes and the various ways to overcome or prevent those problems. And Eric and Anne Nordell’s bio-extensive market gardening articles, and the thought and effort they put in to growing good weed-free crops while improving soil health and making a living, and, because I know how long it takes, the effort in putting it all into writing, and getting the good pictures, that, as it is said, ‘paint a thousand words.’ I guess we all like pictures, and a picture can lift your spirits as well as showing you what is happening, but without the words, you probably won’t understand how, and as sure as eggs is eggs, you won’t know why.
So, for this week, that is my thousand words, more or less. The irony, from my back door view, is that my failings, especially on the garden front are mostly due to a lack of time, time which, had I not been tapping out these words, could have been spent keeping the garden on track. But perhaps some of these words may be more useful than a few extra cabbages, and as I come up to another birthday with a big zero, when the tally of these letters overtakes my years, perhaps my experiences may prove to be more valuable to someone else than to me, whether as an example or a warning.
So, words done, it is back to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel. After all, a journey begins with a single step, time waits for no man. But I am tired of those old chestnuts, words worn weary with repetition, even only after playing with them long enough to write this down; I think we need some new proverbs. How about –
Happiness is in the doing.
Today is the day to make a difference.
You can lead a horse to water, but it would have got there on its own if it was thirsty!
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.