John Mattingly: Socratic Rancher 10-15-12
It’s that time of year when there is the faint smell of pumpkins, and the sweet aroma of ripe corn in the air. It’s also a time of serious matchups in football, the World Series, a deep blue sky and days that get a little bit shorter, meaning there is more time to enjoy the evening.
It’s this time of year that always kept me in the farming and ranching business.
I think every person in the business has, at one time or another, faced a series of tough situations that caused them to consider early retirement, or just plain quitting. I’ve had friends who’ve faced such difficult circumstances that no one would criticize them for hanging up their hat and heading for town.
The few times I was in that situation, I ended reasoning it out this way. In the summer, you can’t quit. You start out managing the farm, and it ends up managing you. Whatever has happened, has happened, and you have no choice but to deal with it. One time my wife said to me, “If there ever was a time to quit, it’s now, but, of course, we can’t.”
It’s also impossible to quit in the spring because there’s something irresistible about the prospect of turning all those brown fields green again. The smell of thawing earth and diesel fumes always inspired my unfailing optimism. Spring is a chance to correct all the mistakes of the past and get a fresh start. I can’t imagine quitting in the spring. There’s too much hope afloat, and even if certain elements — such as crooked markets, nasty weather, escalating input prices, ornery hired help, government bungling, insane breakdowns and persistent backaches — are riding you like a rented mule, you will still get out there and give it a go.
Winter, on the other hand, seems like the most appropriate time to quit. It’s cold, there isn’t a lot going on sometimes, but then again, the fact that it makes so much sense to hang it up in the winter, is precisely why it makes no sense at all. Besides, in the winter you start to see a few of your neighbors at a farm sale, or in town, and you find the slow pace of life to have a certain seductive quality.
Winter afternoons spent working on machinery in the shop, coming in for coffee and cake with family and friends over a warm stove, tend to take a person’s mind off the all the headaches of the prior season. By February, or there abouts, most of the tragedies and dramas of the previous year have dwindled to mere potholes in the road to another season. It helps, of course, if you win a few door prizes at vendor dinners, and most of the checks you receive for your crops don’t bounce, and you buy a certain piece of needed machinery at a bargain, and your back and knees and shoulders start to recover a bit.
That leaves fall as the only season available for quitting. Instead, however, it has always been the clincher to keep me going. In addition to crisp weather, the relaxing pace, the seductive smells and shorter days, and the opportunity to prepare for next year by getting a good jump on better strategies, the really nice thing about fall is when you get an extra hour of sleep when the clocks go backwards.
So I say: fall ahead. ❖
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