Farmer John Writes: Can You Hide a Mistake?
Harvest Week 10, September 5th – 10th, 2022
The Sweet Corn this Week
The sweet corn you receive this week might be a bit overdone, a bit starchy. Some of the kernels are even dented. It’s still flavorful, just might not be to your highest liking. Still, there are people who like sweet corn when it’s a bit overdone.
Farm Field Day for Shareholders on Saturday, Sept 17th…Come Early
In last week’s Farm News, I described our upcoming Shareholder Field Day pretty well, but, upon reflection, we have a bit too much to fit in between 11 am and 4 pm, especially if you want to attend the concert by Jutta and the Hi-Dukes, and the barn dance, and go on a hayride to get pumpkins and attend the potluck.
If you want to be in on all the action, I suggest arriving at 10 am for a hayride to the pumpkin patch.
If you come at 11, you might miss something special.
Another thing to consider: our barn loft has limited capacity. We can squeeze about 60 people into the theater side of the loft, maybe 80 into the gallery side of the loft, where the barn dance will be. That’s enough capacity for a regular Field Day turnout, but when there is entertainment on a Field Day, sometimes we get a really big turnout. As they say, we’ll have to see when the time comes.
When I was 17, a lot of my friends hunted. I thought I should hunt, too. I was permitted to use my dad’s 12-gauge shotgun for this social purpose.
I didn’t especially like hunting, but I liked spending time with my friends. Sometimes, to practice like I was hunting with my friends, I would swagger around the farmstead by myself, shotgun resting on my shoulder, pointed up and backwards. I liked the feel of the heavy gun on my shoulder. I had been trained in gun safety, and was very aware of the responsibility of safely using a gun. I also knew that that level of safety required steadfast vigilance. I had random vigilance. I operated and handled the gun safely when I was thinking about it, and rather carelessly or indifferently when my mind wandered to other things.
So, I was 17 and walking past the barn that is now our packing barn, and ker pow! The gun went off. Let me put this a little more responsibly: ker pow! I had inadvertently pulled the trigger. I wasn’t dead, but there was a 6-inch ellipse etched into the barn wall.
I realized in that moment that I was not suited to handle a gun, due to my intermittent attention to the details of safety. To give up guns back then—that was fine; I didn’t like hunting much, and I could be with my friends in other ways.
But what to do about the hole in the barn wall? I didn’t want my dad to see it. I didn’t want anyone to see it. I ran and cut a board, painted it white, scrambled over to the barn with a ladder, and quickly pounded the board up over the shotgun hole.
Then I wondered over the next few weeks if anyone would notice the new shiny white board. It seems no one did, because the appearance of that patch on the barn end wall was never mentioned to me. I had learned my lesson. I was done with guns. I would no longer be a danger to my hunting friends.
That was 50 years ago, and we are now painting that barn again. (We have probably painted that end wall 8 to 10 times since the 50’s.) While studying the barn end wall and wondering in which colors to trim it, that square white board covering the shotgun hole kept catching my attention. Maybe it’s finally time to pry it off and replace the boards underneath it.
Can a Mistake Really be Hidden?
This brings to mind mistakes in general. Can we really hide them? A ruined crop disappears into time (though it leaves its debris in one’s bank account, so it doesn’t fully disappear.) An insult might be gradually forgotten, especially when aided by an apology. A water spill might simply evaporate. Are the mistakes gone when we can no longer experience them, notice them? Or are they always there, in some physical or indelible cosmic form?
If I replace those shotgunned boards, what happens to the mistake I made that Sunday afternoon over 50 years ago? Is it erased, vanquished? Will I, exonerated, sling that shotgun over my shoulder and go out on a hunt? Should I invite my former high school classmates, all septuagenarians now, to join me in the hunt? “Hey, you guys, I know how to handle a gun now. There is no evidence to the contrary. Let’s go.”
I suppose I can go on here about this idea of mistakes, just focusing on that barn.
We had a moving company move the barn from a nearby farm to its current location in the 1960’s. My mother lamented that she didn’t take the day off from teaching to film the move. She was like that, always recognizing glorious moments in the farm’s unfolding, and wanting to record them with her 8 mm camera. Many times, she mentioned her mistake over not filming that move.
I mentioned the following in a newsletter several years back. Our long driveway to the farm used to be lined with trees and brush, so if you drove down it and looked over to the east, you would just get intermittent views of the field behind the brush. When our milkman came to pick up our milk, he could see the barn floating across the field but not the two big tractors pulling it, as they were obscured by the brush. Hmm…barn floating across the field…and he was a heavy drinker. He told my dad that he thought he had gotten into a wreck and had gone to heaven where barns float. Then he stopped drinking for a full 6 months. His mistake of thinking the barn was floating led to some good, for a while. Then he made the mistake of drinking again.
Then there was my mistake of taking the lower end wall of the barn out in order to more conveniently clean the barn, as it had become our livestock barn. The west winds started to lean it to the east. In a couple of years, it leaned a full 14 inches. It was going to tip over soon. But I screwed long heavy anchors into the ground, and winched it back to true.
Another mistake due to that barn—I attended Beloit College over 50 years ago, and a Beloit fraternity asked to have a party in that barn. Okay, I said. After milking, I went up to the barn loft to visit the party. Some of the fraternity brothers didn’t recognize me. They accused me of crashing the party. Several of them aggressively took hold of me, and announced the plan of throwing me out of the barn’s second story window. As they forced me towards the window, the fraternity president intervened, saving me from a dreadful fate, and proceeded to assure me that they were a great bunch of guys, real brothers, and would I consider joining their fraternity and letting them have all sorts of parties in my barn? I declined, as I wasn’t able to get over their mistake of trying to throw me out the loft window. It’s just not a good come-on to threaten to throw someone from a window when your leaders want that person to join your group.
The Thing About Mistakes
Victor and I often talk about the mistakes we make. We agree, “we’re not farming unless we are making mistakes. We can’t avoid them and we make them every day. They are part of life. The important thing is to learn from them.” (I’ll add here that Victor is not prone to making mistakes; he just handles such a wide swath of responsibility, that mistakes are bound to happen under his watch.)
We All Fall
Rudolf Steiner offered this bit of wisdom: “Learn to separate the important from the unimportant.”
Most mistakes aren’t that important, even if they feel like they are. It’s a good idea to categorize them as they arise: not important; not important; not important; kind-of important; not important; uh-oh, that’s a big one—important; not important; insignificant…