Dry, windy, sunny days have replaced our densely foggy mornings and clear afternoons. On Sunday morning, I helped Alex move the cows from one paddock to another. This was my first time assisting on this maneuver. On paper, intensive rotational grazing sounds so elegant, so easy. Just roll up the electric fence wire, pull up the light-weight posts, and move them to outline a new paddock. Then clip on the electric wire, attach it to the battery, move the water trough, herd the cows from one pasture to another, all while dancing in the sunshine. No T-posts, no barbed wire... lovely!
At 9am I was wrestling with the reel that winds up the fence wire. It's heavy, and you hold it with one hand and use the other to bring in the wire. There's nothing to brace against, and if you get going too fast or leave too much slack or get too close to the edge of the spool, the wire starts winding up on the outside of the reel, around the handle. Stop, untangle, start over. This is the type of situation most likely to cause me to panic: trying to master a new and tricky skill while being buffeted by high winds and the glare of winter sun. This ambivalent relationship with wind, sun and ropes casts serious doubt on the dream that we may one day as a family repeat Alex's around-the-world sailing trip.
In the end, the cows moved between fields with no trouble. They saw the fresh pasture and ambled, skipped and ran for their new home. Besides my frustration with the cold wind and the fence wire and dragging heavy water lines around, it really was a pleasant way to spend a morning.
I mention the frustration because I think I am susceptible to the illusion that if you can just get your systems right, then farming will be easy. Physically easy, even. I know there are more organized ways to move fences and water hoses than we currently employ, just as there are more efficient ways to transplant and weed our vegetables. But we will still be moving hoses, tramping across fields, hoeing weeds, tripping on gopher mounds and mustard stalks. It's an important practice to learn and value efficiency. I do know that trashing my body in the field does not make me a hero. But I don't think you can farm by hand without learning to meet the physical challenges with respect and (if we are to avoid total burnout) something approaching joy.