The Rhythm of Work

Farming is really hard work. It takes a particular kind of stamina to do field work. Most “farmers” are really farm managers who direct labourers to do the necessary work. In the beginning of our farming life, I did a lot of the physical work in the vines. I suckered and weeded and sprayed and pruned and watered and dosed each of the vines myself. Now, if you imagine doing that for a couple of hours, you have an attractive picture of a healthy outdoor life. But if you have to do it all day, from dawn to dusk, in all weathers, then it becomes utterly exhausting and it takes a kind of stamina that has to be developed over years – maybe even generations. If you watch field workers it might seem to you that they are leisurely and perhaps even lazy in their movements. It might seem that they aren’t doing anything too strenuous, but spend a full day with them out there in the sun, wind or rain, and you will discover just how tough the lived experience is. The clue to fieldwork is rhythm. You have to pace yourself or you will only last a couple of hours and maybe be useless the next day as well. Slow and steady wins the day.
In the early years of a vineyard most of the work happens below waist height. The taller you are, the tougher it is. Expect to spend a lot of time on your knees! (There is something peculiarly apposite about this supplicatory position!). There are 1308 vines in our first block. Each had to be cleaned of excess shoots, provided with a supportive piece of twine, trained around that twine, picked free of bugs, and cleaned of side-shoots. I did a lot of kneeling and rising in the first year.
While on the subject of physical endurance, let me mention the need for mental toughness. I am easily flustered and given to bouts of the black dog. For a farmer, this is not a good thing. I am particularly susceptible to gloominess when the weather is cold and windy. Also when it doesn’t rain for months on end. And when it rains too much, or it rains at just the wrong time. A farmer needs to be able to take these things in his stride. You have to learn to get the work done regardless of its seeming endlessness and in the face of an often hostile world. I am really envious of those farmers I’ve met who have the deep stoicism and calm good humour that the job needs. I am getting better at this but in karate terms I’m still a yellow belt.