Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Waiting for Godot to Call

Waiting for Godot to Call

After our long winter here on the farm, we had a short spring, which means that everyone is behind on the fieldwork.  This, in turn, means long days in the field, running the equipment, trying to get the work done.  Most days it seems pointless to envision a time of leisure or even a time of less stress.  One day I witnessed a neighbor pulling some equipment out of a mud hole for the second time in the span of a few hours, and I texted him, saying the stress level is pretty high this spring.  His response was “at this point, mere stress would feel like a vacation.”  It seems to be our lot to toil sun up to sun down, and one of the side effects of spending those long days alone is the problem of over thinking.  What I thought about, too much I’m sure, is the story of Sisyphus.  He was the one who, according to Greek mythology, was sentenced by the gods to the underworld, and his punishment was to roll a boulder up a hill until it got too steep, at which point the rock would roll back down the hill.  Then he started over again, with the same result, day after day, week after week, year after year.  Farming seems a lot like that sometimes.  We kill the weeds, and they grow back.  We plant the crop, harvest it, and then plant again.  Pick  rock, and more rocks work their way to the surface.   Every task is repeated over and over, year after year.   Like Sisyphus, every morning we start again, knowing that tomorrow we will start again.

Edwards Family Rockpile  1911--2018

The story of Sisyphus enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in 1942 when the philosopher Albert Camus wrote an essay called “The Myth of Sisyphus.”  Camus was a rock star in France and among the culturally elite in the 1940’s and 50’s and can be credited as the leading proponent of a school of thought called “Absurdism.”  The Absurd refers to the conflict between man’s desire to find meaning in life, and the realization that there is no meaning.  Camus promoted the idea that even though we know that anything we do is pointless, we should try anyway.  For him, Sisyphus was a hero—he tried to push that rock to the top of the hill knowing he would fail, and yet he did it anyway, again and again.  And that is how farmers feel sometimes.  Most farmers do not spend their life working in order to achieve a payday, or accolades, or that vacation to a seaside resort.  While our ultimate goal is to feed the world, many days it feels like the meaning of life is to simply work to get the work done.  And it never gets done.  Camus concluded his essay with these words:  “The struggle itself….is enough to fill a man’s heart.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy". 

The Threshers -- digital painting of family snapshot

The photo at the top of the page, “Waiting for Godot to Call” is in reference to the Samuel Beckett play “Waiting for Godot”, which is the most famous Absurdist play ever written and was required reading when I went to school.  As a teenager, trying to understand the play made me feel like Sisyphus, and the process of getting through it was itself an exercise in absurdity.  But as an adult, and as a farmer, it has a lot more appeal for me.  If you haven’t read it or seen it, the play is about a group of guys standing on a country road waiting for another guy, named Godot, to show up.  And he never does.  So what’s the meaning of the play?  The Absurdist perspective is that there is no meaning other than to sit through it and enjoy the struggle of trying to apply meaning.  The larger view is that the play prompts us to examine our lives and find our “meaning of life.”  What is the meaning of life?  Every year, hundreds of books are written on this topic, and thousands more are waiting to be written.  But I feel that the meaning of life can be found in our purpose.  If you can find your purpose, then you find meaning.  And I think that for nearly everyone, finding their purpose results in happiness.  But purpose has to find you to be authentic.  Purpose is born out of passion.  Our purpose is to defend and promote that which we are most passionate about.   For myself and many others, that passion is rooted in faith and family.  Others may have other passions, other purposes, for good or ill.  Purposes shift, I think, as we mature, and as our situations change.   But there is joy in authentic purpose.  Maybe not the sort of joy that has us dancing in our underwear—perhaps it represents itself as getting up every morning to toil in the fields, day after day.  

Prairie Storm

Here in Northcentral Montana, in this region known as Lonesome Prairie, we exist in relative isolation. At times we are nourished by the beauty of the wide-open spaces. Other times, we are fending for ourselves against a harsh, uncaring environment. We feel the weight of previous generations—the weight to succeed as they succeeded—to persevere as they persevered. The pressures that society feels—social, political, financial—are all there, but with the added pressure of having no control over the weather, which is critical to our success as growers. We strive to work with the land as if in some sort of partnership, but in reality, we are not separate from the landscape. We are as much a part of it as a rock in the field, or the antelope wandering the prairie. In the solitude of this agrarian wilderness, there is joy in looking out over a sea of wheat and watching it turn golden as the harvest time approaches. We feel in our bones the year of labor that went into the crop, and we acknowledge the possibility of it all being gone with one severe storm. We know that we see it as our fathers did, and their fathers before them. We are home. We are Sisyphus, waiting for Godot.

Golden Grain

What started me down this thought path was a photograph I took—the one at the top of the page.  I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a photographer for most of my life.  For years I was involved in commercial photography, photographing weddings, families, and high school seniors.  For the past 10 years, I have focused on non-commercial Fine Art photography, attempting to represent the passion I have for this this region of Montana.  That creative process brings me joy.  The day I photographed “Waiting for Godot to Call” I had the pleasure to be in the company of two other photographers who share that passion.  Dennis Dorr is one of the finest outdoor photographers in the state (check out his work at his Facebook page) and Cathy Anderson is one of this country’s premiere action portrait photographers.  Her personal work can be seen at www.cathyandersonphotography.com.

I’ve known Dennis a long time, and Cathy was a speaker at the conference we were all at: the annual convention of the Montana Professional Photographers Association.  By the way, I did very well in print competition at the convention, and the image that received the most awards for me is being offered at a special price for a limited time.  If you’re interested in hanging "Harvest Squaredance" in your home, or giving this print as a gift, head over to the “what’s new” page of my website and check that out.  Here’s the direct link:   https://www.edwardsstudio.com/whatsnew

Harvest Squaredance
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