Thursday, July 5, 2007

Time Zones

One of the greatest challenges of my life with the farm is living and working in different time zones.

There are two entirely different systems of time at work on my life: clock time, and God's time. Time as a measurable, limited, linear commodity, and time as the infinite, omnipresent embrace that contains all that has been, is, and will be--"the fullness of time." That fullness is even vast enough to include "could have been" and "could be", as well--the realities that exist only in ous hearts and dreams.

There is a kind of clock time that is measured by human-built mechanical apparatus, and there is another clockish kind of time that is measured by non-human standards--natural time.

One of the roles in my life now is heavily focussed on "bus time"--a type of clock time where seconds are important, but may drag on apparently endlessly while waiting for a traffic light to change. I have a special watch that I use when I'm an on-duty city transit bus driver. It's black and broad, digital, engineered to receive satellite signals in the wee hours of the morning that set it to the precise official time for my globe-based time zone (Central). It displays the seconds in exact harmony with the official company clock (also satellite) at Dispatch, the clock by which our performance is measured. When someone asks the time, my answer is something like "11:22 and 43...44...45 seconds."

When I go off duty, I switch to a different watch: a smallish, almost feminine gold-tone Timex analog watch, classically simple in its style. While it keeps excellent time--I've not had to reset it other than for geographical time zone changes while travelling, or daylight savings time--it encourages the reader to round things off. It has a sweep second hand, so I can time eggs or take my pulse--but that hand reads as a motion, a gesture--rather than a sequence of numbers. When someone asks the time, my answer is something like "11:30ish". Close enough for appointments in town, connecting with friends, etc.

A few months ago, I went through the semi-annual frustration of trying to explain daylight savings time to the sheep, chickens and dogs. When I'm not working off the farm, I feed them at the same sun time they are used to, instead of by clock time. When I'm working off the farm, I have to shift my chores relative to Daylight Savings Time, and the sheep wonder why they are being feed later than usual. It's very hard to explain the concept of clocks to sheep.

A different sort of daylight savings time is going into effect now--a natural one. I am shifting into summer mode.

Though I'm naturally a night owl (as you can tell by the times on my blog entries), this is the time of year I begin to look at the hours of 5, 6, and 7 a.m. as someplace perhaps more desireable than I'd previously credited. It is cool then; it is quiet except the birds; the grass is heavy with dew. It is a good time, an even magical time to be out and about with the animals. And the afternoon begins to look like a good time for reading, napping, or otherwise just somehow getting from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. when it begins to cool down. The cool evening and morning hours become more precious as the weather becomes hotter.

But my bus job interferes with that natural shift to siesta schedule. Feeling nappish right after starting my shift is not a good thing. When I get home, I tend to get going on projects and work far into the night, then miss the lovely morning hours when there is both daylight and coolness.

The change to siesta schedule means a mental adjustment in accounting for my use of time on the farm. Each day is like two days: the early work day, and the late work day. In between, a nothing time, "down time" I call it. Together the two days add up to well more than 8 hours on-duty at the farm, but each one is short enough it's easy to feel that I "didn't get anything done." Today was one of those.

This morning, awakened by Luna's peculiar "coyote in the chicken pen" bark, I watched the coyote leap the 6' chain link panels that have up until now been protecting the chickens. In his haste to depart the crime scene when caught red-handed, he wasn't sure he could make the leap with the chicken in his mouth. Not one but two dead chickens lay in the yard, after weeks with no losses. A formidable foe, indeed--and a stunningly gorgeous animal, seen silhouetted on the dew-spangled emerald green of the neighbor's close-cropped lawn.

Then my friend who is buying more of my sheep ( came to help me hitch the trailer and load the sheep she has chosen. How much faster this operation is with someone directing the driver! The sheep were easily sorted, and loaded nicely. They seemed to settle right in at their new farm. A luscious snack of zuccini bread, home to unhitch the trailer, a phone call to pick up a cast-off kitchen sink from another acquaintance, a trip to the farm supply store since I realized many stores were open even though it's a holiday.

Of course, none of that (except moving the sheep, in a vague sort of way) was on the "to-do"list. As I plopped in front of the fan in a comfy chair with a good book (Monty Roberts, The Man Who Listens to Horses, which is surprisingly relevent to sheep), it didn't seem like a very productive day.

Then the tornado sirens went off. I dragged the whole intimidating pile of tangled polytwine electric fence conductor down to the basement and devoted a couple hours to untangling and winding. The donor of the sink had thrown in a coil of 1/4" copper water pipe from an icemaker installation, and I decided to try snaking it alongside the 20' of water pipe that runs through the ceiling to supply the kitchen. It fit perfectly, and I got it to come out the other end! Soon the drinking water tap in the kitchen will dispense unsoftened, natural well water for drinking.

Luna went out with me to check the condition of the grazing in the sheep's current paddocks. This was excellent training for her, to just have a nice relaxed walk with sheep while firecrackers punctuating every step at random distances and directions. When we got back to the barn and grained the "special care" ewes (two with triplets, a couple geriatric ones, one that seems extra susceptible to worms), Luna did an excellent job of working them in the unnervingly noisy conditions.

The 4th of July is even harder to explain to the animals than Daylight Savings Time.

Finally I went out and rigged an electric wire (actually rope) around the top of the chicken coop, and checked the voltage on the fence. 3500 is a little iffy, but hopefully will dampen the coyote's appetite.

The whole time I was doing chores and working on the chicken coop, the neighbors were discharging an unbelievable stock of fireworks less than 100' from me. It was quite weird--an act of faith to continue with my essential work, knowing that I was not being physically threatened by the booming, screaming, sparking displays above my head. I can't complain. The same regulations that give me the right to keep sheep are the ones that given them the right to terrify my livestock with their fireworks and, in another season, guns.They have to listen to my dogs and roosters and the complaints of a ewe whose children left the farm today.

Experiencing the fireworks that close at hand made me wonder how it might feel to be a farmer in a different time zone tonight, one on the other side of the globe, where the gunpowder exploding in the night is not for the amusement of the children, where the mourning ewe is standing over a lamb killed by stray gunfire.

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