2005. When I was 5, I wanted to be an archaeologist
and a hairdresser. I thank my mother for encouraging me to follow
these lofty, if not likely career goals, at least for a few years
or so. (I can recall a certain pro-feminist bedtime story we used
to read together, starring the likes of Margaret Thatcher and a
high-ranking female diplomat in India. My mother is an attorney.)
Truth be told, I never made it past the French braid, and I didn’t
even take any anthropology classes in college; however, I still
hold my first idea of being a “real person” with a “real
job” in the “real world” close at heart. It is
this dissonant merging of the artistic and the practical that still
guides me at 23.
For all readers hoping for the next installment of life on the
farm, please forgive this momentary tangent. I’m just finishing
up a luxurious two-and-a-half weeks of vacation. As introspective
as I may be while hand-weeding and bleaching compost buckets on
the farm, there is something about physical distance that seems
to nurture self-reflection. I tucked myself into airplanes and trains—even
the passenger seat of my friend Molly’s Civic hybrid—to
shuttle further from the land of ice and snow and closer to a little
warmth and clarity. And during the moments of lounging on the beach
and driving through Pennsylvania farmland that comprised my spring
break, I managed to string together a few thoughts on my experience
in Lake Placid so far.
I now know how to drive in “winter conditions.” I’ve
navigated Cascade Pass (elevation: 2,200 ft.) more than 180 times
in my station wagon—often straight through waves of white
powder and streams of sleet and hail—squealing the antilock
brakes to avoid clipping a statue-like buck staring down my headlights.
I’m comfortable removing the organs from a freshly-slaughtered
rooster. I can explain why sap flows in spring, and what “Adirondack”
means. I look forward to barn chores. I wake up at 6 a.m., even
on my days off, and have trouble dressing myself in anything other
than the stained, shredded work pants I’ve owned since high
school. But for all the progress and the growth I’ve experienced
since mid-August, I am, without a doubt, still figuring things out.
For further illustration, here is a recent conversation I had with
my boss, John:
(Scene: A station
wagon, heading south on I-87 towards Albany, approximately 8 .a.m.
Laura flips between radio stations, intent on catching the end
of All Things Considered. John and Laura speak about higher education.)
Laura: …So I just don’t know where
I’m headed. Some days I’m certain I want to enroll
in an agriculture program. Others, I’m sure I’m cut
out for law school…
John: Looking back, do you think you could have
learned what you did in the past 16+ years of schooling in a shorter
amount of time?
Laura: Hmmmm. I don’t know. I guess there
are a handful of core skills I gained in the past several years.
John: Such as…?
Laura: Well, I would say that I know how to
listen, and to communicate my thoughts and opinions to others….in
writing and in speech. And I’ve learned how to be successful
in school and how to advance to more school…if that could
be considered a skill.
John: Interesting. Take this exit.
This internship, so far, has been an interesting and satisfying
mix of practical knowledge and artistry. My tasks—and roles—at
North Country School run the gamut, so that one day I’m peering
up at the belly of a tractor learning about wheel adjustments in
the morning, and drafting a grant proposal in the afternoon. The
moments as humbling as scrubbing 200 pounds of potatoes have slipped
in line beside the sometimes revolutionary fervor my job inspires
in me. (Case in point: During the November elections, I told the
headmaster here that I felt I was making a statement against the
political status quo just by coming to work.) I spent hours scouring
over the Johnny’s catalog to find the right aesthetics for
our 435-foot-long flowerbed. Call me an idealist, or even a perfectionist,
but at least I like my job.
As I think forward to the next five months, I promise to keep both
my mother’s doting inspiration and John’s probing questions
in mind. These days, I wish a few of my mother’s pep talks
had taken place in my dad’s workshop, as now I struggle with
basic carpentry projects and working with power tools. (I somehow
grew up practicing a plethora of competitive sports and playing
the cello and trumpet, but never once used a ratchet.) In my home
in the Connecticut River Valley, I dreamed about hairstyles and
Egyptian mummies, but knew very little about the tobacco farming
right outside my door.
I see now that being a farmer requires more than a fancy degree,
or even a family farm; the modern farmer has an artist’s eye,
a biologist’s understanding, an incredible work ethic, a businessperson’s
savvy, and boatload of practical expertise. I hope the next five
months will make these job requirements seem (at least a little)