Marking Time On The Farm



Like most of you, I’m sure, I’ve developed ways to tell time by eyeing up the sun with various fixed features on the farm. When I’m hoeing in the garden in the summer,  I know it’s about time for lunch when the farthest reach of tree shade from the woods brushes the garden boundary. This changes a bit every day so it’s a little tricky but Swiss watch precision is not necessary. As a boy, cultivating corn in rows running north and south in early June, I knew that when the shade of the muffler top sticking up above the tractor hood reached the third corn row over to the east, it was about five o’clock and time to go home for chores. Who needs watches?

When I left the city office environment, I stripped off my watch and put it in a dresser drawer where it still resides. I think of a wristwatch as a manacle chaining me to a way of life that reckons time as money. Not for me. I want to live where work is so interesting that I don’t care what time the clock says it is. At the office I was constantly glancing at my watch wondering if it was time to go home yet. On the farm in somewhat younger years I could hardly believe how fast the time went by before Carol was calling me in for supper. Or I might get a notion between the corn rows to go sit under a shade tree beside the creek and watch the water flow by. No boss was going to hound me to get back to work. The worst thing to happen to farmers was headlights on tractors which made time seem more like money. Then we felt compelled to work all night and owe the bank more than ever.

I happened to be reading through a catalog devoted entirely to watches recently—  it came with the Sunday New York Times which I now read faithfully to remind myself how ignorant and poor I am. The wrist watch today, far from being a manacle, is seen as a badge of honor, a mark of success. The more diamonds glitter around the clock face, the more the watch glorifies time as money. Not many of the ads mention price (if you have to ask, you can’t afford it) but enough did to reveal that today’s watch can easily cost $5000 and sometimes go beyond $25,000. I will bet that the people wearing the $25,000 variety complain more about paying taxes than the ones sporting $5000 models.

The descriptions of these bejeweled works of timeless art are full of grand words like hypoallergenic aspects (I have no idea), gold that won’t scratch, banquette cut pink sapphires— language like that along with wondrous machining that allows the watch to go on ticking even if its wearer dives deep into the ocean. Some watches can change time zones as the wearer soars through space in an airplane so that one can calculate how much money is being made no matter where the sun is. But through it all I discern a hunger for simpler times when the day’s work began at sunup and ended at sundown. In one advertisement, the CEO of a foremost Swiss watch company explains his philosophy about time being money by saying: “For me this means plain speaking and not wasting time in pointless meetings. Rustic common sense if you will.”

Rustic common sense? Wearing a watch that, as a rustic, I don’t need and costs more money than I make all year? As a rustic, marking time without a watch has an effect worth more than gold that won’t scratch. As I move around my little world, I am always aware of how constantly the earth is moving around the sun, reminding me of the ever-changing shadow of reality. Everything is constantly in motion. There is no permanence, no matter how much we desire it. Time is not money; time is life. Even that big old white oak tree that seems so immobile, creeps toward the sun a tiny bit every day, or if it has reached the end of its days, shrinks a little every day until it tumbles and rots down into the earth.

I used to hate daylight saving time when I was milking a big herd of cows because it surely didn’t save any daylight for me. When a cow is accustomed to being milked when the sun has barely cleared the fencerow to the east of the barn, and suddenly she must come to the holding pen when the sun is still below the fence, she is not happy and neither am I. If I had been out having a beer with the boys after a ball game until midnight, which was sometimes the case,  I had a hard time figuring out how any time was saved when I had to get up before the sun did. Then about the time both the cows and I got used to “fast” time, we had to turn the clocks back again. If I had been wearing a watch  that changed back automatically, I might not have noticed and missed church the next Sunday. Darn.


Not sure why you feel the need to ask…

Hey, would you mind if I share your blog with my Twitter supporters? There’s a lot of people that I think would take pleasure in your written content. Please let me know. Thank you.

Well, you know what the old farmer says about daylight savings time. It’s like cutting the top off a quilt and sewing it to the bottom to make it longer.

Hawaii can’t make sense of it, either.

I detest the time changes. I refuse to change the clocks in the vehicles, my husband usually does it and I have been telling him for years when I retire I’m not changing the clocks in the house anymore.

Gene, working in a factory, I’ve always said “I can make more money, but I can’t make more time”.

John Mele, that’s a new one for me. I just don’t know. Jan Steinman: evilBay, that’s a good one. Hadn’t heard before. Sundancer55. There used to be some counties side by side in southern Indiana when I lived there that would not go on DST. Don’t know if it is still true. It was a real challenge to travel through that area. And the subject was extremely controversial. Gene

This is a serious inquiry. Has anyone used horse manure as an additive in a homemade clay based soil/concrete like mix to make an exterior walkway? Mixtures I have found use water, clay, cement and I was thinking of horse manure as a binder of sorts but maybe this out in left field. Maybe a new use for it? Any info of any kind for an alternate to poured concrete that yields a walk able semi-hard surface.

Gene is the expert of the stuff I have his book “Holy shit” and not a word on this.
John Mele

Amen to that. The other keeper for me was “marking time without a watch has an effect worth more than gold that won’t scratch”. To misquote a popular movie of the past “Show me the not-money”.

“Fast time”. Only hear that phrase from my Amish neighbors. My neighbors do not change to daylight savings time. I am so glad we will all be on the same time next week so that when we arrange a time to meet we are all talking about the same thing.

In my little village the church bells ring at 05:30, 12:00 and 20:00 in summer 18:00 in winter. I find that on the weekend that I tend to live my life to their rhythm. Here in Germany the summer light lasts to 22:00 and the evening bells help to remind me that it’s time to set aside the work , relax and enjoy a meal.

I have a Seiko Bellmatic that I got on evilBay for under $50, including shipping. This bit of 1970’s technology never needs winding, but has no battery, and yet it has a mechanical alarm. It’s 17-jewel movement can probably be repaired as long as there are people doing that — you certainly wouldn’t throw it in a landfill if it stopped working. It’s too simple for an instruction manual, but I managed to download a repair manual scan for it.

I used to share your disdain for wrist shackles before I re-discovered automatic winding mechanical watches. Now I can proudly “go retro” with my steampunk watch, and be the envy of young folk who have never known anything but quartz watches and their battery-hungry ways.

It has a cost and a reward, though. The cost is I can no longer say I didn’t know what time it was when I miss some important appointment — like lunch! The reward is that I can be in the “back 40” cutting firewood, and the Bellmatic alarm vibrates my wrist even over the sound of the chain saw, and I manage to get back to the house in time for lunch.

Gene, I love your line…Time is not money; time is life.

My belly does a pretty good job of telling me when it’s time for the important stuff. I tend to show up early for the meetings that a part of life for an actively engaged curmudgeon. I find that I use a calendar more frequently than a clock and look to the thermometer to get my fix of important numbers.

The fallback of the clocks does not change much in our house. At this time of year we are up way before dawn anyhow to deal with the critters. Just a bit longer until we turn out the lights. Cat Stevens sang “morning is broken”. I ain’t gonna fix it.

We do get a good shot at some extra star gazing. Enjoy!

I loved this post as living by the seasons, phases of the moon, and nature’s hours is the luxury we have traded in for our watches. Having been a nurse in my former life, minutes and seconds demanded notice. My little rebellion was to wear a Betty Boop watch whose eyes clicked back and forth to the seconds. She cost me about $10.


Great post! It made my day and made me laugh. Today is my day off from my “real job” and I just came in from doing my “important job” chores (i.e. rotating goats to new pasture) to read your blog. I looked down at my wrist and low and behold no watch! Tomorrow when I go back to the bind one of the last things I do is put my watch back onto my wrist. My non-contrary farmer friends and family just do not seem to understand when I tell them I cannot wait to take off my noose (necktie) and shackle (wristwatch) – of course most of them do not wear watches anymore……they are constantly tied to their smartphone which tells them the time and everything else they need/want to know. However that is another topic altogether. Thank you again Gene.

Verlyn Klinkenborg “the rural life” “Around A.D. 300, Eusebius concluded that the universe was created 5,198 years before the Incarnation of Christ. Even if the universe were only 12 billion years old, it would be 2,182,612 times older than Eusebius thought it was. Somehow that doesn’t convey the immensity it should. Neither does the fact that, given these new numbers, the universe is only a little more than three times as old as life on Earth. The difficulty doesn’t lie in the age of the universe. It lies in our tendency to imagine all those billions as a single sum and not as the slow progression of one year after another and another and another from the Big Bang until now.”

We didn’t milk our couple of cows by the clock, daylight savings time or not. We milked them according the sunrise and sunset, no matter what the clock said, unless they kicked up a commotion indicating they needed milked sooner. It was the same with feeding chickens, too. Unless they set up to makin’ a big fuss, they ate when the sun told us it was time, not the gubmint goons who made up daylight savings time (which actually saved no one anything tangible). It has caused more grief to people over the years than anything else in lost sleep, etc., and it messes up schedules for all sorts of daily activities. I had “city” friends who complained because during ST it was dark when they went to work, and dark when they went home from work. Same for school kids. I don’t think that’s an improvement for most folks.

Is AZ still the only State which doesn’t recognize ST?

I sure wish the entire country’d do away with it.


Once again your essay reminds me of a chapter from my own life. I now realize my Dad suffered from both claustrophobia and seasonal affective disorder. In early June, when the sun was far enough on its northern arc, the sunlight would come into the northwest window of our milking stable. This window was behind the old stone silo and only received sunlight for about 3 weeks. When that corner of the barn finally lit up during milking my Dad’s excitement was incredible. Of course the opposite was also true. About the 10th of July the sun would no longer appear in that dark corner of the barn. My Dad would announce, “The best part of Summer is over!” As a youngster I never could understand that logic. Now I can. Don Rudolph

I can cut and load a trailer load of wood in about 2 and a half hours, so if I am out in the fall doing chores at first light, I have just enough time to get a load of wood cut before a mid-morning coffee break. Then, after coffee, it takes roughly an hour and a half to split that half cord (by axe, a little longer if I have a borrowed mechanical splitter), at which time I am ready for a hefty lunch. And then a brief nap by the wood stove, and then I have the rest of the afternoon to work on other farm projects. I try to hold myself to at least a cord and a half per week (I sell wood for primary income during the winter months, as well as a part time job off the farm and some other small money losing projects to balance out all that productivity.) Generally suppertime is about dark, no matter what time of the year it is. Our meals just get heartier and closer together as it gets colder outside, just the way it was meant to be. 🙂

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it, there ain’t nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill.
But since we’re on our way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.”

— James Taylor

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