The transition of ownership and management in world of farming is one of the vexing challenges for families that have passed land down from one generation to the next. “The older generation struggles to let go of the reins,” says an article in the October issue of Harper’s Magazine. “To trust their kids to carry on a long and fragile tradition.”
Those of us who don’t make our living directly off the land have our transitions too. Just last year during the first two weeks of October, I was deeply involved in clearing out the home that our family had owned for twenty years. It was not easy work clearing out stuff that no one needed while separating and storing family keepsakes and mementos. It was all the more difficult with the memory of my late wife popping up at every turn of a page or opening of a box.
But it got done the same way it got done when I cleaned out my father’s house earlier that same year. There were dumpsters full of stuff that we’d accumulated over decades of living in those homes.
The weight of all that assessment and the decisions that go with it can be hard to shake. Some days I’d be so tired from cleaning out the house…that a run or ride was the last thing I wanted to do. When the feet are numb and the legs ache, the notion of going out to run and additional five miles just doesn’t seem inviting.
Hitting the bricks
Some days I still did it. That was an unusual form of “brick,” to use the triathlon term that applies to engaging in one workout immediately after another. A typical brick is doing a run right after a bike ride. Just last weekend my wife rode 104 miles and then ran a four-miler when she was done. That brick was hard. But she did it.
During a true “transition” in triathlon we change clothes and gear as we shift from being one type of athlete to another. In fact, that’s the dictionary definition of the word transition: “the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.”
Next week I happen to be enrolled in a seminar through work that will focus on the subject of transition. The director of the seminar, Dee Cascio, was seeking input from scheduled participants so that she could better gauge what people wanted from the experience. I accepted a request to be interviewed by phone about what we’d like to learn from the seminar.
We talked for half an hour by phone late yesterday. During our conversation we discussed some of the events of my life the past ten years. Going backwards, that included getting re-married and starting a new job this past year. There was also the move into our home last fall after clearing out of my former home during October. Before that there were all the financial decisions to make the whole home purchase work. That came after several years of dating Sue, which led to a marriage proposal in April of last year. But I got overexcited and forgot to give my kids a heads up that I was about to pop the question.
So it’s all been about transitions. Change.
Life has truly been like a triathlon for me. Going from one event to another.
I’m fairly healthy about dealing with change. Yet once in a while the world seems to shudder to a stop. It’s almost like I get off for a moment, look around and wind up asking, “Where the hell am I?”
Perhaps you’ve had the same sort experience during a long bike ride or a run. We take for granted that we’re humming along and suddenly a weird reality kicks in as we’re passing some benign thing like a cornfield and the brain goes one step further: “Who the hell am I?”
Sometimes the evidence of transition comes from external sources. When my son stayed with us during a transition between his home in Cleveland and his new home in California, he was shocked to find out that Sue and I hire a woman to clean the house. “Who are we?” he asked.
But with all the time we spend working all day and then working out in morning and evening hours, then buying groceries, paying the bills, keeping up with friends or church or other obligations, the time to clean the house gets scarce. Plus the gal we hire is almost like a relative to Sue.
The fact of the matter is that we all put down roots in different ways. They say the biggest organism in the world is an aspen grove, for it can cover miles with its underground root system. The pretty trees we see aboveground are only a fraction of its total being. It travels by roots.
Roots of a different kind
By contrast, farmers depend on sticking seeds in the ground and tearing the soil up again each year. Yet the bond they feel with the land is strong. They put down roots of a different kind, one might say. These are hard to give up when it comes time to step aside and let the next generation take over.
That is the ultimate transition in life. To recognize mortality, the grandeur and the value of life itself. People can sense the importance of that no matter how they put down roots. Even a rambling fool that has never held a job more than a year, who wanders around on foot or a motorcycle, a beat up old car or a sleek mobile camper with electric to run air conditioning at a national park still finds some sense of those roots somehow.
It’s all about roots and transitions. Everything we do.