In a curious chain of thoughts which started with snow that the
tribal witch doctor weather service didn’t predict earlier in the day and moved on to Pride & Prejudice, specifically the part that takes place over the winter, it occurred to me that the peacefulness of pastoral life is real, but often mischaracterized. It’s not that farmers don’t have any worries. Like everyone else, they’ve got plenty. It’s that they don’t have a particular kind of worry that’s particularly pressing on a great many non-farmers.
Non-farmers, by and large, are doing things that have contextual value in an ever-changing context. The software that I write today has value today, and almost certainly will next year, but probably won’t in twenty years. As a result, we’re always going somewhere. Then there is looking for promotions and new opportunities… When you put it all together, we don’t really know what success ten years from now will even look like. This also makes it very difficult to raise children, since we have no good way of knowing what future to prepare them for.
Of the various worries of a farmer, this is not one of them. The future is as uncertain for a farmer as it is for anyone else, but he does, at least, know what he will be doing next year: farming. He knows what he will teach his children how to do: farm.
The modern world has, of course, complicated this like it has everything else. Life with modern GPS-guided self-driving tractors is not the same as leading a team of horses to pull a plow, to be sure. Raising cows using sonigram machines to tell how good their meat is and inseminating them all using frozen sperm bought from one of the top bulls in the country is certainly not an identical skillset to what cow farming was a hundred years ago, either. I’m not trying to over-sell the reliable character of pastoral life.
I’m just noting that it does have this character, and especially that prior to the steam tractor it very much had this character. Even now, though, it has far more of this kind of stability that most of the rest of life has. I suspect this is why so many hallmark movies (I’m told) involve the fantasy of leaving the rat race and becoming some kind of farmer, though often with the twist of bringing some skill gained from the rat race to make farming pay better than it often does. It’s a fantasy, but fantasies have to connect with reality at some point, and I strongly suspect this is the point at which this kind of fantasy connects with reality.