What a change in our weather patterns we have witnessed in January. December 2020 brought us more days of snowfall (a total of 18) than I have recorded in the prior thirteen Decembers we have lived in West Virginia. We also received a total of eleven inches of snow from two measurable storms. The month also gave us 3.53 inches of rainfall and, as you might expect, only a few sunny days. January 2021 has produced (to date) only two rainfall days (dropping a total of only 0.14 inches of rainfall) and only nine snowfall days depositing a paltry 1.5 inches of snow.
With such a dry month, you might expect we could do more work outdoors in January than we were able to do in December. However, January’s compensating weather factor has been high winds. During the past week prior to today, snow has fallen and dusted the ground for five consecutive days and we have suffered strong winds, often gusting over twenty miles per hour, for a large part of all seven days. Although a number of our morning lows in January have been slightly above average, the wind chill temperatures often make it feel as though the temperature is hovering in the high single digits or low teens. What morning lows we’ve had that are above average has been compensated by high temperatures that fail to climb above 45 degrees (with 43° being our average high throughout the month). In fact, the winds have given us many days with little change in temperature because they keep the air so stirred up that we get less radiational cooling at night and less radiational heat build-up in the daylight hours.
The fact of the matter is that the overall weather conditions this winter have made it unpleasant to be outdoors any longer than is necessary. In December, the unpleasantness was driven more by precipitation, while strong, bitterly cold winds have been the driving factor in January. Consequently, most of our work activities have been conducted indoors, and we have had very few opportunities to travel anywhere but to our local stores and friends. Who knows what February will bring? At least I’m becoming increasingly confident that Essie will give birth to our first Peeper Pond Farm goat kids sometime in the latter half of February. Her belly is growing out faster than I would expect to see from overeating.
When our activities are confined to the indoors by the prevailing weather conditions, I spend a lot more time reading and thinking. Now that my advancing age has filled my mind to overflowing with memories, it is not surprising that I spend more time thinking about the past. I’ve had occasion during the past few weeks to contemplate the meandering path my life has taken. As I’ve noted in so many past website posts, my adoptive parents always told us we would have to leave our farm and get an education and career in the outside modern world. A number of our local friends are surprised to hear how many different jobs I tried before settling on Planning as a career, only to return to farming (and writing) in my retirement. I guess it makes me seem rather aimless in life, but I never knew what I really wanted to do or what my farming experiences would prepare me to do in the outside world.
Over the years I worked as a rural and small city planner, I came to realize that farming did give me some basic skills that made it easier for me to become a planner. Planning is a skill that is very important to farming. Farmers also have to look at the “big picture” each year and consider a wide range of unpredictable factors from weather, to the cost of materials and basic supplies, to your land and labor resources in order to make good farming and business decisions. You also have to know how to balance the use of your land resources with the ability of nature to support your farming activities to ensure your success. In all these and other less obvious respects, farming provides a good introduction to the basic practice and philosophy of planning that helped make it easier for me to learn how to do it successfully. I only had to adapt the skills of farm planning to the specific needs of cities and towns, but it essentially involves the same line of thinking and understanding. I just tended to approach my planning practice from a very different perspective than my colleagues who were raised in or around cities. Perhaps that’s why my planning career was primarily focused on rural planning, and I was never directly employed by a city with a population of 25,000 or more. I was (and remain) a very different type of professional planner than any others I have ever known. I understand that rural issues and needs are very different from those of city-dwellers and precisely why that is the case.
However, when I reflect on my past life as a professional planner, I realize that it never became the “cushy” office job that my adoptive father thought I would find in the outside world. I can look at my deteriorated physique that I gained from thirty years of “butt work” (sitting in a chair before a computer) and realize that I didn’t have to exert myself to do manual labor as much as I did when I was farming. However, I can attest that local government planning is far more stressful than the farm work I did as a child, which probably contributed greatly to my declining physical abilities as well as my rapidly eroding memory. All you have to do is engage in any political debate today to understand how frustrating and aggravating it can be to work in a political environment. To better understand why planning can be so stressful, simply add to that experience the persistent knowledge that you are the person the elected officials you work for will blame when something doesn’t go right (whether you are truly responsible for it or not) and that those accusations will quickly damage your reputation and your career prospects. It is that haunting knowledge that constantly nagged at my conscience and made me lose so much sleep at night.
Well, if that means that planning was not the “cushy” job my adoptive father thought I could find in the outside world, what was? I had done a lot of other jobs during my college and transition years, but none of them seemed to be the perfect job that my adoptive father felt was waiting for us. However, I think I stumbled across it on a recent trip to the Dollar General in Petersburg. As I turned down the snack aisle (not that I was planning to buy any junk food—as far as you know), I met a man stocking the shelves with bags of potato chips. He was whistling away as he did his rather mundane chore as though he didn’t have a care in the world. As he finished, he chatted pleasantly with me and one of the store employees who was carrying a mop. As we conversed for a few seconds, I began to realize that he was very satisfied with his work delivering cartons of potato chips to small stores scattered around our rural area.
Since then, I’ve had some time to think about it and I have come to the conclusion that the cushiest job I could have chosen was to become a Potato Chip Delivery Truck Driver. Just think about it for a moment. You are given a small truck to drive–not one so big that you need a special license to drive or that you struggle to park. If you get the best route, you get to drive around a truly scenic area all day long to deliver your goods. You don’t have to strain to lift the boxes you deliver because everyone knows that potato chip bags are at least half filled with air, anyway. You don’t have to fear that you could damage the product by mishandling it or taking a bad turn in your truck for that same reason. However, you get enough exercise getting in and out of the truck as you travel your route to keep your basic muscles from wasting away. You encounter no office politics, because you don’t work in an office. You do get to meet a lot of nice, average people that you can spend a few minutes chatting with at each stop without the fear of getting drawn into a long, contentious debate over aggravating or frustrating issues. As long as you don’t accidentally anger anyone you encounter on your route, your boss will think you’re doing a good job—no matter how fast you work. If the weather is bad, you don’t need to spend too much time outdoors at each stop to let it bother you. You can just drive a little more slowly along your route and still get the job done. You can also avoid getting poison ivy while you’re working outdoors, and you can always listen to the radio station you like the most. If those benefits aren’t enough to convince you, consider the fact that someone will actually pay you to do it. What’s more, I could have avoided nearly $40,000 worth of college debt that I always worried about being able to pay back. What more pleasant working conditions could you ask for from a job?
My adoptive father always wanted me to get a job as a computer technician or programmer. I couldn’t handle the math that I was required to learn for that job, and I felt it would be a boring and lonely job—not unlike all the office work I did as a planner. I didn’t want to be confined to a small office for the rest of my life. At least I was able to travel more in my regional planning jobs because we served many town, cities, and counties over a large area. As I think about it all now, I realize that I may have missed out on my true calling—a perfect job as a rural Potato Chip Delivery Truck Driver. Isn’t it amazing to realize the lessons our life can teach us only after its too late to do anything about it? At least I can say that I am very satisfied with the farming work I do in my retirement here at Peeper Pond Farm—even if my muscles would prefer to do a little more planning. To those of you who were lucky enough to become Potato Chip Delivery Truck Drivers, I doff my hat to you. I guess you were a little smarter than I was. For the rest of you who are still working a job you dislike, I hope my words of experience and wisdom will help you salvage the rest of your career.