It's time for the farmer to check to see how many of his cows are pregnant.
Here's what he does: He puts five bulls in a field with 130 cows. And the bulls have been waiting all summer to breed, so they can pretty much get all the cows pregnant quickly and then all the calves will be born in April.
The farmer runs a tight operation. Any cow that isn't pregnant now would end up having a calf later than the rest, and he wants a short calving season because then it's less work.
So this week it's time to do “pregnancy check.” The vet comes to the farm and sticks his hand into the cow's anus and he can tell. Any cow that's not pregnant goes to market.
“Goes to market” is one of the zillion terms on the farm for “gets killed.” Like Eskimos and “ice” and philanderers and “love.”
So this is what the cows look like when they are maybe pregnant.
And this is what the corral looks like.
The cows go in and then, one at a time, the farmer guides them into the chute. I am immediately attracted to the chute. It looks cozy.
The farmer says his chute is old, and they hold the cow in there at the neck. The chute is where Temple Grandin invented her famous squeezing machine. In Grandin's chute, (which is now ubiquitous thanks to McDonald's,) the cow gets squeezed to keep her in place and the cow is much happier.
“Cows like being squeezed,” says the farmer.
“Do it to me,” I tell him.
He puts his hands on my sides, under my arms, where my ribs are, and he squeezes. I love it. I'm in heaven. I have to lie down on the bed and have him do it again because it makes me so happy.
I ask him if he wants me to do it to him. He says no, that he would hate it. It's so hard for me to imagine hating it that I make him try it.
He says, “No. I hate it.”
He tells me that Temple Grandin invented a squeeze machine for herself. It feels like hugs. He says maybe I should buy one. I tell myself that this is incentive for me to get along better with the farmer because if I can bring myself to sleep in the bed with him then I don't have to pay to insulate the porch, and then I could buy a squeeze machine.
I asked the farmer how he gets the cows to go to the corral. He says he used to try to force them. And it was always frustrating because they didn't want to go. He was always fighting against them.
Now he tells himself he has an infinite amount of time. He tells himself it doesn't matter when he gets them in the corral as long as he's making progress. Sometimes he loses one or two cows as he's going, but he knows they'll come later if he gets the rest of them. And sometimes, if a cow isn't coming with the rest, he tries to get her to go the opposite direction, away from the herd, and it confuses her so much that she follows the herd.
The farmer tells me that he stays calm and tells himself he just needs to be making progress.
Then I realized that's how he thinks about everything. He is the tortoise and I am the hare. I look at him and he looks like he's doing nothing and it makes me nuts.
And I'm convinced that he thinks he can treat me like a cow. He waits for me to make a move, and then he reacts. Either I decide to follow him eventually or I get so confused that I follow him accidentally. Either way, his strategy with me is to be patient.
So I am sleeping on the porch right now. I am trying to figure out if it's progress or not. I am freezing. Last night was so cold that I had a down jacket on, hood up, and another down jacket wrapped around my legs. At 2am I swore to myself I'd buy a sleeping bag today. At 3am I took a ten-minute moment with the space heater on, and I could feel the attraction that dooms people as they turn on the space heater before they fall asleep and the whole house burns down.
Is this progress? Am I doing something that is going to somehow make our relationship better? Psychologist Joshua Coleman shows in his book, The Imperfect Marriage, that if you just stick through the hard times with someone, odds are the marriage gets better within the next five years. I am counting on that.
It's so hard to know what progress is. Ben Casnocha wrote in his book, My Start-up Life, that progress is doing something that matters for your goal—you can't just get up every day and do stuff just to do stuff. I wonder, sometimes, if I am doing that with the farmer. A startup has such a clear goal: make money. But I am not so clear on what, exactly, the goal of a marriage is.
Leo Babauta's new book, Focus, is, of course, in line with his idea of making progress by doing less. In an interview about the book with Francine Jay, he says, “Be more conscious of what urges you have, what distracts you, why you're doing it. Once we become more aware, we can address the root problems (usually related to fear).”
If I bought a squeeze machine maybe I would be calm enough to interview Leo myself instead of having to quote other people who do it. As it is now, I often talk to the farmer by looking at his face in the mirror instead of directly at his face.
Wait. Maybe it's progress to stop with the mirror thing. Though really, I don't think he minds. Which is a reason I love him. That it doesn't even phase him when I can't handle non-mirror-mediated eye-contact.
Maybe, no matter what I do, I will get to hugs. Maybe it's okay. I just can't tell.