There is always something that needs done on this farm. Every day, every week, every month, a slew of tasks and projects both big and small clamor for my attention, each with its share of overall importance. But their importance is variable, and can change depending on what else is going on; inclement weather and animal concerns, for instance, can quickly demand a shift in attention. Last week’s big project might have to get sidelined for something that crops up this week. It is what it is.
As the sole source of manpower I have to constantly consider how best to prioritize my time and energy in order to get done what really needs done, and still preserve my health and sanity. Every day I start a fresh page in my logbook, mapping out the daily tasks and what I want to get done for the day, working toward a weekly goal that is part of a monthly goal…which I never seem to meet, but it is what it is. Aggravating, that’s what it is. But realistic, too. Because stuff happens, and seasons change, and goals must change alongside.
I used to fight the changes, the sliding of deadlines, the unfinished projects supplanted by another more urgent. Now, I don’t have any choice but to accept them. What’s the use of working on something that was supposed to be finished in late summer, when winter is breathing down your neck and half a dozen things need doing before the first hard freeze? Or the next rain event?
It brings me back to the time-tested strategy I learned long ago from my mentors in the military, where priorities can change from minute to minute with jaw-dropping speed. It goes something like this: when faced with conflicting demands on time and attention, always shoot the closest alligator to the boat. It may not be the biggest, meanest alligator. It might not be the one you were worried about yesterday. But it is the closest one, whose jaws and teeth are inches from dragging you into the water and making a meal of you, that deserves the most attention. And a well-placed bullet to the head, if you’re interested in hunting alligator.
So the barn remains unfinished, the garden was left in disarray after a hurried harvest and awaits cleanup, the gutters need cleaned of leaves before freezing rains lock them with ice, the now-muddy road around the pond needs graveled, firewood must be split and stacked on the back porch, and a myriad of stuff needs to be put away for winter. They’re all alligators, but they aren’t the closest one. Just recently, the closest alligator was the coming two-year-old Suffolk colt whose gelding procedure did not go well; infection and swelling required an additional vet visit, medications given daily for 10 days, and a regimen of thrice-a-day walks. This while I hosted visitors, yet another alligator vying for my attention.
As the horses continue to devour their small stack of square hay bales stored in the little barn that come Spring will become the broodmare’s maternity ward, an unfinished Fall project now becomes the closest alligator: erecting the 20′ x 24′ clearspan hay structure in the First Pasture, to fill with 600+ bales of hay. I wanted it done in September, but September was filled with cattle handling and AI, then October focused on barn doors, laying in round hay bales for winter cow feed, and horse training, and November was visitor month. December; I’ll shoot this alligator before December’s done, I will. Before the next one swims up closer. Stay tuned. I’m serious.