Growing up on a farm, I learned early that there are some things that must be done every day to keep the barn running smoothly and everyone healthy. The five of us children were in charge of a few of these, feeding the calves, cleaning the water-bowls and my favorite, shoveling out the stanchions where the cows stood to be milked.
When you live on a farm, shoveling sh*t becomes much more than just a great metaphor for the trials of life. It is a very real, very tedious, very dirty and smelly job that has to be done to maintain some order and cleanliness in the daily life of the barn. Without the sh*t shovelers, the stuff just piles higher and higher and the natural consequences pile up with it like dead flies on the window sill.
Since it is something that you are dealing with on a daily basis, you also get used to the stuff. I was thinking about this as I was talking to someone about my print “Sunday on the Farm” who asked me if those were bees in the image. Nice, clean bees that fly around to all the beautiful flowers sucking nectar and making honey. No – those are flies – definitely flies – flies that love manure and rotting silage and leave fly specks on every horizontal surface – flies – one of the reasons that sh*t shovelers are so important. They control the flies.
The girl in the print is an ancestor of mine. I love this image of her, standing on a chair to have her picture taken all dressed up. It’s a dress up day, Sunday. A day you might go to church or have company. The shapes that are repeated are of an iron, the preparation for looking beautiful. I think they look a lot like arches also, an entryway to someplace holy.
When you live on a farm, especially a dairy farm, there are no days off. The cows must be milked, the sh*t must be shoveled. So there she stands ready for the special day surrounded by the flies reminding her that no matter what, chores must be done.
Back to the metaphorical part. In our lives, there are chores that must be done every day. No matter how often we clean, or do the dishes or deal with that tiny voice in our brain telling us whatever it insists on repeating, we will have to do it again another day. The trick is to remember that we are all sh*t shovelers and that it is an honorable and important job even as it is tedious and smelly. We do it to keep ourselves healthy and happy and to keep the darn flies away.