"I could have enjoyed being a farmer," I said on a Saturday.
That was on Saturday, March 24, while standing outside in 68-degree weather, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and helping my wife to dispose of last fall's raked-up chestnut hulls.
By last Tuesday, I had changed my mind.
Tuesday's temperature was a make-me-pucker 22 degrees. Outside, the pear tree leaves that had been bright green were mottled, puckered, withered. The lilacs drooped. Even the rhododendrons, which keep their leaves through the worst of winter, were curled inward like cigarette papers, sagging like half-folded umbrellas.
"Hope for the best," I muttered, turning to look at the apple trees.
We have a half-dozen mature trees. Some look to be 30 years old. Others are at least twice that. Their branchlets were tipped with tight green buds.
Would the flowers within withstand the freeze?
I just don't know.
And that - uncertainty - is why I am glad that my half-century as a worker was not spent as a farmer.
Oh, the life can be grand. And it can be lucrative. A farmer friend shared my bitterness at the 2008 financial-sector meltdown that drove down both of our retirement savings accounts. His had been more than $1 million. I never had anywhere near $1 million in retirement savings.
Then again, I never had to work 12- to 16-hour days, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, as he did before farming got its modern mechanization. Nor did I need to spend $300,000 for a harvesting combine that would only be useful for 6-8 weeks a year.
I could always count on a paycheck, or, when as a 10-year-old I tended the counter at Shay Font's corner grocery, a handful of quarters and $1 bills plus all the cheese and bologna I could eat.
By the time I became a full-time factory worker, the paychecks were regular. They stayed dependable, every week or every two weeks, while I was a factory worker, a sportswriter, an insurance claims adjuster, selling drugs (Legally!) and back into journalism some 49 years ago.
Often, there wasn't enough money. Kids and wives, three of the latter and six of the former, necessitated letting the trash collection bill slide so that I could pay the wintertime gas heating bill, etc.
As I surveyed last week's freeze-dried landscape, I thought back to 2010. In that year, we had a freeze on April 28. A day earlier, our house had been swathed in bridal-veil shimmer by thousands of apple tree blossoms - and we got precisely two apples that year.
This year, if we get no pears, cherries, plums or apples, we'll be disappointed. But we won't go hungry. If we get fewer blueberries, or if the chickens' egg production slacks off, we'll lose a few dollars of income that would have been nice, though far from necessary.
But we won't have to face the ruination of an entire season's crop, as happens to farmers. Sure, there is crop insurance, something analogous to the unemployment compensation safety net for those of us who work for wages - if it is affordable, and it never covers enough.
I chose the reliability and security of work-for-wages jobs rather than the higher risk/higher potential reward path of commission sales or speculation - and farming is speculation, just as surely as stock market investments or Las Vegas gambling are speculation. The odds differ; our ability to affect the outcome differs to some degree; but they are all gambles.
Of course, work-for-wages jobs can be gambles. Just ask the steelworkers and autoworkers who thought they had lifetime jobs, only to see their jobs go abroad or, even more jarring, disappear forever in the huge productivity run-up of the 1990s. Remember Y2K? Everybody modernized computers when we thought they would allstop working by the turn of the 21st century. We are still reaping the productivity gains - but losing the line-work jobs.
Unemployment payments run out, too. City folks can face destitution, just as farmers do.
But for farmers, every single season, sometimes every single week, occasionally every single day can bring crops-destroying woes: Insects, drought, flood, fire, predators - and last week's freeze, which followed a two-week proto-summer that started the greenery, only to expose its most tender reproductive parts to the pitilesspuckering of temperatures a full 10 degrees below frost-producing levels.
A beloved uncle loved his dairy farm. Eventually, he quit it to be a janitor. That spoke volumes to me.
No, I won't be a farmer.
I'll live on this small farm. I'll enjoy the successes of "harvests," be they a full dozen chicken eggs in the morning or bushels of blueberries in late July. Five-star restaurants cannot come close to the crunch of a finger-length zucchini plucked straight from garden to mouth, the chin-dribbling juice of a warm ripened apple or pear grabbed as the mower chugs beneath the tree, or a handful of bush-to-belly blueberries.
I'll work for wages, and seek acceptable, though less delightful, sustenance from the grocery store.
That's dependable. The alternative, farming, is admirable, but too speculative for me.
Denny Bonavita is the editor and publisher of McLean Publishing Co. in west-central Pennsylvania, including the Courier-Express in DuBois.