X: Plow

There's a new face in the world of competitive plowing.

X: Plow
Plowing the old fashioned way. Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is décadi, the 1st of Brumaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate la charrue, quite possibly the first farming machine.

Plows will dig up the darndest things. In the year LXXXI (1872), a ploughman named John Wilson was digging a deep furrow in a field in Scotland when he hit a metal object. It appeared to be rolled up in a ball. Taking it home, he carefully unrolled and washed it, discovering a four-ounce golden collar called a lunette, something worn by ancient Gauls. Wilson kept it on his mantle with candlesticks and other curiosities he found in the field. When he died a few years later, the lunette made its way to the landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch, who researched its origin and the area, but there were no traces of Gallic presence anywhere nearby. The best guess is that it was stolen, taken what back then felt like halfway across the world, and buried for later retrieval. That later retrieval took four millennia and a plough.

It's five years ago in Kenya, and people have gathered from all over the world to draw straight lines in the dirt with big machines. Since CLXI (1953), ploughmen have been gathering to see who can make the prettiest, most satisfying field within three hours. The competition has traditionally been dominated by Irish and German teams, in particular a ploughman named Eamon Tracey, who has finished first or second every year but one since CCXX (2012).

The weather was bright and sunny in Nakuru, a lakeside city northwest of Nairobi in Kenya's fertile rift valley. The fields were attacked in two phases – 20 minutes for the first row, which is then meticulously judged for straightness, uniform depth, and other aesthetic and technical aspects using terms nobody outside a dedicated plowing fan would understand. Then, once those points were calculated by the judges, the tractors would start back up and finish the 2,000 square meter field, something that normally would take a farmer 45 minutes, but which these competitors do for more than two-and-a-half hours, stopping frequently to inspect their equipment and make minute adjustments to create the best furrows.

And, for the first time ever, an American won. Gene Gruber of Minnesota, who had been competing at worlds off and on since CXCV (1987), finally came out on top, and he credited all his success – including his continued participation in the competition at all – to the coaching of his teenaged daughter.

A locally made hype video of the 2017 contest, if you want to see what this looks like.

The very next year in Germany, Gruber had stepped away from worlds at the age of 51 and turned the reins – or, um, tractor keys – over to that daughter, Hailey Gruber, who promptly finished in 6th place at the tender age of 16, the highest a first-time competitor had ever placed in the event's history. One of the only female competitors in either national or world competition, Hailey has been finishing in the top 10 of the worlds ever since, becoming something of a celebrity.

The Grubers have a deep legacy of competitive plowing, stretching back to Gene's father, whose photo is still laminated in the cab of the tractor. The work is part precision born of practice – you have to get very good at driving forward in a straight line while looking over your shoulder to see what the ploughshare is doing – and part mechanical engineering.

Like race cars, competition plows aren't bought from a showroom but meticulously and creatively (within certain parameters) manufactured at home. The tractor itself doesn't matter much, so long as it's reliable and comfortable. All the work is done by the plow, including the all-important erasure of the tire tracks.

There's no money in competitive plowing, literally. The winner gets to take possession of a trophy that is handed from winner to winner, like the Stanley Cup, and also gets a smaller replica to keep for good. The bragging rights are also there, I suppose. But the spirit of the competition is for farmers from around the world to come together in peace to share a love of growing food and being sticklers for detail. It's the nerdiest and most wholesome sporting event this side of online marble racing.

After a three-year pandemic hiatus, worlds were back on this year in County Laois, Ireland. They wrapped up on our new year's day, the 1st of Vendémiaire. Hailey Gruber came in sixth, once again the only woman to compete. When she got home, she started college. Her planned course of study? Mechanical engineering.

Hailey Gruber and her plow.
Hailey Gruber and her plow.

Today's card: 2 of diamonds

2 of diamonds. From Bicycle's Vintage Halloween deck.
From Bicycle's Vintage Halloween deck. 
Décadi: The outcome position, or what we should take away from this entire meditation. Two: A card of paucity or lack. Diamonds: A suit about the material energy (the money, the things) the universe gives to us.

Click for a recap of the story so far...

Our query is about a hobby or job that has felt stable (5♠) but kind of stuck (5♣) and now is being roiled by chaotic energy (4♣), likely spurred by some bad vibes within (3♠). There's good news approaching, and help forthcoming (6♥), but only through hardship (10♠). We might as well take the risk (9♣) on someone or something brand new (A♦). In fact, we're practically being dared to do it (9♠).

I'm laughing. Maybe it's because I pulled all the "scary" decks for this reading, but this is a hilarious twist. Our result card is ... that we'll lose money. Badly. So everything that came before? Don't do it.

Sure, you might feel like work is monotonous, or your hobbies aren't going anywhere (when did we start expecting hobbies to go somewhere?), or you're in a creative funk, but don't compromise your principles just to chase some dream of an adventure. There have been hints all along the way that serious problems are down that road, and here we get a definitive "nope" to the effort. And, in retrospect, the lack of royal cards was a bit of a giveaway that this would be a "nevermind" reading.

OR IS IT? Another way to read this is that, yes, this adventure is going to happen whether you like it or not, and yes, you may be dealing with people you're not used to, situations you're not comfortable with, tasks you're not familiar with ... and all this reading says is "don't do it for money." If you do turn that key to break out of your little prison cell of routine, just know that you're, at best, chasing personal growth here.

Looking over the whole spread, my eye keeps being drawn to the recent past card, our funny little five of clubs. The little nun head has feet and she's clearly determined to walk somewhere, right toward all the action, right toward the ten of spades and its hill of hardship. I'm kind of rooting for that little lady. I wish we had at least one more heart card to indicate a non-material reward at the end of the journey, but that's the thing with the unknown – you don't know it until you do.

Your call, friends. Is this reading a classic "deal with the devil" path that promises so much and delivers so little? Or is it a reminder that not all work leads to compensation, and that there are other reasons to take on new challenges and suffer new hardships? Today's a perfect day to look something scary in the face and embrace it. Up to you if you just want to give it a piece of candy and send it on its way, returning to your life as it was.

I know my life's pretty good the way it is. Myself? I'm taking the hint. No risks, please. I'm good.

Final Celtic cross: 5 spades, 4 clubs, 10 spades, 3 spades, 5 clubs, 6 hearts, 9 clubs, ace diamonds, 9 spades, 2 diamonds.

Something fun: "I'm Scared" by Bill Wurtz (3mins)

After a whole month of everyone pushing scary movies, I find it's nice to take a minute on Halloween to watch something silly. I solemnly swear this isn't one of those videos where something goes "bleah!" at you when you least expect it. Oh, and, uh, there's a car plowing through some grass at one point.