Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Well done work
We are insulated from nation-wide trends, at least partially. When the financial crisis of 2008 began, northern Minnesota felt it but only to a very small degree. As employees became unemployed on each coast of the nation, our local employers made working ever easier by offering more benefits and higher salaries. It’s time to talk about work.
First off, we are spoiled. A job has gone from something that provided money so your family could eat to something that is supposed to define your life. When I got a job, I just wanted some kind of income so I could show a bank that I was a safe bet so they would loan me money to farm. I never expected my job to frame the course of my life or increase my self-esteem. I feel ashamed for people who need a daily pat on the back for the effort that they are already paid to make. Here’s the news; a job is for money. You make your life worthwhile through family, faith, education and the stuff you do after you leave work. It is not your employers responsibility to help you find deeper meaning to life or to put stickers on your helmet for each touchdown. If you are paid to do something, you are a professional. Professionals do their work because they get paid not because they like what they are doing. If you have trouble getting fired up for your job then please remember that employment is how you get warm food to eat.
Of course, not everyone needs a job to get warm food. When I was a teenager, farming was circling the drain due to the farm crisis. I could not stay on the farm so I needed to find a job. There was little or nothing in the want ads and so I ended up signing up for the National Guard. Today, there are pages of good jobs, and they don’t involve stuffing envelopes at home. If you are able to work, then get a job and quit leaning on the rest of us.
My old friend Lloyd told me about a farmer who once lived a half mile from me who did not have the use of his legs. He would pull himself up a tractor and even sit in a calf barn and pitch manure. That last sentence proves two points; no work is “below” you and our standard for not working once was a lot higher than the low mark it is today. I see able-bodied people who have the mental capacity to form a plan to shoplift from our local stores but who then claim they lack either mental or physical abilities to work. I ain’t buyin’ it.
If you want to tell me of situations where some sort of social net was truly needed then you just go ahead and save it. I know some help can often be justified and have no quarrel with that situation. I just don’t like people who can do at least entry level work but who are either too lazy or too arrogant to perform the task. I recently saw starting pay was nine dollars at one local restaurant and I only made a few bucks more than that in the last decade. I made it so don’t throw the “living-wage” catch phrase into this mix. If your living doesn’t fit the wage then change your style of living. Taxpayers are not responsible to support the lifestyle you choose, you are responsible.
If you truly want fulfillment, you will have to offer your services for free. Benefits, charity work and benevolence societies offer tasks that will fill your heart instead of your pocketbook. These tasks will help frame your life as you accept responsibility for each task. That should help your self-worth. Finally, if your job is so great that you would work for free then count your blessings quietly; the rest of us will go to work because of our love for our family and responsibility to our fellow man. Now back to work.
I am fresh from the most successful sugar beet harvest I have ever experienced. A sugar beet harvest is a start and stop affair; the harvest starts when field and weather conditions are ideal and stops when they are not just right. We started October first and did not stop until the morning of the eighth. I have hauled beets since 1991 and this is the first time I’ve seen a harvest go uninterrupted and so quickly. Years from now, people will speak about this aspect of the harvest. I want you to remember it for other reasons.
First off, I came to harvest for the cash but stayed for the food. R and R farms fed us so much this year that it seemed almost over-indulgent. Breakfast sandwiches, dinner, breakfast at the Viking Diner and Ed’s ¼ pound sloppy joes served on buns the size of a big man’s fist. It was a “truckable feast.”
Secondly, this was a harvest of rare intensity. I brought a book titled “A Taste of Ranching-Cowboys and Cooks” but only read about 4-5 stories. There are usually enough breakdowns at the piler to suit an accomplished reader however this year we drove in, dumped out beets and drove out. The fields were dry and clean so we spent little time cleaning which meant we spent most of our time harvesting, driving and dumping beets.
It wasn’t all rosy. I found out this year that R and R Farms purchased the “175 Convenience Store” in Warren. This event was fine however I found out that we will now be paid in “175 Bucks” redeemable only at participating stores (there is only one) for chips, pop and windshield washer fluid (“gasoline not included”.) I guess I now work in a coal mine and shop at the company store. I’m just not sure I need that much washer fluid.
I detected early on that this harvest was going to be unstoppable. An unstoppable harvest is equivalent to a baseball pitcher throwing a no-hitter. Baseball players can be a superstitious lot and any pitcher throwing a no-hitter is left alone for fear some interaction will throw off his karma. No one dared talk about our equivalent of the no-hitter even as weather reports and passage of time made it obvious that this harvest would not be sidetracked.
We had really good conversations this year. People around Warren all love racing. I like racing about the same as I like any repetitive act that circles the same track in the same direction. However, I love car talk; engine talk, transmission talk or any of the stuff about racing machines. I mostly just listened to this stuff and enjoyed myself. My conversation involves lots of opinion; unfortunately, we also had one extended-length soliloquy forced upon us in which I found escape only via deep thought of how much I like cats.
I found John Rehder is now an accomplished heavy equipment operator. If you see John in his trackhoe, it is like seeing a young man with his first Tonka. There a quality to John’s big smile at the power of destruction he wields that is truly heart-warming; and just a little chilling.
I know some people are still hard at it. The piler crews are still there standing on concrete. The scale house people are still there trying to keep sleepy and inexperience truckers organized and moving in the right direction. Take heart, it will soon all be a memory however I will remember the coffee you gave me and how hard you worked cleaning the concrete to keep us both safe.
I am home this morning. I have not been able to say that for a little bit. I slept until six this morning and drank my own coffee and ate my food with both hands. I kissed Lisa good-bye and snuggled with the cats. I spent the last few days away; now I will be home.
The 26 miles from our home to R and R Farms gave me opportunity for one large thermos mug of coffee. It also affords me the time for reflection of the 23 seasons of involvement in the harvest which I have shared with John, Ed, Joe, Mike, Larry, Dean, Hoss, Joey ,Will, Ron, Jason, Dustin, part-time, Ryan, Lannis, Eldon, Jay, Bryce, Heath, Shawn, Colton, Dylan, Darcy, Josh and so many others that my sleep-deprived brain cannot remember them. Sugar beet harvest has been excellent as a yearly drop-shipment of money but more important are the friendships and experiences. I don’t travel a lot so I have to get my life experiences here in the dark and heavy soil near Warren.
I walked in the shop at about three that morning. Sammy the Lab was sleeping so comfortably that even when he stirred to accept an ear rub it was only to make me feel good. The R and R Shop/trucker lounge is equipped with a nice kitchen so I made coffee and ate Oreo cookies while I waited for Lannis to bring my truck in from the field. Oreos at three in the morning sounds like a bad decision but I am awake at three in the morning, ready to spend the next 12 hours trucking the same route repeatedly so I obviously have suspended any sound decision making practices so why not eat Oreos?
I’ve spoken of strange things I’ve seen at night in the sugar beet patch but nothing prepared me for what I saw that evening. Ed Rosendahl was out to help at three in the morning. Ed has been more of a dayshift person for quite some time and I’m sure the last time he was up at three in the morning was when he’d accidentally allowed himself a glass of water after six pm. I thought he was perhaps an apparition but he was just good, old Ed; helping everybody by driving around in little circles.
I used to say I saw aliens flying about the sugar beet patch however now I know that it is more politically correct to call them undocumented Martian friends. Whatever, they hover about the skies at night and make rota beeter drivers fall sound asleep only to awaken with an unsubstantiated sense of their place in the harvest. I mean the tractors drive themselves and come with Ambien dispensers for their drivers so how hard can the job really be (only kidding, I love you sleepy, solitary guys.)
As I write this column, we are one day into the harvest with about four days of pre-pile under our belts from September. My old cell phone had directions to all of the fields but I changed phones without transferring directions. For this reason, if you see a lost trucker wandering around Burnside Corner, March Siding or any of the colorful, locally-named geographical hot spots, it is me. Please call Ed or John so they can give me directions to where I am supposed to be and so that Ed can then make fun of me for getting lost. I probably deserve it.
I’ve been humming the tune, “Up, Up and Away” by the Fifth Dimension
and not because it is my favorite. I’ve been thinking about flight for the last several years, manned flight; perhaps manned by me. The
song must be my subconscious’ reaction to what is on my mind.
I’ve always loved airplanes. As a child, I received several airplane
magazines and would check out books about airplane engineering
whenever the bookmobile came to Viking. I remember the big fly-in held back in the seventies at the Thief River Falls Regional Airport.
This fly-in featured a large B-25 bomber from World War Two and
airplanes rides courtesy of Arctic Cat. My brother, Steve, had taken
me to the show and joined me for a flight. It must have made an
impression on me because it has been almost forty years and I’m
writing about it.
Somewhere during my teens, I got a little scared of flight. One of
the older guys at my high school died while working as a spray-plane
pilot and I decided flight would not be my avocation. Every time I
read about a plane accident, the idea of flight became more distant.
After graduation, I took a flight to basic training which was awful.
I had always heard that bags would be provided if my stomach became
sick but no such bags were present so I just breathed deeply, thought
happy thoughts and waited for the plane to land.
Early adulthood was my first try at a large jet plane. I thought as
we left Grand Forks that this plane was simply a cattle car with
wings. It was rough and the person I flew was more worried than me. I
had to act confident and say that everything was going to be okay
when the main thought running through my brain was that we were going
to die on that flight.
Okay, so I still have the flying bug. Paraplanes are basically a
go-cart tube frame with a parachute mounted on top and a propeller on
the back. I thought this might be a simple solution to my need for
flight so I searched Youtube video of paraplanes. Unfortunately, the
top two pages were basically all paraplane accidents. I decided that
cheating death wasn’t the way I wanted to explore the skies and so
kicked the idea to the curb.
I’ve tried remote-controlled helicopters. Most of these come with a
label that states you must be ten years old to fly one. I believe
they should say you must be UNDER ten years of age to fly one. I have
had zero luck trying to work the controls properly and my last
helicopter ended up in a tree and lost to the ages.
I thought about the simplicity of which I so often now speak. I
thought about my need for some sort of flight experience. I thought
of how I enjoyed paper airplanes as a young man. I searched around
the internet for a new spin on paper airplanes and found it. There is
a small power unit now sold for less than $15 dollars made to mount
on a paper airplane. As long as you can fold a flyable plane, this
little motor and battery unit fits seamlessly into the main fold of
the plane and uses a small pusher propeller to power your paper
airplane through the sky.
I tried the “Powerup” paper airplane unit a few days ago. It required
nothing of me other than to design a good paper airplane and slide
the power unit into place. To let go of the plane and allow it to fly
where it wanted was the very freedom I sought. It was a voyage
without strings, nauseas or chance of death; a simple, windless,
sunny flight back in time.
I pulled up to Pennington Main to get coffee the other morning. This is either prelude to a day off spent doing my thing or a chance to load up on caffeine to bolster myself for work. Like always, the radio went to full static as I pulled up to the building. I had been listening to John Mellencamp’s “It’s a lonely old night” and I could not abide with the static and so slid into reverse and moved my truck the few feet it needed to detach static from song. I sat there, finished my song and thought.
First off, I thought about how good that music was and how delicious is the moment before you get really good coffee. I let my mind go into one of those nice little moments of introspection. This was a perfect time of clarity as I allowed my mind drift into one of the quiet corners of my mind in a search for deeper meaning and inspiration.
I thought about the people I’ve met. It occurred to me how the ones who demand to be addressed as “Mister” or “Sir” or “Mam” rarely deserve the respect of either title. Meanwhile, the folks I would like to give respect are too busy living the life that inspires respect to really spend the time to receive my reverence. The good people don’t need words to acknowledge their high-character; they see it in the mirror every morning. Meanwhile those “other” folks need to be told lies, right to their face.
I thought about what it means to be an elected official. It seems to me that local government is in the news way too often. It is rare that a well-managed engine makes much noise and this engine of government makes constant noise. Perhaps if those who run for elected office saw it as a position of responsibility instead of a position of authority they would be better at what they do. Too often, the elected see their position as a shiny bead to be traded for their own selfish needs. I see some old men puffing up to demand “respect” when the status quo is questioned and it makes me think we are close to meaningful change.
Another little blip of insight came through as I took a pre-coffee pause; I don’t want money, I want a life. If it comes down to greed versus love, I want my love to win. I am tired of money’s use as the yardstick of success and worth. I truly admire those who sacrifice of themselves for their family. However, I think I would rather make myself happy with what is already at hand; my wife, my family, my friends, our cats. I don’t want money as much as I want lifestyle.
The John Mellencamp song got done. The static still wasn’t there but the song that played could have used static. My momentous clarity was gone and I had to be satisfied with what I’d received. Besides, I needed coffee; and I had to go to work.