Delighting in the slipstream of others

Seven men and six women, a full baker’s dozen, blew by me atop the meringue-like crust as if I was standing still. Most were in full lycra suits. Muscular buttocks all, 26 in total, striding and gliding as poetry in motion—bodies and brains perfectly aligned in a complex task— the very picture of focus, while moving as one like a fighter squadron, or perhaps a team of bicyclists riding in the peloton formation. The snap above fails to capture them in all their glory. This is akin to a residual chem-trail of the St. Scholastica ski team, as they went through their workout at Lester Park tonight.

Never have I been more excited to be passed by superior skiers. This was, in real time, a picture of my current impression of culture these days—a topic that hasn’t left my feeble mind, as listeners of the Never Picked podcast will observe, since about the time Tiny Farm Duluth’s grow space was completed last November.

I felt beyond privileged to be out there on the same playing field as these svelte bucks and does. Typically the ski trail looks more like this, with me inevitably lollygagging in that far-off back section:

Today’s trail was groomed before dawn, long before many city streets after a nearly 20-inch snowfall, which is something snow-enthusiasts adore about our town.

Today, in contrast, St. Scholastica’s (a local college) young men and women dominated the course. I didn’t politely step aside either, but made them surge past me as the training obstacle I was. What a privilege to be out on the same course as these kids with so much future ahead of them. FYI, Chad Salmela (the NBC announcer for Nordic skiing who famously cried out, “Here comes Diggins!” during the 2018 Olympics) helped build the school’s cross country ski program, a legacy that appears to be enduring to the current hour. I am writing this immediately after returning home from the experience.

I’ve been passed by Olympians on this same course, which is also exhilarating, but I’ve never had such a great number of finely tuned and trained athletes pass me in one go like this.

How does this relate to culture, you ask?

Well, one needn’t be the very best farmer, writer, or quantum physicist on the planet. I’m not even sure what a quantum physicist is, as I’m as far away from such specialized knowledge as an earthworm is from the sky. Although, from the earthworm’s perspective, the sky might be only an inch or two away, so maybe a vast firmament doesn’t separate us after all.

It is possible to simply marvel and rejoice in the gifts of those all around you, especially those in fields you’re familiar with, because you feel and understand how amazingly graceful and beautiful the exercising of those gifts actually are.

I actually do pretty well among a field of untrained skiers, but I know just how much harder I need to work per unit of speed than folks with skill, talent, and practice. It’s a marvelous site to behold. Rather than feel jealous or inferior, I’ve learned to appreciate these specimens of talent and focus. Similarly, I’ll never be a top-tier farmer, and probably won’t be on the writing front either. I’m pleased to simply be on the same playing field as these people, which is marvelously freeing.

We all have the ability to simply delight in the talents of others, while simultaneously contributing our little bit. Rather than get competitive, or rue their talent a la Antonio Salieri (the villain in the movie Amadeus), we might enjoy these incredible displays of aptitude and expertise as the gifts they are. Society is blessed by these gifts, and we are privileged to join in the conversation, which is kind of a brass tacks conception of culture.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep doing my small part. Tiny Farm Duluth is contained in this wee space, which absorbed the most marvelous sunshine today:

I like to think that we are the least important piece of our eater’s plates. And yet, we still contribute to the lives of families all across town. Isn’t that wonderful?

My carpenter, who built this room alongside his building partner, sent me the following photo this week:

In the text he included the words, “Thanks for the greens!”

This brings me joy. I’m not capable of building a life-changing addition to a house, but I can add some greens to a little corner of his plate. Additionally, for the first time in this man’s life, he’s completely debt-free. Andrew used my last check for the project to pay off what remained of his debts. What a privilege to play even a minuscule role in his improving situation! This type of small, but meaningful, contribution is something we all might do while simultaneously enjoying the beauty of superior beings who fly by us even as we put forth our greatest efforts.

Is it possible that we take ourselves far too seriously? I honestly don’t know the answer to this question, so I’ve been noodling around with it for a while now.

I seem to have the greatest impact while playing, rather than striving.

One of my gifts, for example, is experiencing something beautiful, enjoying it, and then coming home and telling others about it. I love it!

During the snowstorm I skied out on beer run, and immensely enjoyed sharing the journey afterward on Tiny Farm Duluth’s Instagram stories. My only regret is that I didn’t bring along a microphone to interview the owner of the store, a neighbor who lives a short distance up the hill.

Then I returned home, added a dash of Johnny Cash on the turntable, and enjoyed planting:

I find these sorts of things tend to resonate with others, while accomplishing the useful service of promoting the service and convenience of a locally owned small business.

In a final example, one of the few blog posts I’ve written that has produced lasting traction is 10 Instant Benefits of Manual Labor. For the longest time it was the #2 result on Google for the search, “Benefits of manual labor.” It remains on the first page of results, and people land there every day. Incidentally, it’s the only listed post I’ve ever done. A more strategic person might learn from that and post more top ten lists. I wasn’t even trying to write something impactful. I was nine months into unemployment and feeling utterly directionless. The simple act of removing a tree limb from a garage for a neighbor proved to be an enormous boost to morale, so I recorded a handful of epiphanies and really didn’t think much of it. These sorts of posts always seem to be the ones that resonate, and never the ones I think are particularly worthy of notice. Maybe, just maybe, we needn’t try so hard.

Not sure how to end this, so we’ll leave things with a hearty Cheerio Pip Pip!

Exercise your gifts through joyful play.

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