Thursday, May 6, 2021

Shovel Leaning

    On this day in 1935 Franklin Delano Roosevelt inaugurated the WPA -Works Progress Administration.   In the depths of the depression this new venture provided millions of jobs for unemployed Americans.    This happened just a few weeks after I was born over 86 years ago.  Our family was fortunate to be living on the land.  Farming continued and although there was little cash, we were employed and had plenty of food.  The WPA was a lifeline to millions not so fortunate.

    WPA was ridiculed by many as a waste of public money.   However, many of us today are benefiting from the parks and recreation facilities that were built in the years between 1935 and 1943 when this endeavor ended.   Some of the critics of this support spoke of the workers as mostly shovel leaners.   Some would say they would observe the work crews as having lots of their workers simply leaning on their shovels while watching some of the others work.  Probably if the critics were to hang around for a while,  they would see the shovel leaners pitch in for a while while some others became shovel leaners.    So here is my defense of the shovel leaners.   

    During my college years in the 1950's I had several construction jobs.  I helped build a Rochester Gas and Electric building in Sodus, New York.  In Fairport, New York I helped install a water pipe line.   In upstate New York I helped lay concrete across the Montezuma Swamp for the New York State Thruway.   These are my "creds" for having legitimate experience with public works projects.   I am not ashamed to say I spent some time shovel leaning!   As a laborer working with a shovel or other hand implement for as long as 12 hour days there is not a way that you can keep up this repetitive motion without a rest.   I challenge even the most fit among you to sustain shoveling continuously hour after hour without a rest.    In my experience some of the most hated supervisors were the drivers who would be on your case if you took at least a moments rest!   I vividly remember one day being assigned a tamping job.  Not with the current day powered vibrators but with a hand tamper lifted and dropped by hand.   I was working away with a rhythm that I knew I could sustain almost indefinitely.  Not good enough for the boss.   He comes over and says here is how to do it.   He grabs the tamper and proceeds to do a series of rapid thumps for about 10 seconds and then hands me the tamper and says that's how to do it.   Yeah!  Anyone can do that speed for ten seconds.    Let me say that I was pissed.    I got the job done, but I assure you not at the speed of the boss who  goes back to his job site office and push paper!   

    Let me assure you that I have no love for anyone of the team on the job that fails to carry their share.   However, if one is an outside observer you can't be too quick to criticize individuals unless you get the whole picture.   To this day there are still skeptics of the benefit of the WPA.   However, I think history has shown the benefits far outweighed the cost and gave millions of Americans a leg up in a difficult time.  Fast forward to the present.   We are on the cusp of having a massive infrastructure spending by our Federal Government.    It is controversial!  I, for one, see it as a lifeline for generations to come.   An investment for my grand children and great grandchildren.    Sure the there will be some shovel leaning but that will only be a minor part of the cost.   

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

About Getting Mad

     I usually read my daily horoscope in the Syracuse Post-Standard.  I read it for amusement rather than for seeing it as a template for my day.   Mostly the advice is the kind that can fit a wide array of interpretations.    Occasionally there are real gems of wisdom that one can take to heart.   A few days ago my horoscope included the closing statement:  "Don't get mad about something you can't change".      It blew me away in a surprising way as being great insight for leading a more peaceful life.

    There are a lot things in society today that can touch my hot button.  On a daily basis I see behaviors that are so uncivil they are beyond comprehension.  Perhaps I have a rose colored picture of my decades ago childhood and youth.   Public cursing using four letter words was unheard of.   Disrespect for elders by youth brought stern retribution and was basically held in check.   Not so today!  Outrageous claims are bandied about to sully reasonable discourse.   All of these things can trigger feelings of disgust and anger.   Is it reasonable to allow these things to raise my ire?   Is there anything that I can do to change the course of societal behavior other than my anger?  As a responsible member of society, righteous anger can be a positive motivator to effect some good.   The kicker is to channel ones anger toward things you can change.   I guess what I will keep trying tamp down my anger about the things I cannot change and look for opportunities to contribute to a more civil social and political society. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Too Many Choices

    Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by too many choices.  Of course it is nice to have options but when there is a plethora of choices, it can be confusing and even stressful.   Some time ago we visited a Japanese restaurant with a stupendous array of buffet items.   After wandering up and down the aisles of options, I was in a quandary of what to choose.  It would be impossible to sample everything even in small portions.  I had to shut down my confusion and simply pick a few items that were more familiar to me.   Imagine what it would be like for someone who had never encountered a huge array of choices in a grocery store.  

     In my distant past  of the late 1970's I hosted a visiting engineer from the Soviet Union.  We set up a comfortable apartment near the Cornell University Campus.   As a part of our welcome two of us took him to a local super market to stock up on food and household items.   During our shopping spree he was in a daze.   In his life he had never seen that many different food choices in one location.  He had been living in a country where one choice of a food would be available for a short period of time.   While we were checking out the array of cheeses in a cooler, he decided that he better take one of every choice there.  (In retrospect, he thought the abundance was a set up and this food wouldn't be available the next time he shopped).   Later as we became friends, we would laugh about this.

    Is there a psychology about having too many choices?   Is there an optimum number of choices to satisfy the customer?   Probably each of us has an optimum number of choices built into our personality.   Because this blog has a skiing theme I am ending on that note.   When skiing at my local ski area the number of slopes open on any day varies.    If all slopes were open, I probably would be unable to sample the entire mountain.  In this case the many choices of slopes wouldn't stress me out.  On the flip side I can tell you that when only a half dozen or less trails are open it is not enough.  Conclusion:   Too many choices or too few choices can be stressful in their own way.   I want the sweet spot of choices!  Not too many to overwhelm me, but enough to convince me I can be satisfied.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Changing Seasons

     So strange on this mid-April day to see snow coming down outside my sun room window while exercising on my recumbent bike.   The ski season here is wrapped up so I am transitioning to another exercise pattern.  Fortunately a few days ago we were out on the tennis courts.  For now it looks like we have a week or so of lower temperatures.  Alas, I need to find some indoor activities.     I am somewhat envious of the folks in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine who will likely get in a few more days on the slopes.  Although the conditions are likely to be challenging with the high water content of the new snow fall.

    Changing seasons does jolt one out their usual routine.   During the ski season there is no doubt about what I will be doing at least six days of the week.   However in this changing season time I am still struggling to find my rhythm.   There is no doubt I will get in some exercise one way or another.   With warmer weather tennis will become more of a daily routine.   As other things shake out, hiking some local trails at least once a week will be on the agenda.   And the e-bike is charged up and ready to hit the road. 

    Of course exercise is not the only thing for the day.   Since this old geezer is still committed to our own lawn and landscaping care there is always a chore or two to keep me occupied.   Also to adapt to the off ski season I always need a project for mental stimulus.     I am looking forward to continuing my silo project to photograph all the silos in Cortland County, New York.  I have covered about 75 percent of the county so far visiting over 250 sites.   Many of my sites have silos that have been defunct for over 80 years.   It is a fascinating study of the change of the dairy industry in rural America.   I look forward to interviewing retired dairy farmers.   I hope to elicit from them their experiences in transitioning from active farms of several generations to retirement or other employment.  The use of their silos will be chronicled in the process.  I hope to hear when the silos were added to their operation and when these structures were retired from use.   The silos are truly monuments of history.   Just as there are transitions in the seasons of the year, there are transitions in industries,  agriculture and our lives.   Hopefully I will be able to capture those transitions in word and photos.

    Perhaps these musings are part of my continuing search for meaning in life beyond the simple pleasures of the day.   I expect much of the time we ramble through the days without a great deal of thought of the impact we have on society and the world.  There  is comfort in being a bit numb about our meaning in the world.    However, I think we all have a yearning to leave this world having left some sort of legacy.   Hopefully a legacy that has made this world a little better because of our existence.  

    (If you have read this far, I hope you haven't wasted your time.)    

Remnant of a One Time Successful Dairy Operation

Monday, April 12, 2021

Embracing Stains, Flaws and Mistakes

     A few days ago my wife Nancy spilled some tea in our den.  She said, "It's not too bad and won't even leave   a stain."   My immediate reaction was to say,"Not a problem, its just a mark of living life".  I don't know where that came from.  Upon further reflection I think I have mellowed enough to realize striving for a perfect environment is not necessarily a good thing.

    I think there is real merit in embracing the stains, flaws and mistakes we make in living our lives.   I am not suggesting that we get lackadaisical but let's recognize that we should not be obsessed with always having to be perfect.  (even in skiing).

 I remember reading about someone who had a dining room table that showed a lot of nicks, scratches and dings.  A friend asked why he didn't refinish it?   His reply was that each of the flaws was a reminder of a family gathering of celebration around that table.   Of course there are some mistakes we would like to forget.  Perhaps the best way to embrace those memories is  process what has been learned from the mistakes and use the insight as a reminder to live a better life in the future.

    All of us have made mistakes in our relationships.   Some are more serious than others.  There are broken friendships, divorces, and estrangements.  All of those have left a mark in our lives.  However I would hope that in retrospect, we had learned something from those events and moved on to improved relationships without wallowing in too much regret and remorse.  

        Just as a tea stain on the rug fades with time, the flaws in our psyches are healed.   



Friday, April 9, 2021

End of the Season Thoughts

     Two days ago I wrapped up my 20-21 season on the closing day for Greek Peak.  The Peak was open for 111 days and I managed to log 81 days skiing with 79 days at the Peak and two at Toggenburg.  Many of the days at Greek I was musing about the character of this season.  In many ways it was a good season albeit a strange season too.  We were careful on the slopes and in the lodges to social distance and wear our masks.  To my knowledge we had no infections as a result of our ski adventures.  At least where I was skiing.  For those of us who commonly ski weekdays and mostly in the morning, it was strange to have so many youngsters on the slopes.  With remote learning the school kids were free to be with us during the week almost any time.

    What was missing in this strange year of the pandemic?  I regret to that a whole host of my geezer friends were not skiing for one reason or another.  Truly I am saddened that so many had injuries or health problems preventing them from participating in the sport we love so much.  For many  I am looking forward to their return in 21-22.   I missed the companionship of our mid-morning coffee breaks.   This year I took no mid-morning breaks and skied through the morning and completed my day no later than one o'clock.     A new pattern!

    I spent many hours at Greek Peak sensing the aura of past experiences skiing with old friends that have now passed away.   At various trails I would recall our mutual experiences.   Do other long term  skiers have those memories?   Here are  number of events that came to mind. 

    Bob Jenkins and I were trying Olympian one day and found it to be a real rough ride.  I made it down and waited for Bob.  He didn't show so I knew I had to go back and see what happened but really didn't really want to do it.  He had crashed and by the time I got to his location, he had himself together.   I guess I just should have waited for a while longer.  Bob was a great guy and since has passed away.  I miss his sage advice and great integrity.

    Some years ago a group of us had a kick for improving our skiing by doing Gorilla Turns.  The idea was to bend down, tough the top of your boots and press and tip the ski to engage the turn.   There we were on the slope doing apelike motions which I suspect amused observers.   Several of that crew have passed on.   Marty Stiles for one is gone but not forgotten.  A real mensch who started skiing in his late sixties and became an institution at Greek Peak.  He even qualified to do some instructing.   He had a cynical wit that always entertained me.

    While riding the lift a few days ago my companion and I riding on the Visions Express Quad were approaching the end where it was time to lift the safety bar.   I was prompted to remember our geezer companion Bob Sanjoule who had a thing about when to lift the safety  bar.   He would insist that the bar not be raised before passing one of the last towers.   This became known to be Bob's Rule.   Bob has now passed on but his memory lives in the minds of many skiers that rode with him.

    I could go on for a long time recalling so many memories of geezers past and events we shared but I would like to end on a forward looking note.   This past season has been one of making new memories.   I have had the privilege of getting to know and ski with the next geezer generation.   Yes, there are the sixties something guys and gals showing up to fill the ranks.   Most are hard core skiers of the past who now have a bit more free time.   Generations come and generations go, but the love of skiing prevails in a core population.  I am happy to think that when I leave this earth there will be a group of "youngsters" that might tell some stories about me.


Sunday, March 21, 2021

Delayed Gratification

     A few days ago while riding the ski lift I began thinking about delayed gratification.  It occurred to me that skiing is good training to practice delayed gratification in all aspects of ones life.   Of course when I state this, I am assuming that delayed gratification is useful.   

    If you love skiing you want to be going down the slope as much and as soon as possible.  Time on the lift is a waste of your precious day.   However, perhaps the lift time is good for you since you truly appreciate the time on the runs.   If there was not a wait time you would have instant gratification and  could become jaundiced about the sport.  

    If I extend these thoughts beyond skiing and reflect on my long life of dealing with delayed gratification that I have experienced both in the present and the past, I am struck by how useful that has been in appreciation of each desire being satisfied.   Reaching back to my youth during World Ware II it was a time when toys were not being manufactured.  Thus at least in my experience there were few to no toys for Christmas.  Only after World War II  was I able to get a new Schwinn bicycle that I had yearned for.   How sweet it was to ride that shining new bicycle after the long years of wait.   Later on in my high school years I longed for a motor scooter!   My parents were in no position financially to satisfy my wishes.   After a year or so of extra hard work,  I was able to buy my Cushman motor scooter.  You can imagine how much I appreciated that acquisition.   

    As my life has spun out beyond growing up,  marrying, raising families and having a professional life,  I believe my early life experience kept me in the mode of delayed gratification.   Whenever possible I delayed acquisition of material things until I had accumulated the means to obtain them.   Avoidance of debt has been my mantra.   Perhaps this denial behavior has been onerous for others but in my latter years I think there are immense rewards for this behavior.    In the order of the mundane let me mention that as I finish this blog, I am anticipating my delayed after dinner dessert.  How sweet it will be now!

    Readers, I look forward to your reactions on my thoughts about delayed gratification.