Dig a mile in another man’s skid steer

A community tractor parade motors down a highway in Chisago County, Minnesota on Aug. 7, 2016. (Aaron J. Brown)

A community antique tractor parade motors down a highway in Chisago County, Minnesota on Aug. 7, 2016. (Aaron J. Brown)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

As khaki-wearing bloggers go, I interact with a unusually high number of people who operate heavy equipment. These people move dirt for fun and profit using machines that suck diesel fuel the way a dry horse drinks water.

I owe part of this to family ties. My Grandpa Brown, now an octogenarian, uses his skid steer the way some people wield a fork or spoon. If there’s no work to do, he’ll dig a hole so he can fill it in later. He’ll assesses his physical health based solely on whether or not he get in and out of his skid steer. (He can, so he’s fine).

One time I was explaining a problem with my driveway to a guy. I said I’d need some class 5 gravel to fill in the ruts cut by the tires of my well-traveled minivan.

“You gotta level that road first, otherwise you’ll be doing it all over again in a few years,” the guy says.

“How do I level the road?”

“Cat.”

Just that. Cat. As though I had asked how to stay alive and the answer was “breathe.”

He’s referring to a Caterpillar, a popular brand of heavy equipment, in this case a full-sized bulldozer because that’s his ride.

When you spend all your time on a dirt mover, everything a dirt mover can do is easy. Over a period of years, the concept of not having a skid steer, a bull dozer or a back hoe becomes foreign, even forgotten. The fact that others haven’t allocated their resources the same way as you seems foolish.

I bring all this up because this isn’t a heavy equipment problem, it’s a human one.

Once when I was in school, my friends and I would shoot the bull. Someone asked, “How would you wash your hair if you only had one arm?” I recall one friend saying, “Oh, that’s easy,” before mimicking the act of pouring shampoo into the palm of his other hand, realizing too late that you’d need two hands to do it that way. His face revealed the collapse of his worldview.

A side note: the friend who asked that question is now bald.

We view the trials of our day and age, flitting about the screens of our televisions and smart phones, through the windows of our world. People know everything about being black or being a cop because they saw the “Lethal Weapon” movies. People’s opinions are confirmed as fact because they shared an internet meme written exclusive for that purpose.

Recently I visited family in Chisago County, north of the Twin Cities. This beautiful part of the state sports pretty lakes and big houses. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s in the same Congressional District as the trailer house in Zim where I grew up. The socioeconomic status there was so different I half wondered if my money would still work in the stores.

The people there were eminently kind. I always thought people who lived in places like this would be stuffy or closed off. It was clear folks here had built a strong community spirit, albeit one far more conservative than I’m used to. But it also occurred to me that the absence of any sign of poverty or economic struggle would make it very difficult to understand people who faced such problems. Every lawn was beautiful because everyone owned all the expensive equipment necessary to maintain such lawns. It was unthinkable not to.

The old adage states that if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Looking at the world today it seems we’d be well served to dig deeper in the tool box.

Adding the actual perspective of others to your own only serves to enhance the lives of everyone involved. We can’t erase conflict, but we can erase cruelty and ignorance. We can build broader communities and share good ideas.

Though I must admit, none of that helps me with my driveway.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

 

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