Everything we do matters — whether it’s making smoothies to save up money or studying for the bar — even after we’ve already achieved the success we sought. Everything is a chance to do and be our best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well. That’s our primary duty. And our obligation. When action is our priority, vanity falls away.
~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/how-you-do-anything/
I sometimes think back to a summer I spent working on a golf course. As a grounds keeper. These days, I’m still pretty fast with a string trimmer. A job string-trimming a golf course teaches certain skills. Every day that summer I hopped on my trusty red 10-speed bike—I think it was actually originally my mom’s bike—and ride… just for fun I Google’d it… 5 miles to work. I distinctly remember the coolish Pennsylvania mornings.
It just this moment occurs to me that my “the weather today will be…” prognostication skills are generally quite good. Probably something to do with riding a half hour while wondering if I was going to get roasted in the sun, soaked in the rain, or pleasantly browned.
Meanwhile I learned many things. About getting along with other people to greater or lesser degrees of success. About how laughter makes work lighter. And about good healthy, sweat labor. I already mentioned the string trimming. But my favorite was how we used to edge the sand traps. Every day—at least as far as I can remember—there’d be the same work to do; we’d simply advance our way around the course based on our boss’s early-morning directions on a whiteboard. “edge traps 8/9” for example… along with a few more. One guy was the greens keeper. His responsibility was just to mow the putting greens and tend that grass. Move the pins (the tall flags stand inside special metal cups set into the ground) periodically. Another guy—an aged adult, so he was probably like 38 at the time—was the fairway mower. Willie was his name. I remember his last name, but I don’t want anyone hunting him down. He’d drive a large farm-sized tractor pulling gang-mowers like a flock of geese behind him. All the grass was always cut with reel mowers.
Anyway. Sand traps. We used to edge them with a machete. You see, the edge of the trap, where the grass meets the sand, has interesting geometry. The lawn may not be level, it often was sloped or curving like a little hill. So the “cut” is not just, “hey yo, no blade of grass sticking out that way!” but also, a perpendicular (to the plane of the grass bed) curb of sod (the grass, roots carpet part) and dirt. A string trimmer just sort of beats things up into a rounded mess. With a machete—and a crap-ton of stooping, back-breaking, labor—you can cut everything in a perfect plane. It’s as if you made the perfect cut through layer cake, creating a smoothly undulating curb perimeter, angled perfectly. wack wack wack wack …we’d just walk around the trap backwards, walking on the grass. wack wack wack wack… fifty, maybe a hundred swings. Every sand trap is different. Then we’d clean the trap. Weed it, rake it, sift it, then shape the sand. When we moved on, there’d be not a single bit of anything besides sand in the trap. It’d be gorgeous.
One day, “trim the lake” was on the board. Again. We’d just done that the other day. It was one of the most god-awful horrible jobs. It was basically a very big pond, with not much water flow, particularly mid-summer. The bottom was muck-tastically nasty with geese crap and—wait for it—9 gazillion golf balls making for treacherous footing. The weeds grew in the water. With a string trimmer you can actually trim a bit below the water level if you’re adamant about it. (As we were.) When doing this chore you had a choice: You could stroll into the water and muck to reach the weeds 6 feet out in the pond, or wreck your back, (I don’t care how young you are, this wrecks it,) straining all around the lake to reach out there with the trimmer. Regardless, in the heat of summer, those water-whatever weeds needed a wacking every few days.
On this day, I stood by the artificial rock weir that impounded the pond. I looked at my work boots, being well-shod to deal with the muck, but not so much for standing directly in the water to trim. I looked at the weir. I thought about having to sacrifice my back to reach the weeds. At the weir. I looked at my golf cart—we had the best ones. Special motors for hauling trailers and actual loads and extra batteries. And my we don’t screw around here double-string trimmer and gas can. My face shield. I looked back at the weir.
And I went for it.
I strolled into the stream, moved a bunch of rocks and pierced the maybe 2-foot tall weir… and drained the entire lake. Then I spun up my trimmer and… there are two ways to string trim: One way is a sort of judicious, scalpel wielding, if I twitch it leaves a mark that takes a week to grow away, and I’m going to have to clean up all the mess I make. And the other way is BANSHEE STYLE! I strolled into that disgusting muck and strode around the entire thing with the trimmer throttled wide open… non-stop… at like 6:30am. Muck, geese crap, golf balls, weeds… everything flying every which way… none of it on me of course because, duh, string-trimming guru.
Meanwhile, the sun crept higher.
I don’t know how long it took me. Not long. I don’t think I even had to refill the trimmer’s gas tank. But all the while, the sun started to bake the mud and muck.
Now the area (the general regional area I mean) had a lot of farms and you got used to all sort of smells. Pennsylvania smells (to me) like petrichor, and maybe a dash of cow or horse manure baking on a field. Us Pennsylvanians are all like, *yawn* “whatever bro’.” But baking geese crap and muck, as it turns out, is another thing.
Yes, when I finished trimming I reassembled the weir, but as I mentioned, the little creek’s flow rate was low, and it took all stinking-to-high-heaven day for that thing to fill submerging the muck. I was vindicated amongst the groundskeepers, including my boss who went to bat for me so I could keep my job, because we all freakin’ loved it. It looked awesome and stayed awesome for like TWO WEEKS!
But to my knowledge, no one ever did it again.
That was the first time I effectively closed an entire golf course.