Lessons Learned Through Gravel

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By Ty Kellogg

A lot can be learned from remedial, manual tasks on the farm. But as a 14-year-old in the heat of the summer a couple of decades ago, like most teens, I was not interested in life lessons. I was interested in fishing, sucking down freezies like Fla-Vor-Ice, and watching ESPN highlights and The Price is Right.

The summer of ‘99 (or maybe 2000) was when my dad decided to dig a trench from the opposite hillside to capture the natural spring water and direct it to our pond, which acts as a secondary water source in case our primary well runs dry. However, the natural springs were located in an area that was not suitable for heavy equipment or even a wheelbarrow, so Dad dug the trench by hand. I was assigned the task of lining the trench with gravel, placing a drain tile and adding more gravel.

Our words, effort and actions today can have a tremendous effect on our future.

The path to the trench was narrow and overgrown by wild grapevines, briars (what Northeast Ohioans call “prickers”), cut grass and multi-flora roses. Dad left me two tools – a dull, third-generation spade shovel and four dented, dimpled one-gallon metal buckets. The shovel’s hickory handle was worn and fitted by my grandpa’s and my dad’s hands before me. The buckets looked like they had been run over and pounded back out by a ball-peen hammer.

Our farm is in a narrow river valley in Northeast Ohio, surrounded by steep, forested hills. In the dog days of summer, the wind disappears and grows stale, and the humidity wraps us up like an undesirable ugly Christmas sweater. After morning chores, my shirt already clung to my back with sweat as I fought the horseflies and walked over to the pile of gravel. It seemed like a mountain, the morning dew quickly evaporating, giving way to the scorching sun, twisting and arching, misting vespers reaching for the clouds in hopes of escaping the heat…or maybe the drudgery of shoveling gravel.

The suffocating heat has fogged my memory, so I can’t recall how many days it took for me to accomplish my assigned task. All I know is that when I was done each day, I would head for the creek, strip to my underwear and find the deepest pool so I could wash away the grime, and soothe the scratches from the prickers and welts from the horseflies. 

It’s been more than 20 years since my dad dug that trench and I filled it in. The well and the pond have not run dry, and every year since, the water has run clear and cold. For a few days of labor, our family has enjoyed the long-term security of water.

Our words, effort and actions today can have a tremendous effect on our future. That’s an impactful lesson from a humble pile of gravel.

Ty Kellogg is a farmer and Farm Bureau member in Ohio.

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