The Secret of Life: Shut up and Shovel the Fuckin’ Gravel.

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by zed on September 29, 2009

I wrote this some years ago and over the years quite a few people have gotten a chuckle out of it.

The entire secret of life, of power, of everything, was taught to me when I was a teenager, by a man, a farmer. And he taught it to me in the way that is so typical of men: three sentences, no more.

I contend that the real conflict today is not male versus female, but urban versus agrarian values. When people forget where their food and fiber comes from, when they forget the natural processes and timetables that produce them, when they start looking for someone else to “hand over” what they want and stop taking the responsibility for producing it themselves, when they replace hard work with belligerence and aggression, they lock themselves into downward spirals of helplessness, powerlessness, and anger.

The farmer’s name was “Griff”, but it could have been “Gruff”, because he was. I was a “townie” (population 300) and made good money for a teenager as a “hired hand”. One day when I showed up for work he said “We’re going to pick up a new truck.” We got in his car and the entire 40 minute ride to the dealer passed without either of us saying a word: one of those easy comfortable silences that men often use to communicate more than words ever can. We picked up a new 4-wheel drive ¾ ton pickup and headed back to the farm. When we got back, he pointed to a large gravel pile by the barn and told me to fill the truck bed with gravel and go fill in a hole in the entrance to one of his fields.

I said “But that gravel will ruin the paint on the bed of this brand new truck.” He looked at me silently for about a minute, his expression eloquently saying that I was the worst idiot he’d ever been burdened with having to tolerate in his life. Without saying another word he picked up the shovel and, with a swing that would be the envy of any major league baseball hitter, he swung it around and smacked the side of the truck sending paint chips flying in every direction and leaving a huge dent. He looked at me again with that same “I can’t believe you are such an idiot” look and said: City boy this is a FARM truck. I didn’t buy it to look pretty, I bought it to DO WORK, same reason I’m payin’ you. Now it ain’t new no more, so shut up and shovel the fuckin’ gravel.” Then he turned around and walked off, leaving me to feel foolish and gain wisdom.

Of course it took the entire context and circumstances for me to understand the full significance of the lesson: not with my head but with my spirit. In the same way, cultures world wide and throughout history have used ritual space to teach the great lessons to the young. Complexity and too many words destroy the lesson, because the very heart and soul of the lesson is that words accomplish nothing. Words do not put in crops. Words do not harvest them or get them to market or prepare them or put them on our plates. No one eats unless someone shuts up and shovels the fuckin’ gravel.

The entire secret of male power is that men do, and men have, shut up and shoveled the fuckin’ gravel. Men shoveled the gravel that built all the hydroelectric dams which provide the electric power which everyone today takes for granted; some of that “Patriarchal technology” that some women are so fond of sneering at. Men put their sweat and, for about 50 of them, their very lives into Hoover dam. Then they “handed over” the result to women to make their lives more comfortable. The millions of tons of gravel which went into building the transcontinental railway were shoveled by men. And hundreds of their lives went into it as well. Women and men living today would have none of the conveniences which make their lives so comfortable if millions of men had not shut up and shoveled the fuckin’ gravel. All the lawsuits and affirmative action programs in the world could not have built them. Those men did not wait for someone to “hand over” those dams or that railroad to them, they shut up and shoveled the fuckin’ gravel and built them. Hoover dam is “male dominated”, the transcontinental railroad is “male dominated” because men put their time, their work, their sweat, and their very bodies into building them. Everything that we see in the world today, from business to the military, that is “male dominated” is so because men died to build it.

That is both men’s power and their powerlessness.

They shut up and shoveled the fuckin’ gravel.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff September 29, 2009 at 06:04

“They shut up and shoveled the fuckin’ gravel.”

Good post.

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Elusive Wapiti September 29, 2009 at 06:24

I agree, great post.

A society that doesn’t find a way to channel male energy in a productive way, in this case, shovelling the frakin’ gravel, is one that fails to thrive.

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jz September 29, 2009 at 08:16

I contend that the real conflict today is not male versus female, but urban versus agrarian values.

Given my childhood as a dairy farmer’s daughter, I’ve enjoyed the satisfaction of grunt work. I’ve shoveled oats and corn onto the pickup. I’ve picked rock from the field, piled wood, shoveled manure, shoveled silage, and unloaded hay bales.

The “agrarian vrs. urban” frame is sometimes how I still see the world. Working in medicine now, I observe that scads of urban people don’t understand 1) the natural history of disease. .. People detached from animal care don’t learn that the natural history of most symptoms is to improve without intervention. 2) “Rights”…….that people have no “right” to food, housing, medical care. These things are available only through the grunt work of others. Writing a public policy doesn’t create food. 3) death……….death is normal and universal, rather than a problem to be feared.

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Ganttsquarry September 29, 2009 at 10:55

Nice post Zed.

“I contend that the real conflict today is not male versus female, but urban versus agrarian values.”

I think there is truth to this. An agrarian way of life often brings out the best traits in men. It doesn’t allow for a lot of temptation or distractions found in cities.

Urban living makes it easier to pass the buck and receive services and goods at someone elses expense.

It also allows women to partake in shame free lifestyles.

“words accomplish nothing. Words do not put in crops. Words do not harvest them or get them to market or prepare them or put them on our plates. No one eats unless someone shuts up and shovels the fuckin’ gravel.”

John Edwards is offended.

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Novaseeker September 29, 2009 at 14:48

An instant classic, Zed.

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Tarl September 30, 2009 at 21:40

Another point worth making is that not only have city folks forgotten where food comes from and how it is created, they have also forgotten that ultimately, city folks must produce something that farmers are willing to exchange for food. How many people have asked themselves, what do I do, what do I make, that a farmer would give me food for doing / making? This is forgotten because right now there are a lot of intermediaries between you and the food-maker. If things went downhill, there’d be a whole lot of people wondering why the farmer didn’t want to exchange his food for their expertise in human resources management. I include myself, of course. Been meaning to pick up some barter-worthy skills, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

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Amfortas September 30, 2009 at 23:22

This is the real deal. Good shit. Not just gravel but manure. Shovel it all around and maybe something will grow in it. Well done, Zed.

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Ruby October 2, 2009 at 20:52

This is — hands down — one of the best articles I have ever read.
My only question to you is this:

Seeing as how we have a crumbling and ultra-vulnerable interdependent infrastructure, false economy, upcoming resource wars and a bevy of other civilization endangering events possibly coming up in the next 50 years, what positive means and methods do you think have the potential to move our society back towards “The Agrarian Life”?

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Fiercely Independent John Nada October 3, 2009 at 15:33

It’s hard to improve a piece that says so much said by so little. Suffice it to say therefore, that this post is REQUIRED READING for any man looking for a solution to life under Entitlement Materialist Feminism. He need look no further than inside himself.

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zed October 3, 2009 at 19:23

what positive means and methods do you think have the potential to move our society back towards “The Agrarian Life”?

Unfortunately, I can’t think of any scenario starting from the conditions of today which would move us in that direction in either a voluntary or orderly manner.

All of the skills it took to survive in that sort of world have been pretty much lost. I doubt that 1% of city dwellers would have any idea where to start if they wanted to put in a garden. All of the small towns which formed the infrastructure of a decentralized, more self-sufficent, lifestyle have withered away.

I’m not as sure as some guys seem to be that we are headed for some large scale cultural trauma, but if we do have one I think the people who hold onto some of the remnants of skills for self-sufficiency will fare best.

bigh August 2, 2012 at 01:47

Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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joe August 16, 2012 at 03:35

Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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Joel July 21, 2013 at 20:08

My dad was a limestone miner all my life. When I finally turned 18 I gave into the fate of a young man born of a long line of poor farmers and labored for someone else. My job there was “ground man”, the lowest position available and I loved it. I did a lot of different things but the most consistent thing I did… shovel fucking gravel. 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.
-Y’know what? 10 years later and shoveling gravel is my zen, man.

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Anonymous November 27, 2013 at 03:58

Hello misogynists united! I’m glad you all found a place to gather and voice your right to hate on a gender. I’m just curious, are you all white males, or do you tolerate race? Because I’m pretty sure there was a lot of slave labor, and slaves were not divided between men and women, more free labor the better. That said, I’m sure that unsuspecting farmer knew just how much he owed to the work women do as well, seeing as a farm needs EVERY able person to do their part, women don’t just sit inside twiddling their thumbs…anyone who has ever been to a farm knows all work is fair game. I know a lot of women who would spit in this mans face, myself included. So, anyways now that we have all exercised our freedom of speech, I hope all of you get over your ex that left you because your an asshole with no respect, the mother that abandoned you, and the girls that only friend zoned you. I hope one day you realize how insecure this whole business of shaming women is.

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Larz0 May 19, 2014 at 11:37

Anonymous,

Typically, you think any praise of Man is a slander against Woman. Your insecurities blind you to what’s being said here. You are imbalanced in thinking that every positive statement about a man must be balanced out with an equally, if not more so, positive statement about women — a child interjecting with “Me too!” Your inability to recognize men’s ability to assess one’s situation demonstrates the meaningless of your response. Your words are your shame, and you have spit into the wind.

You have no idea what a man is, how to treat one, nor how to raise one. Go back to your martini bar, to your manginas and Sex in the City harpies.

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