The Badass Gardener

The gentleman you see here in this picture is crossing between a large ledge and the landing of a flight of stairs up to the second floor. Each floor in this building is a bit taller than standard height, so he is probably a solid 6 meters above the ground below. Every day he can be seen working outdoors, climbing heights to replace light bulbs, hanging out high windows to clean them, and pretty much anything else you’d expect a groundskeeper to do. He is considered exceptional by all of the students and staff in the building as he does all of these tasks casually, and because he is easily in his 70s or 80s.

It’s pathetic that he is considered so remarkable.

Don’t get me wrong, the guy is awesome. He’ll spend all afternoon bent over in the courtyard hand pruning the grass and still stand upright and cheerfully bust out a你好 (hello) to anybody passing by. It is – by definition – “backbreaking labor,” but he is completely unfazed. If I was to define fitness in terms of capability relative to one’s age, this man is the fittest dude I know. I hope that one day when I’m his age I have such high quality of life.

So, what’s with the pathetic part? He clearly deserves credit for his self-cultivated spryness. By nature of the word remarkable, it means that he is far and away the exception. It is pathetic that few people are like him; people of any age. When I walked by this scene of him returning from sweeping that ledge, a small crowd had gathered and were gasping and cringing as he walked across his little bridge. The facial expressions of his spectators ranged from horror to awe. His facial expression? The same casual yet jovial expression he wears all day long. I really think that if there was any way to somehow quantify the fear felt by his audience, it would vastly outweigh the amount of fear he has felt his entire, long life doing this type of stuff.

What was really obvious in his movement was that his lack of fear had a lot to do with the fact that he was supremely confident in his ability in the task at hand. He knew exactly how to move his body in a way that maintained his balance, even while carrying stuff, across the makeshift bridge. He also knew exactly how to move his body up onto that bridge and back down from the landing. He didn’t have to give it any thought, he just did it and he will undoubtedly do it or something like it again in the near future.

Does this make him exceptional? Unfortunately, yes. The vast majority of people lack that confidence; they lack the ability move their body in non-standard and potentially dangerous situations confidently enough to accomplish the task. Why do we lack that ability? Well, I already mentioned confidence, but the root of the issue is a lack of knowledge. Without the knowledge of movement, there is a lack of experience. A lack of experience translates into a lack of confidence which in turn becomes the lack of ability.

There is good news however. I know the gardener’s secret. He has spent his 70+ years on Earth constantly moving. He doesn’t take his body for granted, he uses it every single day. You will never catch him in the elevator and you’ll never catch him using gym equipment. He doesn’t have to practice crossing that particular bridge in order to confidently and competently deal with it, he simply has the complete toolbox of root skills that he can apply to any situation. Everybody that reacted to this picture with a gasp or a “wtf, old guy?” needs to seriously reevaluate their physical capability. He didn’t get to the point of such high capability at his advanced age by making it a goal to wow people, he just lived his life moving.

He has lived his life as a badass and we should all take a lesson.

3 Replies to “The Badass Gardener”

  1. This is my father-in-law.

    Well, not really. But the life looks the same. My father-in-law is a simple farmer, and he has spent his whole life moving. Even in the winters he wakes up before dawn with a list of work to be done. He is in his mid 70s, and is hands down the healthiest person I know. Since getting married to my wife’s mother he has had a few too many sweets, but there is something different about his little extra on his stomach in the off season than there is with anyone else. Even at his age he throws straw bales up ten feet in to the upper levels of our barns. He hops on the hay elevator and rides it up to stack 30+ foot tall piles of hay. He climbs in and out of the tractors while they are moving, picking up rocks and throwing them in the front loader as he goes. He chases coyotes off the farm with a baseball bat. What’s more impressive is that he does all this with his hand, having had it mangled by the baler when he was in his 20’s and poorly reconstructed, giving him limited mobility.

    People like him are disappointingly scarce in the world.

    I spent a summer running the farm while he was forced to rest from a broken leg. Of course for him rest was to ride in the old tractor (the one with the clutch lever not a clutch pedal) to help me work. By the end of that year I was in the best shape of my life, and all I did was move more. I moved a lot. I was able to keep it up until my daughter came along, and my life got sluggish again. Spending 40 hours at a desk is a crappy way to pay the bills. Hopefully that’s something I can change back.

  2. Unfortunately, in the modern world, the jobs that require constant movement and the use of the tool kit of full body awareness are the jobs that don’t pay well. The people who make the big bucks – and most middle-class earners – tend not to work in physically challenging environments. A recent trend that acknowledges this fact is the growing use of treadmill desks.

    Movement takes commitment. I never take the elevator in low-rise buildings (often stairwells are pretty rank) and I don’t use escalators that have adjacent stairs. Yet, I still spend too much time sitting in chairs for the most mundane tasks (as I’m doing while I type this comment). Do I really want to reconstruct my home office to accommodate a treadmill desk? Maybe … but I’m not making big bucks.

  3. Jay, that is an awesome story. We all could only hope to be that mobile and capable all the way into our 70s. And yeah, that does require constant movement in a world that is hardly conducive for it. I commit to the stairs as much as possible, but I have to dedicate probably a solid hour a day to a movement “workout” in order to feel healthy. I realize that even that is not something super feasible for most people. Desk jobs suck. I plan to write more in the future on how we can get around this.

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