Between the Rows: Out of the Spotlight

Published online: Jan 10, 2020 Below the Surface Tyrell Marchant, editor
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This column appears in the January 2020 issue of Potato Grower.

As we enter a new year—and, indeed, a new decade—social media is inundated with well-intentioned people’s assertions that the best part of their life starts now. Some of these New Year’s resolutions will be simple, some will be more lofty, but almost all of them will be filled with hope and purpose. #goals #happynewyear #lookathowcooliam

Regardless of what someone may say about his or her goals for the coming year (or how they may say it), the best and most earnest of those resolutions will either fail or come to fruition far away from the hungry eyes of the internet. Because, as everyone knows, the best things happen when no one else is around and we feel pure, unadulterated pride and satisfaction at our accomplishment regardless of anyone else’s opinion.

In 2013’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Sean Penn plays a photographer who, among other things, is on assignment in the Himalayas photographing rare snow leopards, which, he explains are called “ghost cats” by the locals because they rarely allow themselves to be seen. Penn then delivers this gem of a one-liner: “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”

We’ve kind of got a “Roaring ’20s” theme going on in this particular issue of Potato Grower, but, truth be told, the best things in this life rarely emit anything you would call a roar. (And yes, I do appreciate the irony of this spiel coming from some gomer whose mug shot and cockamamie musings are mailed across the country every month.)

The most stunning beauty is the quiet, unassuming beauty that doesn’t need to be told it’s beautiful and, indeed, typically goes unnoticed by almost everyone.

The vibrant bloom of a little barrel cactus on the edge of a spud field in Idaho.

The saucer eyes and perked ears of a whitetail doe, barely visible at the edge of a patch of Michigan woods, mulling whether the tractor and disk crisscrossing the field in front of her pose a threat to her two wobbly-legged fawns.  

The encouraging smile of a mother seen only by her second-grader seconds before he nervously, perfectly delivers his line in his class’ production of Charlotte’s Web.

The pulling guard who got to his spot a half-step ahead of that cocky outside linebacker to spring his running back for a crucial first down.

The morning sun, which, regardless of the fact that almost no one is ever up to see it, puts on a spectacular show morning after morning after morning.

The whap-whap-whap of a scraggly dog’s tail on the front porch when you traipse in after an exhausting day.

The satisfying sight of tractor tires rolling perfectly between rows after the better part of a day spent moving those tires on their axles.

The pealing laughter of a five-year-old who has discovered she’s big enough to safely jump off the top of a one-ton bale of hay.

A hot thermos of soup delivered an hour after sunset to the combine driver on a crisp fall evening.

The shimmering blanket of a zillion stars unencumbered by any clouds or lights from town.

I’m preaching to the choir here, but it shouldn’t take some subjective threshold of likes and halfhearted compliments on Facebook or Instagram to know you’re smart or beautiful or have accomplished something impressive or important. And, clichéd as it may sound, the journey to the achievement—the stuff no one will ever see or hear about—often is the real triumph.

Look, I get it: This is a business. We’re trying to sell potatoes (or fertilizer or equipment or ad space in magazines), and the fact of the matter is that we need to draw attention to how incredible our products are if we hope to keep doing what we do for a living. We live in a fast-paced, clickbait-driven age, and the industry has to feed into that a little bit to stay competitive. It simply has to be done. Alas, that is inherently against most farmers’ natures. Interestingly, that attention-averse makeup is exactly what needs to be on display for the world to see.  

In the aforementioned scene from Walter Mitty, Sean Penn ultimately does get a good view of a gorgeous snow leopard walking across a ridge. But then he surprises both the audience and the titular character by electing not to take a picture.

“If I like a moment—me, personally—I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera,” Penn says. “I just wanna stay in it.”

You don’t need a glass to raise to that kind of moment. When one comes along, just drink it in.