You would never guess it from the marketing materials. The catalogs and print advertisements and websites all feature rock climbers perched on vertical cliffs, backcountry skiers buried in champagne powder, or surfers gliding through forty foot tall barrels.
You could only know from firsthand experience that Patagonia makes remarkably sturdy farm gear.
The thought occurred to me as I sat in a hotel hot tub, wearing my trustiest pair of blue Patagonia shorts. I took hummingbird sips from a bottle of Aquafina, consulted three separate iPhone weather forecast apps, and massaged my still lingering case of “manure elbow” in the stream of a jacuzzi jet. It was necessary therapy after spending the day mingling with real estate brokers, a group that collectively does not believe in normal distributions or bell curves. Every property I saw that whole day was said definitively to be “the best piece of real estate in Houston.”
The evening was beautiful by any standard. Eighty-two degrees. Clear skies dotted with small patches of cirrocumulus clouds slowly turning from pink to lavender to purple in the long summer light, gradually easing the memory of a congested sweatbath of a day.
The hotel was one of the brand new steel and glass ones proliferating all over suburban America and the pool deck was thoroughly modern. Crisp new signage in futuristic font. Aluminum and turquoise deck furniture. High pile towels. Lush landscaping. Seductive lighting. All of it framed by towering Loblolly pines mandated as such in the bylaws of the master-planned community
And that very special modern touch: the warm, steady, carcinogenic breeze of eight lanes of freeway traffic blistering past the pool deck at 70 mph. Smooth jazz spilling from the poolside speakers labored elegantly, but was no match for the steady drone of 219,000 vehicles per day.
Even in the master-planned paradises everyone is eager to get somewhere else. It’s the result of continually building on the margins. The developers keep pushing the frontiers, out into the old farmland and hardwood forests. As they cheerfully bulldoze and stack and structure and sell and securitize another set of incrementally longer commutes is born. The tax coffers swell, the county administrators vote themselves a raise, take a junket to Vegas and start naming bridges and schools after their buddies and childhood heroes.
And while everyone is making happy in the glittery plastic of the new yogurt shops and publicly-traded restaurant chains no one notices the developer slipping out the back door. He’s headed one freeway exit up. There’s a new vision, bigger and better, and even more profitable. Made from the same plastic dough, but with more inventive molds. In four years, the new cookies will be ready. Crisply homogeneous. Irresistible, freshly-baked aroma. Everyone will want one. Those new cookies will make today’s cookies taste crumbly and stale in comparison.
But I wasn’t out there for the ambiance.
In an earlier broker meeting I had noticed several stubborn patches of residual lithium grease stuck beneath my fingernails, leftovers from the messy seasonal ritual of tuning and greasing the hay equipment, holdouts through the varied – but in all cases brief – showers I had taken since. The chlorine was working to clinically erase those stains. Plus the ones presumed to be behind ears and between toes.
I was also, unbeknownst to Marriott, doing a very modest load of laundry. I had put up my first 400 bales of hay last year in those same blue Patagonia shorts. Now faded from their original navy hue, they are still favorites. Renowned for their quiet comfort in a hotel pool or mountain lake or in much greasier, sweatier applications.
When you have eight kids, a job, and a farm you have to find the little efficiencies. And a ten-person laundry can be a black hole. Cherished items can easily disappear for a season or more. Ten minutes in a hot tub ingesting particulates amidst a deafening roar might not necessarily be relaxing, but those ten minutes would marginally lighten the burden of the home septic tanks plus get me ready for the weekend. No anxious digging necessary. With great haying weather in the forecast I wanted to make sure my trunks were ready.
So close your eyes , boy, relax. Enjoy the proximity of 219,000 of your closest friends. Another couple minutes and you’ll be clean and the laundry will be done.
And quit your soapbox whining. Give that elbow another stretch and go fuel up on some Tex Mex. Clean out the inbox, make some calls, and crank through some spreadsheets. Soak up the modern hotel conveniences – the air conditioning, the fresh towels, the free shampoo, the crumb-free bed.
Clear the decks, because every one of the apps insists the weather will hold through the weekend. By Saturday you’ll be riding your trusty John Deere, wearing your trusty chlorine-clean Patagonia shorts.
You’ll be as far from a freeway as modernly possible. You’ll be doing what, in your contemporary circles at least, counts for extreme sports.
By Saturday you’ll be making hay.