Life lessons from The Pit

 Posted by on February 11, 2010 at 11:37 am
Feb 112010

ubiquitous western kansas steel grain storage bin

Anyone who has lived or grown up on or near a farm in the midwest, will no doubt recognize one of these steel grain storage bins. They come in various sizes and are used to store grain destined for an area storage elevator or feed for livestock.

We had several of these bins at various locations on our communal farmstead, three miles north of Colby, Kansas.  There were cousins and siblings within a few years of my age who lived nearby and we would seek out ways to keep ourselves entertained, though not all of our childhood games are fit for public consumption.

The grain bin located nearest our home was unique.  For one thing, it rarely had any grain in it, but what really made this particular grain bin different was its floor… or rather the lack of a conventional flat pad floor.

This bin was set on a concrete lined, cone shaped hole in the ground.  I guess the purpose of this pit was to increase the amount of storage space, as well as to direct the grain to the smaller bottom of  the pit for easier removal by a grain auger.  The tapered sides of the pit would cause the grain to naturally flow to the bottom where the intake end of the auger would suck it up and dump it into an awaiting truck.

the pit looked something like this

The Pit, as we called it, became our very own amusement park ride.  Farm kids are easily entertained, I suppose, but our townie friends were also impressed with it whenever they came to visit or  sleepover.  Townie kids are generally not easy to impress.

We would show one of them this rather intimidating hole in the ground and boast to them that we knew how to get down to the bottom and back up without skinning our elbows or tearing holes in our jeans.  The bottom of the pit was probably 10 feet deep and the sides were sloped like a funnel.  It seemed obvious that there was no way anyone could climb down and back up without assistance or a rope.

I no longer remember who taught me the “secret path” to conquering gravity and The Pit.  All I recall now is that you had to propel yourself from the grain bin door and run like mad around the circumference of the upper level of the pit.

This was my introduction to the useful power of centrifugal force (or was that centripetal force?) to counter the force of gravity.  The faster one ran, the higher one could stay at the top of the cone shaped pit.  Slow down, and your 70 or 80 pound body would gradually move down the sides, until eventually you found yourself at he bottom of the pit!

Find equilibrium and you could circle the pit indefinitely, or so it seemed.

centrifugal force at work on a race track

One can see the same forces of gravity and centrifugal forces at play when watching race cars or motor cycles zoom around the banked curves at the track.  Too fast and they will fly over the top.  Too slow and they end up at the bottom of the slope.

To escape The Pit, all you had to do was start running in circles until you achieved sufficient speed to find yourself being literally pushed back to the top of The Pit.

Put two or more kids screaming with excitement and adventure inside that enclosed metal bin and you had a ride that was tough to top, at least it was until we finally discovered Elitch’s amusement park in Denver a few years later.

Playing in The Pit was just a game when I was a kid.  What I didn’t know then was how that playtime would yield some important lessons about life for my future.

The force and energy generated by movement can keep a person, or idea, or group in a place that defies forces that would otherwise bring them/it down.  Control over that movement can be used to move the person or the group to the open door at the top of The Pit, or bring them to a soft landing at the bottom.  Neither of those places are inherently good or bad, they just are and there are things to do at either place.  What is important to learn is how to control one’s own motion so that you end up where you want to be to do the important work you have to do.

I had to leave the analogy of The Pit to refine this newly learned concept and discover that lethargy and lack of movement ultimately results in inertia:  moving neither forward nor backward, and accomplishing little to nothing.  On the other hand, hyperactivity can result in overshooting the upper rim of the pit, expelling oneself like a rocket, only to land in a crumpled heap some distance away from the objective, covered in skinned elbows if lucky, and broken bones or worse if not so lucky.

These childhood lessons are coming back into my conscience as I struggle to find my equilibrium again.  A few years ago I had lost momentum and found myself slumped at the bottom of The Pit.  In the past year I have increasing gotten involved with tasks and projects that started out as rewarding efforts, but lately have seemed to require me to run faster and faster until I have thrown myself out of the pit and I can feel the effect of the subsequent energies.

Life is clearly not finished with teaching me important lessons.

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