Natural and Social Beauty

I was going up the T-bar at Titcomb Mountain, Farmington’s local very family friendly ski mountain on Thursday.  It’s not a big mountain, the run down is just a couple minutes, though the views and layout of the trails is superb.  As the sun was setting, and the night ski lights came on, I looked at the snow glistening under my skis as I was pulled up the mountain.   I found myself filled with exuberance.    The beauty of the moment overwhelmed me – clear skies, clean crisp air, the mountains the snow.   An amazing world!

At the top I joined a group of second and third grade skiers, including my son.  This is a group of seven youngsters, with ten other groups from grades K-3 taking lessons from university students hired to teach.   The sound of kids laughing, various lessons taking place, and the activity up and down the hill had a vibrancy that blended with the natural beauty.   Here a new kind of beauty emerged — social beauty.

By social beauty I mean simply that this community organizes itself in ways that inspire the same feelings as when I look out over the ski trails at dusk.  These lessons — every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30 to 5:30, draw a large number of families who want their youngsters to learn to ski.  It’s cheap — only $40 for six weeks — and there is an atmosphere of family and community.  Most parents just drop their kids off, but I volunteered to ski with the group, enjoying honing my skills too.  Whether it’s kindergartners just learning, or groups like this one of kids who handle themselves well on skis, it’s a real benefit to the community.

Saturday a five year old friend of my five year old son had a birthday party there, and it was great.   There’s nothing like riding the t-bar with a five year old between your legs, and then heading down the mountain as he learns to ski.   My seven year old, of course, was off on his own — he’s mastered the slopes and has his own friends to ski with.

Earlier Saturday Ryan (the seven year old) got the winning basket in his game in a league for 2nd and 3rd graders. It is competitive in that they have teams that play a season and then a single elimination tournament.   But while they play the director/referee is lax in enforcing rules like traveling or double dribbling, instead usually stopping the child, explaining what they did wrong, and then having them start again.  Parents cheer both teams, and the purpose is learning and fun, not winning.   Yet having a tournament is important because it shows that even though the purpose may be primarily learning and fun, you still try to win, and that’s a good thing.   The teams in soccer and basketball have the names of real teams — Ryan’s this year is the Milwaukee Bucks, though when I first told him that he looked at me surprised, “my team is the walking butts?”   Saturday’s score: Milwaukee Bucks 13 Orlando Magic 12.

Of course, in fall there is soccer, organized through the Farmington rec department.  Every weekend for two months over 150 kids 1st grade through 5th play in teams, followed by a tournament.   Again it is competitive in the fact that the tournament is single elimination and the champions win trophies, but it’s not in the sense that adults and coaches see it more for teaching skills and letting the kids have fun than to win.   Families watch their kids on the sidelines, chatting with each other as the kids play.   Beautiful.

At the university swim lessons are free for beginners (through level two).   For pre-schoolers, that can mean two or three years of free swim lessons, thanks to a donation some time ago.  It’s also twice a week, and I get the same feeling looking at the parents bringing their kids and towels to the pool, with sometimes dozens of kids (especially the winter sessions) learning to swim.  In Maine with all our lakes swimming is a necessary skill!   Our seven year old has mastered it, the five year old is still working on it.

The community also has football for third graders and up, dance is big, especially (though not solely) for girls, there’s a very successful t-ball and baseball league, cross country skiing, summer camps, and a variety of things for kids to do.  I really oppose over scheduling kids, and most of these are not time intense at the beginning.    We made some conscious choices (e.g., he’ll be tired with skiing and Saturday basketball, so no boy scouts, or cross country skiing), and let the kids dictate a lot (Ryan decided he really didn’t like T-ball, so we didn’t continue).

Being in a community with so many activities for kids is really great, and the coming together of people to interact and share the experience is invaluable.  Moreover, the social beauty mixes with the natural.   On soccer playoff evenings, at twilight as they play the star spangled banner with the sun setting, kids lined up in little soccer jerseys, green well manicured grass and a series of ad hoc (smaller than regulation) soccer fields, the smell of autumn in the air, well, it’s amazing.   Or being at the pool as dozens of pre-schoolers prepare for lessons, parent with towels, chatting as the instructors get ready.  Or, of course, Mt. Titcomb and the beauty of winter.

When natural and social beauty intersect I get a sense of content satisfaction.    Given the state of the world from Moscow to Cairo to inner cities and war zones, I am profoundly thankful that I live in a place that mixes social and natural beauty in such an exquisite manner.   At least in terms of community and childrens activities in Farmington, Maine, the state motto “the way life should be” rings true to me.

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  1. #1 by renaissanceguy on January 30, 2011 - 03:12

    Wow! What a wonderful life you are giving to your kids. I also appreciate the beauty in what you described.

    Because of previous discussions that we have had, I couldn’t help but think of another kind of beauty–economic beauty. Your children have opportunities that most children in the ghetto will never have, and most of those opportunities are the result of people working productively and of relatively free, private trade.

    You and the other parents are forunate to have enough money to enroll your kids in skiing lessons and in the sports leagues. As I understand it, you and your wife are earning the money that you spend on those terrirfic activities for your children. That’s a good thing.

    And you are supporting college kids who are working in the process. Those college students obviously understand the importance of earning money. They could be like students in some countries who demand that people pay all their expenses, even when school is not in session. (I lived in such a country. The university was a joke, because the students were on strike about three times a year, and the faculty was on strike two other times a year.)

    I might add that there are dozens of other ways that your employment benefits people, but I don’t want to make this comment too long.

    By providing opportunities in sports to your children, you are teaching them the importance of hard work. You are teaching them the value of competition to spur us on to greater and greater accomplishments. These are the values that make America great and that create individual wealth, and that individual wealth blesses others.

    One way it blesses others is that only peopel with wealth can give it away. You mention that the swimming lessons are free because of a donation. The donor was probably not a poor, unskilled laborer in West Virginia. I would guess that the donor was one of the “rich” people that our current president thinks pay too little in taxes. Apparently, though, some of the “rich” contribute to their communities and their country in very nice ways.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on January 30, 2011 - 05:24

      I agree both that wealthy can do great things, and that they pay too little taxes (many wealthy believe that). I’m not for socialism, but I’m not a libertarian. I don’t think the rich are bad, and I would never want to have taxes that truly hurt the rich. I also am one person who has never complained about taxes (though my wife has). I pay them willfully, even if they support things I do not. There is a middle ground, where there are no demons — the government is not evil, nor are the rich. Taxes are needed, but should not be a burden.

  2. #3 by Mike Lovell on January 31, 2011 - 17:24

    This was a really good post. I really like the more personal ones you write in balance to the more technical blogs. Gives a little something for everyone to appreciate. While I’ve never learned to ski (I’m pretty sure I’d manage to hit a tree at 80mph or go off the one way that has a cliff with a 300 foot dropoff!) and I’ve never been much of one to care for swimming (although I know how), it is great to have those programs around for the kids as well as the adults/parents.

    This post was a nice little glimpse into your family life as well as life in Farmington!

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