Don’t work on your tan from the seat of your tractor

Published 11:44am Friday, May 4, 2012

Baker said, “Never lose respect for your tractor.”
Plain and simple: Don’t try to mow grades with too much slope and be very aware of hidden holes and ditches in a field of tall grass. Second gear is just fine for mowing: you don’t have to be tearing around at speed to try to finish the job faster. When the grass is wet, be aware that your tractor will slide while turning, particularly coming down a hill.
And don’t be trying to work on your tan from the seat of your tractor — that engine gets hot: wear long pants and boots unless you want to look like the girlfriend of a Hell’s Angels’ biker with muffler burns on your inner calves- besides, at any time those blades could fling a rock at your bare legs not to mention the grass hoppers that come flying like ninja stars.
Once you’ve secured your hat and smeared sunblock over your face and arms (which works beautifully as an adhesive for when the seed heads begin to spray like confetti) you are ready to tackle the field. Drink your water first. There’s no namby-pamby cup holder on a 1953 Ford, you’ve got to hydrate beforehand. As the steering’s by ‘Arm-strong,’ you’ll find you sweat it off in a matter of minutes.
Off Chester and I began last Saturday, in the late morning which was both overcast and breezy — perfect weather for five hours of non-stop mowing. Before long, one is immersed in the zen-like zone of cutting neat swaths along the fence line, following the land as it undulates down the hill and against the tree line, before crossing a dry creek bed and mounting the steep climb that takes us just behind the barn. From there, it’s but a short jaunt to the driveway before we turn right and begin the second lap.
Only now I’m no longer on Chester. I’m aboard a steam train winding through Yorkshire sometime during the Edwardian era. Making the steep descent for the fifth time, I’m the Red Baron finding I’m mortally wounded and spinning desperately out of control. With a long, straight, expanse before me, Chester cutting through a rolling sea of green, I’m back on the passenger ship that took my family to New Zealand when I was a child of 5.
An idea for Mother’s Day filters through my brain as does an approach for talks with Iran. Monsanto owns 80 percent of the seeds in the world, all dipped in pesticide, so it’s necessary to support organic seed companies…
A flash of light on the horizon catches my eye and I check the time: 3 p.m. Anyone with half a brain knows not to be aboard a chunk of metal in an open field with a storm approaching. Oh, but the lure of a nearly completely mown field is like crack to a farmer:  only a small piece remains to be cut. The rest of the field looks so clean, so tidy, and even the broken afternoon light falls differently upon its new hair cut — one simply can’t stop now. Stopping to change gears (impossible to do on the fly) I break one of Baker’s rules: I’ve decided to go faster to get the job done. And as the sky begins to spit rain, the  grass will be slick with less traction.
Overhead, the the clouds hang in a low, dark, belly and, in third gear, I’m flying down the steep hill, bumping over the creek bed, much to Chester’s annoyance, and climbing hard up the other side. Chester has had enough and has decided to put his one, remaining, brake shoe down. I feel drops of hot water stinging against my pant leg and realize in a flash that this isn’t rain, this is Chester’s radiator leaking and alternately spraying and steaming in a fury. He has forced me to come to a stop, dismount and leave my reckless pursuit. I pat his rust-laced engine cover before dashing, gratefully, into the house.
“Stupid woman.” I hear him hiss.

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