First, a note: This post is here as a writer’s work-in-process: I’m experimenting with mixing prose and poetry, within the same lines. It may read a bit odd until I can get it right. Until then, enjoy:
There is a poetry to working the land, something God-ordained from the moment it was created: We work it, and it works us. We are each other’s custodians, each a caretaker of the other. We live hand-in-hand, as we treat it, so it treats us. It’s a gift from God, and we should try to treat it as such.
And so a poem of the dance of the land begins.
It’s a Saturday morning: one of those days when
everybody’s up early
breakfast goes together quickly
and the dishes are quick to clear;
there are things to do.
She is enthused about a cooking class down in the City; I’ll drive her and then come home to do some work on the back meadow; then go pick her up later.
This was the busy-exciting part of the morning;
and now that she’s off having fun
I quietly pace my way out to the barn
where the tractor sleeps
and dreams of work at my hands’ direction.
The barn doors creak as they swing to the sides and I slowly enter the temperate darkness – mindful of how much the folded-down ROPS bar hurts your head when you walk right into it.
Doing so, I enter a timeless past,
participating in it as it folds itself about me.
I pull a cloth from the shelf and begin to tend the machine: checking oil, coolant, axle-oil level, transmission-oil level; the radiator protector slides out easily and is cleaned, but goes back into place with every single letter in the definition of reluctance.
The seat tilts back into place with the bang of springs suddenly held in check by the latch, the hood closes with its usual positive sound; I insert the key and switch on… watching the dash to make sure all the warning lights and gauges work.
Twisting the key to the glow-plug preheat and holding it there I count to six, then twist to the START position. The starter engages with its staccato CHOW-CHOW-CHOW and as I release the key the engine barks to life in a short black puff of diesel smoke then settles to a happy grumble.
The back-blade is still on the tractor, ready for more work; it reluctantly lifts as the tractor is only at idle and not developing much hydraulic power. Now I turn to look behind as I gently apply reverse-pressure to the pedal and the hydrostat begins its characteristic whine and we begin to move.
There’s an awful lot of ‘tail’ back there –
eight feet and more long, six wide; at about a hundred pounds per foot –
now coming into the sunlight
and it’s prudent to go slowly
as I notice that I’m the only part of the machine
not covered with dust.
Out of the barn now, I stop and drop the blade, and set the parking brake then I go through the rest of my ritual while the tractor warms up: Gingerly dismount the tractor to protect my knees and ankles, pull the ROPS bar up into position overhead, insert the locking pins and their locking clips, double-check all the three-point mounts and their lock pins, take my flag off the ROPS bar and hang it in the middle of the barn door’s opening because I stupidly forgot to lower the ROPS one day and cracked the door header.
Now I remount the tractor and head off to work on the back meadow.
We’re ‘back-dragging’, the machine and I:
using the back side of the blade to smooth out all the lumps developed through the year.
And as I idle my way over to my beginning spot (having given the engine time to warm up) I am reminded that although we work the land, the land also works us.
In position now, I bring up the engine speed and drop the blade. Easing my foot down on the FORWARD pedal, I try to feel how the blade grabs at and smooths the meadow under its shaggy coating of shin-deep grass.
As I make pass after pass, row by row,
I begin to feel the equilibrium
demanded by the land as I work with the tractor and blade to smooth it.
There is such a thing as too fast
which is hard on the machine and gets little done;
and such a thing as too slow
which wastes time and does no more work.
I sway and bounce my way along;
a part of all things of both the recent and the distant past,
working the land as it works my machine and me.
In timeless work the day proceeds, my thoughts running to and fro
as the work gets done, at the pace the land itself demands.
For the land can only be worked at its pace;
a speed that God designed into it,
and trying to defy the land
has about as much sense to it as defying God.
Eventually we’re done and it’s turned into a hot afternoon; the barn baking in the sun has become an oven.
Just up from idle to help cool the machine, I drop the ROPS and begin … V E R Y … C A R E F U L L Y backing into the barn, mindful, oh so mindful, of the damage that all this weight and horsepower can do with the tiniest nudge. Now in position, I lower the blade to just a few inches off the barn floor so that I can get casters under it and its ‘front landing gear’, which reluctantly deploys.
And so begins the wrestling-match that every worker of the soil has had
since three-point hitches were invented:
Now that the darn thing’s been on, I need to get it back off.
The temperature in the barn climbs,
driven by my efforts and a hot, idling machine.
I have to have the tractor running to keep the hydraulics charged; a slow change in position can be a painful accident waiting to happen.
I begin to find, like countless before me, and countless will after me,
that a hammer in one hand … helps.
At this point, it’s only about getting the job done:
my world shrinks to the size of the back blade and the three-point mount;
and I’m careful with where I put my hands and feet
as I make mental notes to replace split rings with spring-locking pins
and try to hold my temper in check as my arthritic fingers slip
and fail once again.
Oh for the flexible fingers of even a dozen years ago!
But age brings persistence and perseverance through stubbornness,
and finally the blade is put away
the tractor is turned around
and I’m able to switch off,
and the little diesel rattles down into silence.
I do all the things I always do when shutting the tractor down: raise the hood, tilt the seat forward, brush off excess dust and dirt, sweep out the barn.
And as the barn doors creak their way closed,
the timelessness of the land and those who work it settles ever more snugly about me
my sweat-soaked tiredness as I fasten the lock
shared by countless generations before.
We work the land,
and the land works us.
We are a part of each other;
each a custodian of the other.