Tuesday, 3 September 2013
Working the Tractor
I've been trying to blog for a few days now and being given writer's block by the subject that I wanted to share with you. It's too frightening even to put into words.
It's no secret I find using the tractor one of the most consistently terrifying experiences of my life. Put me on a frisky horse and even after all these years out of the saddle I reckon I could ride it out, find the fiercest roller coaster and I'll take it with nary a peep but this monster, this essential tool of farm life is something that sets my heart racing with such speed I fear an attack every time I start the engine.
There's just no feeling of control or being able to communicate with it and yet unlike a roller coaster where you can surrender to your fate it needs coaxing along, steering, directing and anticipating. The sheer weight of the thing renders me negligible by comparison and the unsteadiness of the ride as we inch over tiny humps and bumps is every anxiety and fear of death I've ever had rolled into one awful moment after another.
I've been cutting meadows over the last weeks. It really is the perfect weather for it, baked dry and delightfully warm and sunny. It's not a bad time for the plant life either, these old hayfields are full of flowering plants (if a few too many thistles and docks) and they have reached the stage where cutting and scattering their seed heads will keep them going for future years. As I work I'm surrounded by swallows scooping the insect enriched air and often have birds of prey, a buzzard and a kestrel watching for displaced rodents and lizards as well. After my initial fears have had time to settle a little I can occupy my mind with choosing the most efficient path to cover the area with fewest repeated cuts and after that there's even room for some boredom.
But last week I really think I lost one of my cat striped lives. In our fields are cider trees, huge old things, covered in mistletoe and on their last legs frankly. We keep them because we hope they are old varieties that we will eventually identify and because one day we'll make drinkable cider, also it's a lot of work taking them out.
One of these trees had fallen in the winter. It wasn't dead but was lying on its side, head poking up at an angle such that I thought I could see where the root was, so I swept up to it in my fierce beast of a tractor, engine roaring and cutters whirring and drove over the real trunk submerged in the long grass. The whole machine reared up, it wobbled and rocked. I was clinging to the steering wheel for dear life, convinced the whole thing would topple over with me inside it. Then the back wheels came over and finally the cutter, each new impact creating further perturbations and causing some unladylike language most unsuitable for taking to the pearly gates. And I survived. It was a lesson. Well, several lessons but possibly the most valuable was that the thing isn't quite as unstable as I believe it to be. Even so, it still takes me several hours to convince myself to go out for another session.
At last that's done. Perhaps I'll be able to do some stuff about vegetables, butterflies and cats now!