I began haying when I was 11. The running rule on the farm was that as soon as you could push the clutch to the floor on the tractor you were good to go. You could take your place in the hayfield. Dad always began us on teddering as a first task. The tedder can go slower than a snail and still be effective, a crucial aspect when teaching an 11-year-old how NOT to hit the stone wall with machinery. I did anyway. It made a spectacular sound.
(The tedder is a wild looking device that takes the neat windrows of grass the mower has cut and whips them into a frenzy, spreading the skeins about so they’ll dry out in the brilliant sun.)
Eventually as age and practice accumulate you graduate from the tedder to the rake to the mower and baler and chopper eventually, though even at 30 I have yet to try my hand at chopping. I learned very early that unless you wished to have it on your to do list, you need be able to claim true ignorance of its operation, or else. My dad was the primary mower for years and years. I have countless memories of going to the same fields for picnic lunches and hearing the roar of the engine and the whir of the discs before you could see him. But as is the passing of time, I am now the primary mower as Dad is needed to bounce around fixing crises as they arise. I know he misses it. And I understand why.
I do my best thinking on a tractor. At this point, it’s just ingrained. Mowing is moving meditation. You need pay close attention and yet there’s space there, for reflection. Until you hit a rock. That’ll jar your meditation just a tad. But as I was mowing a few days ago, I looked back over my shoulder and saw the chopper diagonally across the field to one side and the truck bumping its way across the field, and I was struck with illumination. I have a difficult time explaining why I came back to the farm. Sometimes, I’m not really sure, other than that there’s no other place where I feel contentment and that seems reason enough. But this moment cleared up the thought process for me. Every year, every single aspect of everything we do is exactly the same. And also, not a thing is the same. There is such deeply ingrained rhythm in how you grow up on a farm and what you come to expect from each season. And I think that when I was thrown into the “real world” there was no rhythm. Much like someone who grows up accustomed to the ocean waves I would imagine. And until I was back in the rhythm I felt lost. Farmers are victim to Mother Nature and she is a harsh mistress. But farming is an exercise in adaptability. Within the comfort of rhythm, there is a wild rash of unpredictability. Machinery breaks, storms come, animals die, animals are born, fields are muddy…Things go wrong. All the time. But underneath all of it is the steady rhythm, like a heartbeat. You must keep going. No matter what happens, you must pick up and dust off; life is never boring.
It’s been fascinating to watch as farmers come to entertain a near celebrity status in certain circles, to hear people talk of their envy for a life from which I ran very fast. I sometimes find myself frustrated with talk of the beauty of farming because yes, there is beauty. But it is mostly dirty. And difficult. And sometimes when I hear, “oh you’re so lucky,” I have to rapidly stifle the urge to cheerfully throttle the person with whom I’m speaking. Yes, I jest. Obviously, I am lucky. I do not envy for a second a farmer trying to start out cold, with no background and no established farm to walk into – they are warriors, those folks. But it has taken some years for me to sort out what would make a person like me who ran very fast in the opposite direction come back. And it is simple. There is such raw powerful beauty every day here. It doesn’t hide. You don’t have to search for it. And it comes at you on the same day that everything else is going wrong. There is always something in which to be grounded. Something to move towards, look forward to, something in which to be grateful. The land seeps into your blood and I swear, much like the waves of the ocean, it has a pull. Careful… the closer you get, the harder it tugs.