Any Day On a Tractor is a Good Day

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I am astride a John Deere tractor, swatting away mosquitoes on a 95-degree afternoon, sweat soaking my long-sleeved shirt and streaming down my face, as I carefully weave my way along a fence line, bush-hogging waist-high weeds. This is great, I thought, and grinned. I haven’t been on a tractor in nearly two decades. It’s good to be back in the saddle.

My Beautiful Mystery Companion, her brother and his son, our daughter’s boyfriend, and me have all pitched in to help a new acquaintance clean up some fence rows in the woods behind her home. Being the senior citizen of the crowd, I was tapped as the designated tractor driver, while the other members of this motley crew wield chain saws and pull trees off fence rows to pile them up to slowly rot in this steamy forest.

Summer arrived rather brutally after a mild, rainy May and beginning of June. For some reason, the heat isn’t as bothersome when working out in the woods. Sure, we’re all soaked with sweat and guzzling water to stay hydrated, but it’s different than how I feel when walking across an asphalt parking lot, headed into the Big Box Store. Besides, driving a tractor, re-learning the trick of weaving the cutter around trees and not getting too close to the barbed-wire fence, is a lot of fun — not that I want to make my living doing this.

The tricky part for me is backing up, which I had to do often because of the thick forest. My neck doesn’t turn very well at this age. If I ever acquire my own tractor again, I’m getting side mirrors.

This John Deere is a medium-sized contraption with the rotary cutter (what East Texans call a bush-hog) and a bucket in front. The bucket came in handy for shoving cut logs and limbs out of the way. At one juncture, the crew was filling the bucket with logs that I dumped into a washed-out spot on the fence line. Everybody was grunting and sweating as they filled the bucket, while I sat on the tractor.

“I have the best job on this crew,” I announced to a noticeable lack of applause.

Wild hogs have been rooting around this land, as they do in much of East Texas. I put feral hogs in the same category as mosquitoes, in terms of being God’s creatures we could do without. Several times, the tractor lists lightly to one side as I traverse a hog-created crater. It reminded me of a time I was bush-hogging a hill on a home we owned outside San Augustine back in the mid-1980s. Our beagle, Dixie, darted in front of the tractor. I instinctively wrenched the steering wheel. The tractor tipped onto two wheels, thankfully just briefly. It took a while to get my heart rate back to normal.

I took a break from the tractor and walked the fence line with my BMC, swatting away mosquitoes that were ignoring, or perhaps feasting upon, the thick coat of Deet sprayed on our clothes. My floppy, skin-cancer protecting hat at one point was covered with those buggers. The creek flowed out of banks during the May-June monsoons, leaving sandy loam everywhere and bug-infested pools of water. A snake crossed our path, nothing poisonous but a reminder that the forest is not always benign. While mowing, I watched warily for stinging insects. Stirring up a yellowjacket nest means leaping off the tractor and running for dear life. Been there, done that.

We called it quits about 5:30, having skipped lunch and survived solely on water, so we all were famished. There is a lot more work to be done, but we certainly made a dent in this unkempt land. My BMC put it best as we got back in our SUV, cranked up the AC,  and headed home. “Now, this was meaningful work,” she said.

It was a good day.

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