Goodbye, Bulldozer

Leon worked hard all day. For once the weather cooperated and for his last day it was sunny and warm — hard to believe I’d been wearing winter coveralls over a turtleneck and fleece only two days ago — and he was able to knock off a lot of things on my list. As usual, however, not everything.

I have become philosophical about this. I’ll need to hire the excavator again next summer to dig the house foundation. As Allen has already half-dug the hole, I’m guessing the foundation won’t take a whole week. We’ll give the list a few more licks next year. As I said to DH, I can’t really imagine a summer without heavy equipment, anyway.

DH once mentioned that he hoped someday to be able to cross-country ski the perimeter of the property. I always like to create things that will lure him down to the farm. There was only one bottleneck. When Allen dug Neddy’s pond in 2005, he had built a “bench” of gravel along the southern and western edges to retain water. This bench was steep, rough, and bouldery, and had grown up in poplar and briar. I asked Leon to bulldoze it flat for a trail around the pond. Above is the new trail, looking down from the pasture.

The photo below shows the lower edge of the trail. You can’t see the pond on your left but you can see one of the big piles of excavated fill.

Someday the pond will be dug out to extend to the lower quarter of the photo, and the fill will be bulldozed to level the upper crater. Another year.

I took down the round pen and Leon smoothed and leveled the ground as best he could without wasting too much time on it.

Someday (that word again!) I’ll get a load of sand to improve the footing in the pen for riding. Leon says I need “ore sand.” Like so many of the truckers and operators I’ve met, Leon knows his sand and stones.

The night before I had moved the pigs to the barn and taken down the pig fencing. Now Leon leveled and cleaned that acre. Allen had stumped it in the spring but when the bulldozer broke down it was never cleared off. It is clear now.

Meanwhile the pigs are set up outside the barn along the driveway. With the cold weather arriving I like to simplify chores as much as possible. Trucking water to both the pigs and the sheep twice a day this summer has been a serious time commitment. For the next month I should be able to water the pigs with the hose.

I had hoped Leon would be able to spread Larry’s tons of manure for me, feathering it out over the top of the cabin knoll. But, as with the pond landscaping, we ran out of time. Instead he bulldozed it into a single giant pile, to make it easier for me to load it with a pitchfork into the manure spreader. I foresee my strength-training program for fall.

Leon was also not able to finish covering Allen’s stump and log burial ground, but this was not solely a function of time. As it turned out, the cabin knoll is too “bony” — ribbed with ledge and boulders. There is simply not enough soil to move. The second half of the stump ravine will have to wait to be buried next summer, when we excavate the pond and generate more fill. In the meantime I’ll weedwhack the saplings and briars off the surface.

Leon and I were both tired by the end of the day as we cleaned the mud out of the bulldozer tracks and refueled the machine to get it ready for pick-up Monday morning.

However when his carpool arrived, his adopted six-year-old, Faith, was not tired in the slightest. She shot out of the car like a cannonball. I carried her around to pet all the animals and Leon gave her a last ride up the driveway in the bulldozer.

I had been ambivalent about hiring Leon, dreading change. Only the thought of losing the paid-up weeks on the heavy equipment had forced me to act. Yet it turned out to be a completely positive experience.

Though Leon isn’t quite as gifted with the excavator as Allen is, his health is much better. I didn’t realize how big a relief this would be until the weight fell from my shoulders. I didn’t worry when Leon lifted fuel cans. When he cut his engine unexpectedly, my heart didn’t jump in anxiety. The only grey in Leon’s face at the end of a long day came from his unshaved whiskers.

But Leon knows Allen and knew I missed him.

“I’m just the fill-in,” he said yesterday around a cookie. “The pinch hitter, doing clean-up.”

Of course in many ways this is true. Allen is the person who cleared the farm. “I don’t think he will ever be back, though,” I said.

He nodded.

Leon is not fatherly to me like Allen. (A few weeks ago, O.B. said to me, “I don’t want to sound like a dad, but —” and I interrupted, “O.B., you’ll never go wrong sounding like a dad with me.”) Leon doesn’t say, “Good girl.” He doesn’t tease me or laugh at me or tell me what to do. On the other hand, it’s early days. Give him five years.

“I’m really, really lucky to have found you,” I said. “I hope you can work for me for years and teach me a million things.”

Leon laughed. When he left we were making plans for next summer.


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