Mowing

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I am never able to spend much concentrated time on any one task — too many chores jostle for my attention. Yesterday morning, after driving Lucy to town at 6 AM to join a mountain hike on her day off, I mapped out my upcoming day by the hour: laundry and kitchen, mucking the barn, spreading manure, moving the sheep, walking the dogs — and mowing in the back field.

A few dawns ago I discovered that overnight, the cattle had skinned the bark off a tree from the ground as high as they could reach.

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That tree is history.

I felt terrible, as I had known when I turned the cattle out in the back field and the cabin field that I was doing it “wrong.” I knew I should divide the acreage into small plots, let the cattle into each plot for a short time, perhaps a single day, and then mow off the remaining weeds, while turning the cattle onto new fresh grass. But I didn’t have all the necessary fencing — or all the necessary time and energy. Instead, I turned them out into the big expanse. Predictably, they gobbled all the delicious candy greens and left the rest (the undesirable brussel sprouts) to grow coarse and unpalatable. Now they were so hungry that a tree seemed like a possible snack.

The first answer was to feed hay. I arranged to purchase a couple of large round bales.

The second was to mow off all the coarse growth. Most of the field is weeds, but a good chunk is timothy and orchard grass — exactly what the cows would have loved, if they could have met it in its young, juicy state, instead of as it is now: dry stalks. I comforted myself that at least now I will have the mulch and the seeds. I just needed to mow.

For several years Allen mowed the back field for me with the tractor. Last summer, after Allen’s death, his son Damon kindly mowed it. Unfortunately, Damon hit several of the many rocks hidden in the tall weeds, and the blades on the brush-hog were bent irretrievably. For the past few weeks he has had the tractor and brush-hog at his house for a tune-up and blade replacement. He brought them back a few days ago. He plans to start mowing later this week.

Yesterday I fired up Allen’s little tow-behind brush-hog and spent two hours in the back field. My task was to mow the edges and mow around any rocks I could see, to expose them for Damon and the tractor.

The Cub Cadet lawn mower without a deck (1970) and tow-behind brush hog (1970) — “mows anything mowable!” — both worked perfectly. I was so happy. I knew Allen was smiling, and I was thrilled to realize that if need be, I could use it on the whole field. (Before I owned a tractor, I once mowed this field with a push brush-hog.) Anything that makes me more independent gives me a lift.

Yes, I do know how to operate the John Deere tractor. However, it has been so temperamental I prefer to leave it to the experts. The little old mowing combination that Allen put together for me is just my speed.

I took the dogs for a walk on the newly mown paths later. In some areas of the field, the ground was so thick with weeds that little Toby had been jumping high just to see where he was going. In the section in the photo below, the soil is still very sour and even the tall growth is very light.

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Still, it’s improving year by year, and with cutting it will be seeded and mulched. I remember this field as trees, and I feel a big smile deep inside.

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The next few days I have to spend off the farm. It is maddening when there is so much to be done — and when the machines are actually working!

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