Last Sunday Damon came out to the farm to scrape the barn paddock. This year’s hay was so weedy that the cattle wasted a great deal. There was a mat of hay 4-6″ deep across a big swath of the paddock. My hope was to scrape it into a pile, which I could then slowly spread as mulch on the fields where it would be useful.
Damon has had a very challenging last two years. His health broke. He lost his job due to frequent hospitalizations. He lost his father, the pillar of his life. And then last Christmas he lost his good right leg. Though he has been amazingly quick to learn to use the prosthetic, it chafes and aches. He is a brave and determined man but behind his courageous front he has understandably struggled with depression.
I had first asked him to work on Saturday, a grey and gloomy day. He declined. However when Sunday dawned bright and blue, Damon called to say he would be out.
I was thrilled. Just under the mat of hay was a layer of ice. Our window for scraping the hay from this hard surface was rapidly disappearing but we would catch it just in time.
While Damon scraped, I drove back to the lake house to start the old farm truck and put air in its tires. In the garage for the winter, the tires had ebbed until the truck was practically resting on their rims. Since I was using a tiny pump, re-inflating the tires took 45 minutes. By the time I returned, Damon had finished scraping the paddock and was doing a pass down the driveway to smooth out the spring ruts.
My thought had been that we could put the waste hay into the old truck and drive it out of the paddock. I hadn’t realized quite how much waste hay there would be.
Moreover, the old truck had assumed a rather alarming posture over the winter.
Damon would later look underneath and diagnose that the frame had rusted through and broken off on both sides. Gulp. I had just driven it a mile down the highway.
For now, however, he queried, “What is it you want to do?”
“Well, I was thinking we’d put the dirty hay in the truck and drive it out of the paddock, but now I see it won’t fit —”
His mouth twisted. No. Obviously. But he asked simply, “If we put the shit in the truck, how you gonna get it outta there?”
“Well, I was thinking that I could put an old piece of OSB in the bed, and attach a chain, and then out in the back field, drive out from under it.”
His father Allen had told me stories of driving out from under loads as a young trucker.
“Ain’t gonna work,” Damon said. But he watched as I lifted the old sheet of OSB into the bed. He brought his little excavator over to do the loading.
It was a beautiful day, a day of warm spring firsts: first flies. First tree swallows returning to the farm and twittering in excitement as they inspected the nest boxes. First flock of turkey vultures circling overhead. I kept watching Damon, praying it was lifting his mood to be outside in the sunshine on his beloved machinery. His face was set.
Maybe he’s just concentrating, I hoped.
We loaded the truck. I cut a hole in the OSB. Damon got in my truck and followed me out to the back field. I attached the chain.
Then Damon gunned the good truck in reverse. The chain snapped taut, the heavily-weighted OSB started to slide, and then — it reached the edge of the tailgate and cracked in half under the weight of the load. Damon kept backing and the broken OSB and hay hit the ground. It sat there in an enormous lump of flakeboard shards and dirty hay. Clearly, this had indeed been a flawed plan.
I ran to Damon, laughing, and hugged him through the open truck window. It was all so familiar. My “brilliant” idea, father or son frowning but agreeably following directions, and the predictable foolish result. It seemed like old times. Even Damon had a small wintry smile.
We left the rest of the waste hay stacked in the barn paddock. I’ll have to deal with it another day. When I let them out again, the cattle were interested to inspect their new landscape feature.