It started pleasantly enough, sitting on a homemade platform behind an old Kubota tractor by a sinking stream in the Ozarks (that means the stream, because of karst topography, disappears underground and then reappears farther downstream), eating our lunch and listening to nothing but the breeze on this mild winter day. I had made exquisite chicken salad with dill pickle chunks (stuffed between French bread pieces) that popped and splashed juice all around my mouth.
It went downhill (even though it was uphill) from that point on … But there wasn’t really anything funny about climbing a rocky slope several times, about carrying pruners (my weapon of choice in the glade-clearing battle), poison (for hardwood elimination) and a first aid kit. Add to that my gun around my waist, along with my jacket, plus trying to break in the boots from hell that kept untying themselves at the most inopportune moments. I would think, “Dang! It feels like my boot is going to fall off,” and I’d look down to see laces flopping around and the tongue hung out again. Those laces kept catching on briars and brambles and working themselves out.
Wham, I caught my foot in a piece of web fence and down on went on my right knee – smack dab on a rock. $#%!!! That hurt. Still does. Up I popped and we slogged up to the glade. We clearing glades as part of our efforts in a landowners’ conservation grant by the state to improve wildlife habitat.
The clearing of the glade … part deux
Here’s how the process goes. My husband dons his chainsaw chaps and helmet with facemask, and then gets down to the business of felling every cedar and select hardwoods on the glade. The smell is divine, except when he topples an oak. Those smell bad, like rotten something or other. But the cedars in the breeze? Think Christmas in the air all around you.
My job? It’s threefold, really. It’s to take the antique, long-handled pruners and snip small trees and cedars. It’s also to paint Tordon on the hardwood stumps so that they do not regenerate. And finally, it’s my job to make sure the chainsaw guy gets help should he need it. That’s why I pack a first aid kid and why I need to be able to drive the tractor fast, if need be.
Of course, that meant another trip down the slope, across the creek and to the tractor for wedges. Then we discovered the missing link … the hammer lay back in the tool shed by the house. So that meant we tried to drive in the wedges with rocks (talk about hurting your hand and absorbing all the energy in bones) and wood, and finally, we gave up and made a trip by tractor back to the tool shed to get the hammer, come along hand cable winch and tow strap. We wound up pulling that 25-foot oak down by using a strap and come along. Very interesting and what a thrill to see that thing fall.
Two hours later, we had completed the massacre on the glade. I could almost imagine a big gobbler strutting in here while I hunkered down in the camouflage of branches, shotgun at the ready. Oh, come on spring!
The long way back to the shed
I am learning to drive a tractor. There’s a lot to learn – like torque and throttle and whether to have it in third high or third low. So, there I was, going up a curve in second high, with my husband and all the gear on the platform behind me, when I decided to shift it into third high. I slowed down too much, executed an awkward shift into third and wowee! The front of that Kubota rose up off the ground a few feet and veered over to the right. I kept that tractor under control, yanking the wheel back over and setting it back on the road. To my right? A steep slope that would have rolled the tractor easily had I not been able to maneuver it quickly back onto the road after the set down. Afterward, I looked back at my husband, who just smiled – as he stood there all white-knuckled like and hanging on for dear life on the platform. We laughed. We laughed hard.
And then, he explained to me how to shift so that I never do that again.
And then I did it correctly a few times.
I’m glad, though, that we had that moment in mid-air. That moment that happens when you least expect it, and demands that you act appropriately or someone will get hurt. And if you can walk away from it, and learn from it, and maybe even if you can laugh at yourself for it, or in this case, my family will laugh about it (“Hey, did you hear that Mom popped a wheelie on Grandpa’s tractor?” … “Yeah, and did you hear that Dad was on the back on the platform?”), then all the better for it.
Cleansing out the scare with a laugh. Always works for me.