I’ve just come in from yet another two-hour stint armed with bucket and shovel, picking up after the five dogs who recently vacated Blue Moon Stead. The yard between our porch and the pond was a landmine. In something akin to “Where’s Waldo?,” I work to find poop hidden in the grass amidst pine needles, torpedo-shaped pinecones, autumn leaves, bits of yellow-brown foam insulation and pieces of bark, and to find it before it finds me. Eventually I spy a nice big flat one with a perfectly clear treadmark and logo of my Muck boots. Or maybe Gary’s Muck boots.
Not that I mind the job, really. In fact it’s a task I’ve chosen, three times now, rather than investigate the smell emanating from the aged refrigerator we’re using until we get ours moved in. I like being outdoors, working to the rush of the creek and the spring calls of the birds. At morning I wonder at the unseen bird issuing a rusty “tewee.” By the time evening puts an end to my work for the day, a mallard has begun his sharp, persistent plea.
A breeze picks up. I listen briefly for the whirr of the wind generator, pleased to think of the electricity it will bring on this cloudy day, before realizing I’m not at Brushkana. One of my last tasks there was to make a final round of the property with my bucket and shovel; I’m hoping the new owner will not even realize such a job needed doing. But we picked up after Ella every day or two or three, so it was a smaller job.
She keeps me company, Ella does, sitting at a distance with one of the tennis balls the dogs were good enough to leave behind. She knows I’m working and is content to wait, bringing me the ball only when I look like I need a break. Sometimes she places the ball pointedly next to one of the objects of my search. She brings it again once I’ve put my bucket and shovel away, knowing then that she’s earned a swim in the pond.
Meanwhile, I find myself appreciating the apt charm of expressions like “sicker than a dog,” “one sick puppy,” and “oh, crap!”.
As congenial as this work is, I’m ready to take on something new. Last week, Gary bought a used tractor in central Oregon, conveniently sold with its own trailer. I took the lead on the last leg of the trip so Gary could focus, hauling his heavy load, even as traffic grew impatient when we closed in on the greater Portland area. A narrow — very narrow — steel-grate bridge spans over the Columbia from Hood River, Oregon to Washington. As he passed a horse trailer coming the other direction, Gary felt his trailer scraping the side of the bridge.
If the bridge put him on edge, I nearly put him over it. I missed a turn on the final approach to our street. Gary followed. And followed, as I drove slowly up and down the steep hills along hairpin turns that make up our local byways here, a growing chain of cars impatient behind our little caravan. Determined not to make the same mistake twice, as I approached the juncture a second time I turned too early. This led to more sharp turns, a steep, narrow street or two, then success. Success in this case meant finding our road, which winds and climbs another fourteen miles to a logging road, which bumps along a mile before we reach our driveway, itself over a half-mile of dirt and potholes.
By the time we got home, it was nearly dark. But the next day, as soon as he backed the tractor off the trailer, Gary motioned for me to get in the driver’s seat: the only seat, actually. The tractor was running, set in low gear. On the pallet forks sat the front loader bucket, filled with augers and other implements.
“Drive it to the barn,” Gary shouted over the loud grumble of the machine.
I dug the pedal with my heel. This is one of the great things about a tractor. The gas pedal is shaped like a narrow “C.” If you push the top end with your toe, the tractor moves forward; if you press the bottom with your heel, it goes in reverse. Very logical. To compensate for this lapse in obfuscation, the lever that manages the front implement (pallet fork at the moment) will it raise up when I push down, and lower it when I push up.
Still, it was fun. In our snowmachine, a falter of uncertainty led to sure disaster. In the tractor it’s much easier to stop to take stock. After I made my way to the barn, Gary waved me in on the right side of the barn’s center pole. The forks edged through, but the bucket sitting atop the forks got ever so close to the weight-bearing center pole. Gary halted me with his hand and motioned for me to back up. Too late. As I moved back, the bucket scraped the center pole, bringing it very nearly off the cement pad.
Forward. Right. Back, oh so carefully. I’ve been on the property fewer than four days, and I’ve nearly demolished my own barn. Unruffled, Gary had me drive the tractor back to his truck again twice, returning to the barn each time with a new load. Once I had deposited the equipment in the barn, he directed me to push on the center pole with the three-point hitch, essentially backing into the very thing I had almost pulled off its moorings. Amazingly, the pole is back where it belongs.
A few days later, Gary had taken the tractor out and was out cutting dead standing trees for firewood. Ella and I took a walk to check in on him. He filled the tractor’s bucket with wood.
“I was wondering where my helpers were. Take this load back and dump it on the porch,” he said, as though this was something I could do unsupervised.
So I did. When I reached the porch with that first load, it took no little experimentation to get the bucket to tip over and spill its contents onto the porch. Once I finally succeeded in emptying the bucket, in my excitement I brought the bucket within an inch or two of the second-floor deck above the porch.
Ella cringed. I keep half an eye on her when I’m in the tractor, though Gary tells me she has good sense around tractors. I am absolutely sure she cringed, making some slight motion in anticipation of the worst. Just in time, I stopped. I drove back twice for the rest of the wood like nothing happened.
She’ll never tell.