Jul 16, 2005

The Field knows all

It's funny, but a field can show you a lot of Nature without even really trying. Even when I'm desperately trying to stop Nature's advance on the house and it's occupants.

Oh--if you didn't already read it, read the previous entry from this morning, so this one will make a little more sense. Not a lot, mind you, just a bit. Perhaps enough.

Okay--the field. After a little back story. My brother the tinkerer did something very promising last weekend--he changed out the bush-hog. The one we had was well past it's time, and it's 4' deck was loose at many welds, as well as having one whole side shield battered to pieces by an unfortunate encounter with a tree, I think. Not my fault. His. Entirely. If you don't know what a bush-hog is then you've been blessed by never spending time on a tractor, for which you need to be thankful for. If you do, skip a bit.

A bush-hog is the generic name for any pull-behind cutter. Imagine a lawnmower, without the motor on top, and instead of four wheels just stick one solid one centered on the back, with a swivel so it can turn all the way around. Then make the deck go from 25" to 60" or even bigger, stick a lumpy sort of block top center for the transfer gears, and then stick a long drive shaft out of that box, leading forward. Put a gruesome sticker on the deck that says "Do not place hands or feet under deck as rapidly whirling sharp steel blades will render skin and bones into a pink fog," then stick one on the exposed driveshaft that says "If you touch this you'll get your arm twisted clean off." Add a sort of simple "A" frame of steel to the front, where it hooks to the tractor, and you've got it. Paint it some sort of agri company's colour, such as John Deere Green or International Harvester Red or Kubota Orange and you've got it made.

Then, if you get really gung-ho you can get one of those bat-winged jobbies, where you have THREE decks, one centered and two mounted on hinges on each side of the center, and three driveshafts, and about a bazillion rpm's worth of whirling spinning weed death, but you need about a jillion horsepower to spin one of those beasts up, and you can't have any trees or things in the way, because they tend to go through everything. Fast.

So anyway, the brother got a wild hair last weekend and swapped out our 6 year old beat-to-death deck-flying-apart Bush-Hog brand 4 footer for our old bush-hog, an orange makeshift behemoth which has resided behind my uncle's tractor for years and years now. See, that's the one that we had wayyy back when I was a kid and we had graduated from a sickle-bar cutter to a real pull-behind, and then promptly dragged it until it fell apart. My uncle, being the King Tinkerer, got some spare battleship-grade steel and a Tig welder and turned it into this sort of three thousand pound Mad Maxish sort of bulletproof M-1 Abrams of a bush-hog, so heavy the tractor hydraulics won't pick it up, and all covered in extra spikes and blades and sharp things.

Well, let me just say that this miracle of left-handed construction got me through the field in record time--blades sharp enough to cut air, and enough rpm's at the edges of those blades to make it sound like a helicopter, and I was third gear all the way 'round. The only problem was inertia and centrifugal force. It was spinning so fast that even with the clutch engaged I was still traveling at record speeds, and those whirling sharp blades were moving so fast that if they had any tilt to them the entire thing would have taken off and hovered at the end of it's driveshaft.

So what all that leads up to is this: things were proceeding so fast and so problem-free that I was able to look around and enjoy myself for a change. The field is quiet enough that there's always something interesting out there to see, and I don't mean the speed at which wild grape vines can overtake a tree. I'm talking about wildlife.

I've seen many things in that field over the years. I have watched over 100 egrets flying and landing and feeding, making the field look like it's snowed in patches. I've seen more field rats than I have had hot meals; big, dark glossy brown rodents the size of three fists, black eyes glittering with rodent madness. I've seen a monstrous big cottonmouth moccasin make it's muddy black way across the fresh cut, headed for quieter fields, tiny preying mantises so small they looked like pale green fingernail clippings, and I've passed through a swarm of honey bees following their new Queen on their way to fresher fields and a new hive. I've even been swarmed in the mornings by cottony wet fog, at noon by clouds of firey golden dragonflies, and in the evenings by scissortail swallows, each one flying so fast that they seemed to be nothing more than blue and orange afterimages.

And today while passing by the bee skops VERY fast (they were getting warm enough to be angry at me for trespassing) I got to watch 5' of chicken snake wend it's way up a tree.

Yeah, I can just hear the booing and yelling now, but I've never been one to be swayed by popular opinion.

When I was young (8 or so, at best) I saw a full-grown chicken snake about fifteen feet off the ground, clinging like Grim Death to a 4x4 bird-house pole. It had crinked itself into about ten crimps and wrapped itself around two faces of the square pole. My father took a stick and bumped it until it fell, because he loved his purple martins more than he loved snakes, and he caught it to show us what snakes were like close up.

I got to see the same thing today, only without the pole--there was a beautiful brown and black glossy beauty, probably a good 5' long, climbing straight up an oak tree, I assume trying to see what was up there. So shocked was I at suddenly seeing this sleek thing that it took me a few seconds to realise that it was climbing vertically up the tree trunk without the help of arms, hands, or thumbs. I can't even climb one and I'm descended from millions of years of tree climbers, and here's this fifteen pound snake, in essence a tube of muscle and intestines, that was climbing a tree as quickly as I could climb the steps of a ladder. By the time I had stopped the headlong rush of the tractor (inertia again,) stopped the whirling dervish of the blades and gotten the throttle turned down to something less than 100 decibels in order for me to disembark and catch it, his tail was already well out of my arm's reach and fast climbing.

As much as I bitterly complain about the heat (phenomenal) and the filth (astounding) and the bugs (billion-fold) there are still things out there to stop me for a second, open my eyes, and make me smile. While sweating bullets, wiping gnats out of my ears and nose, and blinking away the layer of dirt and grime and grass clippings.

Ah, Nature.

1 comment:

Old Grey Mare said...

Irrelephant I must say that todays blog was a real pleasure to read. It did the old brain good to go back in the memory valts to dwell on the Wonders of nature from my own grass cutting days. Yes I had a john deere all green with a yellow deck of blades. I enjoyed cutting my Uncle Bills lot because he had pear trees on it set in just the right intervals to eat a pear a round if you were hungry. Thank you again for the "trip down memory lane."