The Start of a Journey

Every journey deserves a bon voyage party – a huge send off with a bottle of champagne broken off the hull of the newly christened ship.  That is why I’ve started this blog.  Our new journey is buliding a log cabin in Newbury VT, from the foundation up, so I started this blog to record and celebrate our journey to our dream’s completion, and especially to capture all the lessons I learn from my dear old Vermonter husband along the way.

This start coincides with the start of Teachers Write, so I’m combining the two sort of – the old adage – kill two birds with one stone.  But anyway – you probably tuned in today to hear about the tractor I killed yesterday…so, here goes.

It’s been over five years since the lawn mower lesson, and I guess my husband didn’t give up on me, because during the past five years he has started to teach me to use his Kubota tractor.  This is, what one customer called, his “pocket-sized tractor,” a small but effective piece of equipment that he can use to bush hog, dig holes, bucket dirt, split wood, move heavy stones, plow snow, and every other task he may be called on to do.  Although he has a much bigger Massey Ferguson tractor, this is his go-to tractor for most jobs.  It has four wheel drive, which the Massey Ferguson doesn’t, and it can get into smaller spots better.  Plus, at a height of 5 feet himself, I think my husband favors it because like him, it’s little.

The first thing he taught me to do was to run the backhoe while digging in our yard.  There are two levers to use, one makes the bucket go up and down and left and right, the other curls and uncurls the bucket to do the actual digging.  It takes time and practice, but eventually you begin to get the handle for it, and you find your bucket fuller and fuller.  I encountered some troubles that day because I live in Vermont and there’s one thing Vermont has no shortage of and that is rocks.  Some of these were small, no bigger than a grapefruit, but many were much larger and heavier – the kind you like to find when hiking and you’re tired and need a place to sit and rest a spell.  I never dreamed I could ever move such big rocks, but my husband showed me how to loosen the dirt around the rocks, and then catch the bucket under one corner of the stone and lift.  Usually after a few tries the stone would budge and before long the stone was moved.

The next time I used the backhoe was last fall.  We had finally closed on our new property and although we knew we wouldn’t be able to start building our dream home until this year we had some work we could do.  Arthur got busy clearing trees so the Artesian well could be put in, putting in long days of chainsawing, cutting, hauling, and such, work that would scare me to watch as he dangled from trees sawing off branches.  After a day or so he decided there was something we could bring to the property, and I blush to admit it.  An outhouse.  If you are picturing a rough wooded 4×4 shack with a moon cut in the door and a hole to do your business in then you are picturing our outhouse almost perfectly, except ours doesn’t have a moon.  Of course you can’t put in an outhouse in, though, without first digging a hole, so that was my next digging assignment.  The specifications were that it was to be narrow and deep (very deep).  it’d been a while since I last backhoed, but I soon remembered how to handle the levers and was back to digging  Once called Sand Hill Road, it was easy to see why – because there were no rocks here.  The digging was a breeze and in a short time I had the required hole dug.   Now, I have to digress from my learning experience here to just share one that my husband learned.  He installed the outhouse, but had to make a new seat for it as the previous owners had used it more as a storage shed.  It was no problem for him to get the appropriate rough board and cut a hole in it using his trusty Sawzall.  He even made a little cover using a drawer handle that you pulled off prior to sitting.  But what he didn’t do was to consider the needs of his plus-sized wife, or any female for that matter.  The hole he made was positioned in the center of the board, like a bulls-eye for the guys to aim at, but large enough so they usually met their mark.  But think of a female’s anatomy.  The first time I used the outhouse I discovered (the hard way) that this hole did not meet the needs of half the population.  As pee puddled around on the dirt covered planks at my feet I knew my husband would have to do some modifications.  So, for once, he learned from me.  I can now report that the outhouse now has an appropriate sized hole and even a real toilet seat!

Now, back to my lesson.  I used the backhoe once more to dig another hole for the Artesian well installation, but to be honest, I don’t even know what the purpose of the hole was.  I was having fun digging.  Yes, I will be honest, I see the attraction of these big machines on men.  The same bee has stung me, and once I’m in the seat I enjoy running the tractor.  We won’t talk about how difficult it is for me to get in that seat, though.  Let’s just say that pictures would go viral.

Finally this month I learned how to actually move the tractor.  Not just the bucket, but the wheels and everything.  It was time to bush hog and I was the one chosen for the job.  Oh my!  And that’s where I’ll take up next time.  Don’t want to make these posts too long or you won’t read them (I know I wouldn’t).

It’s a Lawn Mower, Not a Bulldozer!

Five years ago when I got my first lawn mower, a Craftsman (the brand my husband ought to have stock in), I started using it around our yard.  It was an unfamiliar yard to me as I was newly married to a husband 20 years my senior, someone who had stockpiled a lot of material (or in my terms – junk) in the yard.  This included plows to trucks that had ceased living years ago, attachments to his many payloaders, backhoes, bulldozer, and tractors, some in operations, others parked in the heavy metal graveyard, a small camper that had been vandalized making it completely unusable, and so much more.  One side of the driveway was all scrap metal.  I hated seeing that pile of rusting, corroding metal, but I have to admit as a thrifty old Vermonter, Arthur usually found use for a lot of it and neighbors knew to check with him before paying for anything new.

But, let me get back to my first lawn mower.  Everything started out fine.  I was running that lawn mower all over our scraggily yard, admiring it’s smooth action and how I barely needed to touch it to get it to move forward.  We had paid for the top of the line – one with front wheel drive, electric start, self-propelled, that could cut to various heights and could also mulch while it cut.  Because this was my lawn mower the job of mowing became mine, although my husband was kind enough to help, especially if I saw a snake.  Snakes and I have a hate-hate-hate relationship – they hate my lawnmower, I hate seeing them, and I hate the idea that they may be hiding in the grass ready to bite me.  For the most part, though, I actually liked mowing – it’s relaxing and mindless, and I also knew it was helping me to sweat off some pounds.

But then it happened.  The grass was higher than usual due to a particularly rainy spell.  I could almost hear the yard calling, “Come free me from this burdensome coiffure of witch grass and dandelions!  It is a close-cropped crew cut I crave.”  So, I set out.  My husband was working in the driveway and I got the mower running with a quick pumping of the prime button and a turn of the electric start.  I had started to tame this wild yard, and today I was determined to rid the dooryard (that’s a Vermont term I never heard before I met my husband, so don’t feel bad if you haven’t either) of its shaggy appearance.  I was not only going to reverse the effects of the rain, but I was also determined to win back even more of the yard –  heading into places that should have probably been left for the weed-whacker.  It wasn’t long before I was out of gas, and while my husband refueled me he had some unsolicited advise.  “Ya know, this is just a lawn mower, it’s not a bush hog.  You’re kind of asking a lot of it when you try to cut those heavy weeds.” “I know, I reply, I’m taking it easy.”  “Well, I’m just saying – it’s a lawn mower, not a bull dozer.”

I listened, well, no, not really, and went on my way.  I started off again, almost determined to show my husband what my lawn mower and I were capable of.  We were in the front yard between the bull dozer and payloader that adorned my yard (and less you think these were cute little miniature sized pieces, let me set you straight – these are the big construction type vehicles you see while stuck in traffic and wondering why some idiot chose rush hour to decide to work on the water line) in some particularly high grass.  I was going easy, just taking a little bit at a time, certain my trusty friend could handle it, praising it for the job it had already done, when “CLANK!”….and silence.

Of course, my husband had heard it.  All of Beaver Meadow must have heard that “CLANK!”  It’s that horrible sound that happens when metal hits metal.  The metal was the blade of the lawnmower, now bent and useless, and one of the many attachments to the bulldozer or payloader or backhoe or sawmill that was in the yard, that looked completely unscathed.  It had been buried in the heavy grass, and I had no idea it was there.

My dear friend has never fully recovered from that accident.  We are still friends, although it reminds me every use of the debilitating damage I did to it.  Instead of the quiet hum acceptable even to the California noise pollution laws, it now raggedly runs with the clamor and sputtering of a Tasmanian devil.  The self-propelling feature that once pulled the machine forward went on disability and has never showed up for work again, and when you leave the machine just to move a stick or stone that might be in the way, the poor fellow shudders and groans, afraid to be left for even a moment.  I hold myself fully responsible for the mental change that has come over my partner, he will never be the same again, and until today I thought I had changed, too, admitting that I should have listened to the sage advice of an old Vermonter, and vowing never to disregard Arthur’s advice again.

And for five+ years, I’ve done well.  But today, while trying to remove a stump, I broke my husband’s Kubota tractor.  Story to come.