Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Purr, Tired Purr

OK, so I tend to be a bit obsessive about things.

I may procrastinate for hours, days, weeks, years....decades? I'm afraid so. But--once I start something, and get in a groove with it, there's no stopping me sometimes.

Even long after overcoming my terror of all power tools, (a terror rooted, perfectly logically, in a childhood spent holding the other end of the board for my father in his workshop, sawdust blinding my unprotected eyes, while he utter dire warnings about how dangerous the tools were) I have nurtured an extreme distaste of small internal combustion engines for decades.

Very successfully, I might add. Few children of the suburbs make it to age 45 without ever having operated a gasoline powered lawn mower, but I did. I considered them an abomination. I also tended to have very "natural" lawns, and arranged for them to be mown only under duress.

A dear friend who had worked for years as a handyperson, including doing a significant amount of lawn mowing, tree trimming, weed eating, etc., bought me my first power mower. Initially she got it to do the mowing herself, unable to stand the sight of my scraggly lawns and lanes, jealous of the "happy purr of lawn mowers" at the neighbors'. I used to adore volunteers like her who liked to mow...and provided their own equipment. I still despised the noise. But she won out: eventually, I, too, began to appreciate "the happy purr of lawn mowers".

(Actually, the farm had had a mower at its very beginning: a Dixon ZTR that was my then-husband's pet. I used it a couple times, with extensive persuasion, but not much. When it died, we replaced it with sheep. They were cheaper, cuter, friendlier, in every way superior...but didn't turn out to be the best lawn mowers, after all. One of those Mother Earth News "it's a nice theory" things that doesn't prove out. I WILL say that they do an excellent job of keeping the trees trimmed up to a perfectly even level. Try finding a machine to do that automatically on a large scale.)

When my friend's life took her in other directions, I bought the little green mower from her and took on the mowing myself. For a long time, it was a dreaded task, made worse by the inevitable vicious cycle of a job disdained. By putting it off, it became immeasurably worse, longer, harder, hotter. But gradually I got better at it, less fearful of something going wrong, more pleased with the results.

The first mower had a very inconvenient bagging system. Even so, I discovered the wonderful resource of grass clippings for mulching the garden. Now this made sense: mowing not to beautify the farm, but to produce a useful and necessary product. A string of other mowers followed: a couple riding mowers (which I barely became comfortable with before their owners took them to greener pastures), and a nice red self-propelled mower with a very effective and convenient bagging system.

Then, the ultimate in grass control equipment. Dad conceded that his shoulder replacement was never designed to run a rototiller or similar equipment, and offered to give me his BCS "walk-behind tractor" which has both rototiller and sickle bar mower attachments. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I promptly accepted, despite my terror of the huge beast and my scorn for rototilling this farm's particular soil.

It has taken a couple seasons to really become comfortable with its operation...though "comfortable" isn't quite the right word. There is nothing physically comfortable about running it, except for the blessed silence when I shut it off and remove my hearing protectors. It easily outweighs me--probably close to twice my weight, including the sickle bar attachment. Two big tires with tractor tread move in absolute lockstep--so turning it is a matter of brute force and leverage. The combination of power and traction mean that it is going to run over anything in its path, if it doesn't go through it. The sickle bar is powerful enough to cut through chain link fence, cattle panels, just about anything smaller than a T-post (you don't wanna know how I know). The handles are designed for someone with huge hands, so the only way I can operate it at all is to override the safety cut-off with a section of plastic pipe. Otherwise, my hand isn't able to reach the clutch lever at all. This means it won't automatically stop if it gets away from me, until it runs into a tree (a large one; it will cut down trees less than 3") or a building.

The hand agony comes from two quirks: First, on the right hand, the throttle lever tends to drift to the slowest imaginable idle speed unless constant pressure is applied to keep it at full throttle. I haven't tried to tighten it, because it does provide a small measure of "safety"--I should say, less frightening danger--if it is unattended, since the cutoff is overridden. So the small lever wears into the palm of my hand. On the left hand, I must keep a constant slight pressure upwards to prevent it from rocking back and running along with the blades clattering uselessly (and dangerously) in mid-air. And I'm forcibly guiding the behemoth with both hands the whole time. It truly takes everything I've got, physically and mentally.

But, I've discovered some good qualities. It moves slowly enough that critters can easily escape...frogs and garter snakes were leaping in all directions today, well-warned by the sound that they could safely flee. And by going under the vegetation and only cutting it once, most insects escape damage as well. If it cuts something, it will be much easier to mend that something cut with a brush hog (and I'll leave any details to your imagination on that.)

I ran it for three hours today. I didn't mean to, really. First I had to mow the area where we are going to stretch a new permanent fence. Then lanes to put up temporary fences for rotational grazing in the pasture. Then while I was out there, I figured I'd mow down the weeds in one corner of the paddock they'd just finished. Once that corner was done, I decided it would be best to mow the rest of the paddock for good measure.

I brought the BCS back to the area near the green sheep sheds, thinking that tomorrow I would tackle mowing the quadrant with the bad infestation of Japanese Hop Vine. But after an early supper, it was such a nice evening I thought I'd just get started on that quadrant. I knew I was tired already, so I decided to see how much I could get done in an hour. And I did quit after an hour.

But then wouldn't it be nice to finish the job the sheep started in the northwest corner of the garden, get that all mowed down and be able to start planting there soon? guessed it...I lit into that corner...mowed it down...and then touched up some areas I'd mowed a few days ago...

...and thus I passed another hour. And it was getting quite dark. My hands had long since realized that complaining to me about their discomfort was pointless. Not that I ignored them entirely. I frequently checked for actual damage. No blisters, no numbness, fingers still work--safe to ignore the pain and just go on.

I cleaned up and met some friends in town for a late supper. As we strolled along the sidewalk, I had the uncanny sensation that I had merged with the BCS, and was still thrashing back and forth rapidly at every step, a three-foot wide deadly blade blazing a trail ahead of me. Something out of a horror movie, for sure.

Maybe I overdid it?

The hot shower, food and light conversation revived me, for the most part. I only feel like I'm still vibrating...the BIG tired purr of the BCS...but not propelling the sickle bar ahead of me.

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