October 22, 2011

"You Can't Get There From Here"

Well, of course you can.  What it really means is "you can't get there from here quickly or easily."

Today was a perfect example.  We had a few things to do around the farm.  The priority chores for the day were to dig a trench for a new water line, and start breaking new ground for planting.  Sounds simple, right?  Only we found we couldn't get there from here.

I was all eager and dancing about this morning - I was ready to get on the tractor and start breaking ground.  But noooo - Dad had decided the right tractor for disking was the one they were using to dig the water line trench.  I was not a happy hobby farmer.  

So Dad had decided we'd use the old "grass knife" as he calls it to dig the trench for the water pipe.  It's a big heavy piece of iron that hangs off the back of the tractor.  It's curved and the end of it is triangular  It looks a lot like a cartoon of the devil's tail.  It points down and forward, like an upside-down scorpion's tail.  (Seriously, it's an evil-looking thing.)  But supposedly it would dig that trench in a heartbeat!

However, the decision was made that it needed to be sharpened before we could use it.  It's only been  about 30 years since it was used but it's kinda rusty.  Plus the ground is awfully hard.

But we didn't reach that conclusion quickly or easily.  Dad and I went down to where we were going to run the water line, where our friend/guest Doug was digging random holes trying to find the natural gas line.  And the telephone line.  Because earlier in the week we had agreed that nobody wanted to hit them when we dig the trench for the new water line.

No, Dad and Doug and I had to stand around for 20 minutes and talk about the whole process of putting in a new water line.  We all had to agree (again) that we definitely didn't want to hit the gas line or the phone line.  We all peered into the holes Doug had dug, where he had successfully located portions of the gas line and the phone line.  We talked about how we were now pretty sure where those lines were, since we knew where they started (at the road) and ended (at the old trailer).  We decided it's likely that they were run in straight lines.

We talked about how hard-packed the earth was, and how poor Doug had sweated with shovel and a pick (although oh-so-carefully because, you know, he didn't want to hit the gas line or the phone line), to find those lines.  

That's about the time that Dad decided the grass knife ought to be sharpened before we try to cut the ground with it.  Because the ground is so hard.

So Dad and I traipsed back up to the house, talking about what to use to sharpen the grass knife.  (Doug continued digging, or maybe he fell down in an exertion-induced faint; I didn't look back to see.)  Dad said he had an electric grinder.  When we got there Jeff was ambushed with the task of sharpening the implement.  

Then Dad had to discuss with Jeff what tool would be best to use for the sharpening, and in good time the decision to use an electric grinder was confirmed.  Dad and Jeff found out that they each have one and played a rousing game of "mine is better than yours."

By this time almost an hour has gone by.  We're wastin' daylight.  Can you see my face starting to turn pink?  And those few wisps of steam spurting from my ears?  I'm waiting for them so I can use the tractor, although I don't know why when there are FOUR running tractors on the farm...

I decided to do my usual surreptitious surveillance of the guys while they're working.  Sometimes I have to step in and crack the whip, so to speak, because they'll get to jawing and work will come to a standstill.  So I'm on the front porch of our tiny house, hosing it down.  (Something really smelly and yucky got spilled and didn't get cleaned up.  The flies had set up housekeeping.  That's another story.)  

Jeff went to bring the tractor with the grass knife up to the front of the house, which is where he likes to work on things.  That's the easiest place to get electricity to things like a grinder, too.  Plus, it looks kinda cool to all those city folk who drive by, seeing a big green tractor in front of the old plantation house...and I like it too.  Plus he parks it under the huge tulip poplar so it's in the shade.

But Jeff didn't show up with the tractor right away.  Dad (who had apparently been lurking just out of sight) had to corral Jeff by the tractor and talk about, well, I don't know exactly what, but part of it was how important it was to raise the grass knife high enough off the ground when Jeff moved the tractor so he wouldn't inadvertently dig a trench we didn't want.  (Can you see the steam starting to trickle out of Jeff's ears?  Nah.  He takes that kind of thing in good grace because that's just how my Dad is.)

Finally, when it looked like Jeff had a good start on sharpening the blade and that Dad was leaving him alone to do it, I went inside to work on a few things.  Like balancing the checkbook.  Because for some reason known only to my father, I couldn't just hook the disks up to the bigger tractor and head out; I had to wait until the trench for the water line was dug and use that tractor (after they took the grass knife off and hooked up the disks).

At any rate, I went out to check on Jeff after a bit and all heck had broken loose.  Jeff was indeed busy with that grinder, only instead of sharpening the blade he was cutting the bolts that held the blade in place.  

Somebody (I'm not for sure who but Dad was standing there) had decided that not only did the blade need to be sharpened but it needed to be re-angled.  It was set too straight-up-and-down, or some such.  While my back was turned, the guys were at it again.  They'd had a conference without me.  Damn.

Those square-head bolts had only been on there for fifty or sixty (or seventy or eighty) years, and Dad apparently couldn't understand why we couldn't just spray some WD-40 on the nuts and take them loose.   That was part of the confab they'd had.  Jeff had to convince him that cutting the bolts was necessary.  That implement is so old that I swear it's hand-forged.

So I came out the door and Jeff, all sweaty and grimy with bits of metal stuck to him, asked if I could go get some new bolts.  "New bolts?" I said.  "What for?".  (That's when I found out about the confab.)

Yes, I could go get new bolts.  It's a 15 mile drive one-way to the tractor supply place.  I eyed the sun, which was pretty much pointing straight down by this time, and hustled off to get my purse.  I had to drive the truck because yesterday my car wouldn't start (oh yeah, we have to work on that this weekend too).

Off I went, hell-for-leather, determined to get the bolts and a couple of other things and get back right away.  (Speed limit?  Isn't that the minimum you're allowed to drive?)  But it's Saturday, and our area isn't as rural as it used to be.  There was traffic.  And I had to go to Lowe's for some more cut-off wheels for the grinder, too, because Jeff couldn't find more of his and Dad couldn't find any of his.  (We're lucky Dad found his grinder, but Jeff used his own anyway.  Apparently he won the "mine is better than yours" game, or maybe he just out-stubborned my Dad.)

I was gone quite a while.  I was going to stop at Wally World and pick up a couple of inconsequentials (like something for dinner) but drove right on past when I saw that the only parking spaces in that huge lot were all the way out by the road.  Wally World was a madhouse I just didn't have time for.  So I beat feet home, starting to feel very frustrated that I hadn't got anything done that I'd planned.  But remember - you can't get there from here, Lisa...  

Jeff had finished cutting the other bolt and had sharpened the blade.  When I got back he was spray-painting the thing John Deere green to match the tractor, because "appearances are important when you're a hobby farmer."  I got tickled at that - he was dead serious.  (I think he just didn't want to go help Doug dig holes...even though we were pretty sure we know where that gas line and that phone line are, Dad wanted Doug to dig even more holes to spot-check the length of each.)  

I have to admit that Jeff was right; that wicked-looking grass knife didn't look wicked painted green; it just looked like it has a serious purpose and it would get the job done.  Plus it would stop rusting.  I was just aggravated at the delays and starting to feel snotty about it all.

Jeff put the grass knife back together with the new bolts, and angled it to everybody's liking.  He headed off to dig the trench.  About this time Dad came down the driveway, headed to - wait for it - the tractor supply place to get some water line because he wasn't happy with the stuff he had.

But by this time it was well after 2 p.m. and I was seriously aggravated.  I knew there was no way I'd be able to start disking today.  All week I had been praying for sunny skies; I had really been looking forward to it.  The smell of fresh-turned earth in sunlight is wonderful.  (OK, you can't really smell the earth while you're working, all you can smell is diesel exhaust but you can smell it when you stop!)

To be perfectly honest, I just really love driving any tractor doing anything.  Heck, I even love toodling around the farm on my riding mower with the little dump trailer behind me.  We don't have a fancy four-wheeler or one of those Gator thingies but the riding mower I inherited from my brother does the job nicely.

Anyhow, at this point I let my aggravation get the better of me.  I went in the house and sulked.  I'm not going to lie about it - I sulked like a spoiled two-year-old.  I should have gotten on my  mower and ridden down to watch the trenching, even though it's easily within walking distance.  Driving the mower would've made me feel happier but hindsight's 20-20, right?

I sulked all through the movie I watched on TV.  I was sulking when Dad got home and came over to have a mini-rant about how frustrating it is that sometimes you can't seem to get anything done.  About how you can't just go do something, you have to do six other things first.  And how, when the end of the day comes, you feel like you've been working backwards instead of forwards.  I strenuously agreed and we both felt better when he headed off to get ready to watch the ball game.  

Oh, and during that conversation I found out why he didn't want me using the big tractor: because it will start in gear and take off.  Like I'm going to forget about that?!  (If I did, I can guarantee I'd only do it once.)

Jeff came in a while later and started digging around in the living room, looking for something.  It turns out that the grass knife worked great - except that the trench it cut was only about 3" wide.  Not nearly wide enough to lay pipe in.  So Jeff had switched tractors; he'd got the one with the backhoe on it and proceeded to dig a gynormous trench.  The bucket of the backhoe is what, 18" wide??  Oh, and in the process they discovered that the phone line and/or the gas line did not, in fact, run in a straight line from the road.  Fortunately no damage was done to either (finally, something went right!).

But Doug had set the bucket of the backhoe down on the water hose that had been run from the newly-installed water meter to the trailer he's staying in.  (Wait - I thought Jeff was operating the backhoe?  That's what I get for sulking...)  That's the water line we're running not, unfortunately, water to irrigate our crops.  I had you fooled, didn't I?  Remember, you can't get there from here...

Anyway, when Doug set the bucket on the hose, the hose burst.  Now they had to fix it or Doug wouldn't have any water at the trailer because the old water line that runs down from the barn leaks like a sieve. Dad ran that old water line a mere 35 years ago but it was small diameter pipe rated for only 80 psi. (That was decades before the county forced Dad to switch the farm to high-pressure city water.)

Jeff found the hose thingamajig and a short length of hose we'd bought for another purpose and out he went.  

I continued to sulk.  

So it's dark now, the ballgame is on, and the guys came in a while ago.  I'm eating my corn dogs and potato salad as I write and Jeff's watching the game.  They got about a third of the length of trench dug.

And Dad let them put the disks on the big tractor, so I can start bright & early tomorrow.  Jeff just came in and said he tried it and the disks are cutting about 4" deep.  This is after they put several hundred pounds of oak tree on the disks to help that several hundred pound steel implement bite into our hard-packed clay.  I'll have to disk and disk and disk again to get that hard ground broken up to my satisfaction, but I'm prepared for that.  Looking forward to it very much, actually.

Maybe tomorrow I'll be able to get there from here.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Iraq, Iran, and Freedom of Speech

So we're going to pull our military completely out of Iraq (except for some embassy guards).  Supposedly by the end of this year.  

I'm not sure I'll believe it's done, even if "they" say it is.  

Has anybody noticed that over the past 30 years Iran and Iraq have taken turns being the bad guys?  I remember in the '80s Iraq was the bad guy, then we got over it and Iran became the bad guy.  It has flip-flopped like that and now Iraq is the bad guy again.  I used to care about things like that but I've flip-flopped over the years myself.  

I'll never forget something that happened when I cared.  In 1982 I was a freshman student at Memphis State University.  Iraq was the bad guy at the time, and Iraqi students were being persecuted to the point of assault.  There was a rally on the green one day; I stumbled upon it while hurrying to class.  The mob of around 100 kids was mostly young men; the girls were mostly hurrying by, just as I was.

What stopped me was the tirade being shouted through the amps.  It wasn't against Iraq, but against the Iraqi students.  Some of them had been heard bad-mouthing America for whatever we were doing to their homeland (that's why they were getting beat up).  The shouters believed Iraq deserved it, and that the Iraqi student deserved to be persecuted.  They were calling for the Iraqi students to be thrown off campus.  Not for being Iraqi but for expressing their opinions.

Well, stupid me.  I spoke up.  I yelled something to the effect that this is America and the Iraqi students have freedom of speech just like everybody else. 

Bad mistake.  Somebody threw a rock at me and it hit me right in the forehead.  A rock!  The mob turned towards me and I ran.  A professor happened to be right there when the rock hit me and he ran with me to the safety of a nearby building.  That rock shocked me to my core.  And I was in tears but I wasn't crying for myself.  I was crying over the ignorance - no, the idiocy - and the hypocrisy of the shouting mob.  These were my peers!  What would America become when these kids grew up?  

Well, now we know what America has become.  A nation of hypocritical idiots.  God help us all.

October 20, 2011

The Passing of a Giant

Shortly after we arrived in Tennessee in April, an extra-strong spring storm came through. A microburst zapped us and blew over our 400-500 year old white oak. I don't have a good pic of the whole tree standing, but it's the one on the right. The trunk was about 10 feet in diameter at its base. (It looks dead but this pic was taken before the tree greened out for spring.)

Jeff and I were watching TV during the storm. The wind gusts were shaking the house, thunder & lightning galore, when I felt a thump through the floor. It was a deep bass thump, and the house shook a bit. I asked Jeff if he felt it and he said no. I said "Something big just hit the ground!" and I peeked out a window. When lightning flashed I saw dark sky, not the outline of the branches of our oak. I FREAKED.

I went running out into the storm (no coat, no shoes) and the tree was gone. Just gone. I burst into tears. In the dark I couldn't tell what had happened but as you'll see from the pix we were really, really lucky. It could have fallen on the house...

This is only one branch sticking up; the rest of the tree is on the ground. If it had fallen the other way our home would have been annihilated.

It turned out to be almost completely hollow inside. It looks like at some point lightning struck it and the entire inside of the tree burned - it was all black inside.

That chainsaw looks totally inadequate for the job at hand, doesn't it? But Jeff has persevered...

This might give you an idea of how big the tree really was.

And the removal continues:

That was "my" tree. I loved that tree. It had a hollow in it that I used to crawl into when I was a child. It had the remnants of my brothers' tree house although the only way to climb it was with a ladder. I remember one time a wild dog had her puppies in the hollow.

As time went by the tree grew around the hollow and closed it up. That was OK - the majesty of that giant was enough. It shaded the house from the scorching summer sun, and dropped acorns by the hundreds. It was a home for squirrels and birds. It spoke to me of peace, quiet, and deep, slow thoughts.

I miss that tree every day. I grieve for it as an old friend who has passed, and removing its remnants is painful. Part of my childhood, part of my heart, is gone.

My apologies to my subscribers for the multiple notifications you received - I'm not very good at arranging pictures on blogspot!!

October 19, 2011

Well, Howdy!

"Lucy, I'm home...!" (And if you're familiar with that phrase, you're either my age or you like old TV shows.)

I'm home. Really, truly, home. Back on the farm in Tennessee where I grew up. It's fifty-four acres of pure heaven. Most of the property is in 50 year old pecan trees but we have a good two acres for gardening, and a pond that's about an acre or so. Jeff calls it a pond - to me it has always been a lake and when I was a kid it was a lot bigger than it is now although it hasn't actually changed in size. Must be me.

Our cross-country move was exhausting and
problematic. Our caravan consisted of our neighbor Kevin driving a 27 foot U-haul, towing Jeff's 49 Dodge pickup on a trailer.

It took three people to get that U-Haul door to shut and we still left things behind! The 49's cab was crammed full, as was the bed, tastefully tarped in blue & brown vinyl and plastic baling twine. (We took this pic after we arrived.)

Jeff drove his 69 Dodge pickup, towing the remodeled ancient horse trailer with Max the mini on board. Poppy the beagle kept him company in the cab. (Jeff was REALLY happy about that because Poppy is a fruitcake. What can I say? She's a beagle.) We frequently had to wash the dog spit off the inside of the window and the windshield ...

Again, the bed of the pickup was crammed full and oh-so-tastefully tarped. (This was my view all the way across country, LOL - the ass-end of the horse trailer!)

I drove my Subaru Outback wagon. With four cat carriers. And four extremely miserable cats. The vet gave me some tranquilizers (well, she didn't GIVE them to me, they cost a buttload of money) and on the first day I think I overdosed everybody. They slept all day so that when we got to the motel, they woke up and freaked out. Teeth and claws came out of those carriers, with some fur and glowing eyes attached.

Every day of the trip we had to dig them out - from under the bed, from behind the bed, from the top shelf of the "closet", and even once from inside the box springs. (I don't know if one of them made a hole or if it was already there.) After the third or fourth day we had a system - Jeff would pick up the bed and I'd crawl under it and grab a cat, cram a pill down its poor throat, and thrust it unmercifully into the hated carrier. (Repeat three times.)

In addition to the cats my car had all of our trip necessities - suitcases, munchies, drinks, pet supplies. And last-minute "Oh my God I couldn't possibly leave this!" stuff. A lot of that stuff is still in the car, 6 months after arrival. Oh, well, it will get cleaned out eventually. I found my work boots in there last weekend. I could've used them when I was helping Jeff cut wood last summer.

Let me tell you folks something. The "Wild" West ain't so wild. In fact, it's downright boring (except for snow on the few mountains we drove through and some cool wind farms). If I never see another tumbleweed or sagebrush bush in my life, I'll be happy. We traveled through Washington, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. (I think I missed a state but I'm not sure - they pretty much all looked the same.)

We made an unscheduled 3-day stop in a little town in Utah when Jeff's 69 pickup broke down. That pic of the horse trailer with the snowy mountains was taken just outside of Tremonton, right before the axle seized or whatever happened. (I can't remember exactly.) I have to admit - the people in that little town were so nice, and much more friendly than I expected. We stayed in a nice motel - the kind that's a single-story U shape, with chairs out front of your room fer sittin'. Seriously, it was nice - more expensive than Motel 6 but cozier, too.

Max the miniature horse was not happy although he was nicer about it than the cats. For such a little guy he's got a big mouth, and I often heard him bugling (aka cussing Mom out) whenever we hit a bumpy stretch of road. He's too short to see over the trailer doors, really, but whenever we stopped I'd run over and stick my hand in the trailer to scratch him (and check on him, of course). We removed the divider and left him loose so he could move around - after all, he spent 8-10 hours in that thing every day.

Oh, Oregon! That's the state I forgot to list. Here's what I saw of Oregon: The ass-end of the horse trailer and a glimpse of the U-Haul in front. While holding my breath, crossing my fingers and praying we'd make it through the treacherous weather on the pass. We did stop somewhere along there, though, and even though it was cold and snowy it sure was pretty.

And here's some cool ravines in Wyoming:

That's it for the trip pix. I had the camera and for some reason I just couldn't take good pictures through the car windows while driving 55 mph on bumpy interstate. And when we stopped it was to a) go potty - us or the dog or both, b) check on the vehicles, c) unload the horse for the night, or c) to sleep. I don't think Jeff or I ate more than 6 or 7 real meals the whole trip. We were too tired when we got to the night's stop. Unload, undress, sleep. Shower, well, maybe. Sex? Forget it!

I had the whole trip planned. I spent literally hours online, planning our route because I had to find a "horse motel" for each night's stop and there had to be a Motel 6 nearby (where pets stay for free). Each pair had to be approximately an 8 hour drive apart. We got really lucky when the truck broke down so early in the trip. The horse motels down the road, and the Motel 6s, were all helpful and even U-Haul gave us a couple of extra days to get there even though it wasn't their equipment that broke down.

We made a detour into Oklahoma to pick up an engine for Jeff's 49 (the one on the trailer). Can't beat $150 and we were going to be relatively close anyway. Loading the engine into the back of the 69 was a major pain - we had a come-along but no real ramp to drag the thing up with. It was hilarious! Everybody was cussing and grunting and shoving...but we got it in there. Now Jeff looks wistfully at it every now and then, wishing he had time to start the process of putting it into the old truck.

And let me say this: the "horse motel" we stayed at in Tulsa was AWESOME. It was actually a house, we had it all to ourselves, and Max had a large paddock right outside. For $70/night, it was cheaper than most other nights' stays, and the people who owned the place were wonderful. We got there late, and the Missus even stayed on the phone with me to help us find the place because Google maps didn't have it right. We weren't too tired that night to sit on the screened porch and enjoy a little peace.

So now we're home. Jeff is as happy to be back as I am, although neither of us is very happy about having to work - off the farm, that is. We love the farm work and wish we could dedicate ourselves to it full-time. (We think that with planning and a little luck, that day isn't too far away.)

Next up: the passing of a giant...see y'all later!