By Cathy Hird

Looking down at the torn metal bucket of the loader tractor, I knew it had to get fixed before it did any more work. To do that meant driving the tractor to a local welder. That meant, getting out on the road.

I hate driving the tractor on the road. I know that folks who farm hundreds of acres are on the road all the time, but in my life, that machine is meant to go in circles on a field not in a straight line with one wheel on the gravel beside deep ditches with cars and trucks racing past.

At least at this time of year, the shoulder is packed hard. I set off with my husband following in the car with flashers on.

A little way along, I remembered the story about a guy hauling two gravity bins full of grain. The pin that holds the hitch straight broke, and the wagons started to sway. As the sway increased out of control, he jumped. Tractor and bins tipped into the ditch, but he was okay.

My hands, shoulders, and chest tensed. The tractor and I did not belong on the road.

I needed to think about something else. In my head, I drafted a column about animals I had seen where they did not belong. Just the day before, on the sidewalk of a town street, I saw the biggest, oldest snapping turtle I have ever encountered. With everyone staring at it, it had pulled in its head and feet, sitting still as a stone. But it had travelled hundreds of meters from the village pond. In the direction it was headed, water was at least a kilometer away. What was it doing in town? Eventually, the people left it alone, and it set off to find whatever it was looking for. I do hope it got there safely.

I began to wonder if I would safely get where I was going: I heard an engine rumble and roar. I checked, but my tractor wasn't over-heating. The sound got louder, and with ear protection on, I couldn't locate the noise accurately. I put the clutch in. A moment later, a convertible roared past. The noise was gone. My hands on the steering wheel relaxed.

Time to refocus. Just the day before, in the implement shed, a tiny spring peeper hopped along the dirt floor. It was a long way from the swamp, many hundreds of hops for such a little creature. And the direction it was going, there was no water. I wondered what it was looking for.

As I thought about the search for water, I started looking for the place where a neighbour had gone off the road, in January, into freezing water. She'd made it out fine, just shaken up. I had already passed the place where, in an ice storm, my husband's car had gone off the road. He missed the water.

But I planned to stay on the road. These stories were not the right inspiration. I switched back to draft a column about animals in places they did not belong. I told myself about the deer in the centre of a residential neighbourhood in small city in Michigan. Three walked across a lawn and out onto the road. They bounded between two houses and out of sight. The direction they were headed was a busy commercial street. I don't think that's where they intended to end up.

No one intends to tip a tractor. Even at home, I am careful on slopes. I know of a man who tipped his loader tractor quite near his barn. We also have a dip right behind the shed. I stay well away from it.

Again I told myself this was not a good line of thought. Back to animals. My brain pictured racoons that had attempted to cross roads. Not good. I started to sing. Fortunately, I arrived at the welder's shop about that time.

I still have to drive the tractor home. For that drive, I will prepare a list of songs to help keep my mind on a good track, and the tractor where it belongs.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.



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