High on the Land
By Kathryn Olmstead
August 5, 2000. Millie has been in the family almost six months. Friends who endured the agony of my decision-making received photos of her on cards, which read: “Announcing the arrival of Millie, The New Millennium Tractor, February 18, 2000, 1,535 pounds, Westmanland, Maine.”
She has helped me clear snow from the driveway and till the garden, but today I observed the ethic of being a tractor owner.
“Is that thing broken,” a neighbor asked, casting a glance at Millie as he passed through the garage.
“Then why haven’t you mowed any of the fields around your house?”
Well, in fact, I made my debut with the mower behind the house, not visible from the road, but the question touched a nerve.
Today is one of those spectacular Aroostook County summer days—cool breezes, warm sun, blue skies with regiments of clouds marching toward the horizon. When I first moved to Northern Maine, I promised myself I would not stay inside on a day like today. With a tractor in the garage, the obligation to get out is even stronger. Whatever is on the to-do list becomes subordinate to savoring summer. Forget the textbooks to be read, the syllabi to be prepared, the magazine to be laid out before Monday. Seize this day. The grass is crisp. The wildflowers have passed their prime. (I couldn’t mow down a field of smiling daisies and buttercups.) I define one section to begin with by mowing around it. By mistake, I create a wide swath at one end of the section that turns out to be just what I need for turning space, so I can head straight across the field in straight lines. I create a duplicate swath at the opposite end of my section. Neat. Anyone riding by might think I knew what I was doing.
I would never have dreamed this field was so uneven. There are bumps and mounds and holes invisible to the eye and undetected by the foot. A legacy of the farmer who last tilled here, the ridges running east and west cause my mower blades to lift, then scrape, marring the perfection of my paths, as I mow north and south. Previous to my mowing, I knew this field as a gentle slope. Now I know exactly where the grade changes and when to beware of the drop-offs.
I start small. After an hour of mowing I estimate it will take about five hours to mow the whole field. The sun warms my face and legs as I ride toward it. When I turn north, a cool breeze sweeps the perspiration from my brow as the view of Madawaska Lake ahead takes my breath away, for a moment. Grasshoppers fly out in all directions and two fat gray mice scurry for protection, their hiding places suddenly exposed. Bugs I have never seen before land on my arms and legs. Some of them bite. I wonder if they are special bugs that appear only when people on loud tractors destroy their homes.