Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mowing the Upper Field: Some Autumnal Bliss

There's a small field on the family's Buckingham County property that once was part of an organic farm. The last owner, a cousin to my wife's, cultivated several areas and I've kept them open with an eye toward my project of growing Christmas trees without herbicides or pesticides.

To keep these outer fields viable, I have to mow them with a rotary cutter; folks call them Bush Hogs, although that's a brand name, one made as generic as "Kleenex" and "Xerox." I mow the field twice annually, in Spring after the fawns have grown up enough to move around and in Fall after the milkweed sets its seeds. I want to encourage wildlife, both four-legged and threatened butterflies, so twice a year is enough until we put in our Christmas tree saplings. There's a lone Persimmon tree there, too, so I'm sure the wild turkeys haunt the place.

Mowing a field in summer can be really hard work in the hot sun, even when sitting on the seat of a tractor. In Fall it is very different. The air is crisp and the sky a perfect deep blue overhead. The trees start to turn, first with the Tulip Poplars.  The contrast is shocking, as is the quiet. The four-cylinder engine for our old Ford 8N is not deafening, though I wear ear plugs at all times. When I get off the tractor to move a log, as I often do in this field where sapling pines topple over from the edges, the silence grows profound and watchful.

Some of my friends in the Unitarian-Universalist Church follow an earth-centered spiritual path, and they believe in Fall the veil between our world and that of our departed, beloved ancestors grows thin. We can hear them if we are very quiet. At Halloween, the old Celtic festival of Samhain marking the final harvest, the departed come down to Earth again and walk about. The Jack o' Lanterns could be seen as benevolent guides to lead old friends to our doorsteps or as warning beacons to keep less friendly spirits away.

As I mowed today I mused. The spirit of the last owner, Ray, seemed to be watching from the trees, as did my in-laws who bought that 8N so my wife and I could learn to use a tractor that was small and easy to manage.  That was a good plan. Some of our big diesels are real beasts.

Today, as the little Ford putted along, even a few friends who died recently seemed close at hand. That made the job less solitary, though solitude is my goal when I go to the upper field. Not being a social person, I like that feeling of separation from a world hurrying after phantoms, and not the ghosts of old friends and family. Just dots on a screen, dots that distract us from the seasons turning and the ephemeral, artist's light of a late fall afternoon.

Go out and enjoy some of that weather, if you have Fall where you live. I'd not live anywhere that did not have an Autumn.