A Good Day on the Farm

Right now my laundry room is home to many seedlings under a fluorescent light. I have taken on the care of the seedlings as my personal responsibility. It’s precise, methodical work, and I like it. Several times a day I go to the laundry room to check the progress of the little plants. I have a gardening notebook in which I record everything I do to the seeds and when I do it. These records will help me next year.

Greg left early for work this morning, taking along the BCS battery, which needs to be replaced, and the air filter for the tiller. Machinery is his domain. I am too accident-prone to be trusted with any machinery more powerful than a food processor, which has actually landed me in the emergency room before.

After he left, I took Bridget for a walk down Baker Road. On my way back, I saw the Henkes, junior and senior, preparing to doze our fenceline. This father and son have taken over the lease on the land; they will raise cattle here while we confine our efforts to truck farming. They have been working on the fences surrounding the acreage across the road and have gotten them into good shape. Now they are turning to our side of the property. They already have some cattle here, confined by an electric fence that stops short of the outer fence, which, besides being in a state of disrepair, is heavily overgrown with hackberries and mesquites. The plan is to doze down the old fence and brush, start fresh with new materials, and properly maintain the new fence. I admire their enterprising spirit and wish them success.

This year’s frequent rains have held up their progress so far, but around here no one complains about rain. There is plenty of good green grass for the Henkes’ cattle, anyway. The advent of cows on our side of the road has given Greg extra motivation to finish the fence around our house. The fence is now complete, and I am thrilled. It’s wonderful what a difference a simple boundary makes. Besides the tangible function of keeping dogs in and varmints out, it serves an important psychological function. The amount of work to be done on this place can easily overwhelm us, but the fence helps us mentally parcel the work into manageable pieces. We’ll concentrate first on getting the area inside it under control by clearing it of brush and building debris, then slowly expand our dominion while maintaining order in the areas we’ve already tamed.

Today, we had in our yard a large pile of thorny branches belonging to a particularly bad-tempered shrub whose genus and species are unknown to me. It seems to be all thorns. The very twig ends are sharp. Until recently, a robust specimen of this vile organism was thriving in our yard, a hazard to man and beast. Then Greg went after it with loppers and determination, and reduced it to the said pile. He happened to mention to me this morning that he wasn’t looking forward to toting the branches to the brush pile outside the fence. It’s funny how you can get an aversion to some particular job which, in and of itself, is not so bad—like my distaste for handling garden hoses. In Greg’s case, he’d already dismantled the shrub and didn’t care to spend any more of his life wrangling its branches. I, however, had no prior history with the shrub and was glad to bundle the thorny sticks together and take them to the brush pile. One of the delights of marriage is that your work aversions are often not the same as the other person’s, and half of my pleasure in getting this job done was in anticipating Greg’s reaction. At some point, we will have a bonfire to take care of this sort of thing.

Daniel recently suggested we make a social event of the burning by inviting the youth element of our church, First Baptist of Seguin. The notion of Daniel and his peers messing around with a large conflagration on the property gave me pause, but when I mentioned the idea to Greg, he said he’d had the same thought.

One of my light romance stories has been giving me grief lately. The thing just won’t gel. The first several pages were fine, but after that I ran into major structural problems. The MS was so rough I didn’t want to post it for the CCA; ordinarily I like to have things in decent order before offering them for inspection. Then Mary, my good friend and trusted critique partner from the CCA, emailed me and confided that she was frustrated with a story of her own. Inspired, I wrote back and suggested we trade—send the stories as-is and get each other’s thoughts. I told her it would be better than beating our heads against walls—or, as I’d been doing lately, scrubbing tile grout with a toothbrush.

So we made the swap. This afternoon, I read Mary’s story, then immediately went to the garden to weed the strawberries. I divided the plants into four groups for the kids and me, and while I worked on my section I thought about Mary’s story. It is a pleasure to weed in this light, sandy soil. By the time I’d finished, I had a solution to Mary’s difficulty that I thought would work well and tie in nicely with some plot points she already had in place. I look forward to reading her critique of my story. Maybe we both just needed a fresh pair of eyes.

Greg came home from work and changed the battery in the BCS and the air filter on the tiller. The tiller started right up, so he took it to the north side of the yard to work on some mounds of dirt left by the guys who’d built our porch. The mounds had grown over with grass and were getting in the way of mowing.

Sometime around four, Daniel came home from his Pre-calculus class and said he’d hardly recognized the place while driving up. Apparently the dozer work had gone well. I wanted to take a look, so I leashed Bridget. But before I could leave the yard, Mr. Henke the younger came walking up the drive. Greg left the tiller and came over to talk to him. Right away Mr. Henke asked if our phone was operational. Some previous dozer work had damaged our phone line, which is laid in a shallow trench, but no harm was done this time. Mr. Henke was cheerful. He’d had a good, productive day too. It was pleasant and restful to stand at the fence late in the afternoon and chat and compare notes.

After he’d gone, I took off down the driveway with Bridget and saw what he’d accomplished. It was a sight worth seeing. The scrubby brush that formerly lined both sides of our driveway was gone, as was the brush-entangled fence along the road and the highway. Prior to this day, I had mentally bulldozed these areas hundreds of times; seeing the actuality was deeply satisfying. Mesquites are still thick in the pastures, but a substantial beginning has been made, and the oaks and elms are already easier to see. One spot along our driveway has four oaks growing close together. I’ve often thought what a pretty spot it could be if the surrounding brush were cleared. Now it’s done. I am hankering to get out there with some loppers and tidy the oaks further by removing their network of vines.

While Bridget and I marveled at the results of the day’s dozing, Greg went to work distributing the dirt over low spots in the yard. This job went so much faster than he’d anticipated and made such a difference in the yard’s appearance that when it came time to leave for karate workout, Greg sent Daniel to lead the class by himself. The dojo has five students who regularly attend, all boys, ranging in age from ten to twelve.

No sooner had Daniel driven off than a nasty squall blew up. I saw the sky darken from inside and heard the wind keening. I figured if it didn’t blow over quickly, Greg would don the secondhand raincoat he’d recently bought and keep going. He later told me I was right about that. But the squall did blow over quickly, and Greg finished the leveling. With that job done, he will have time tomorrow morning to work on the garden before heading to north Texas for a black belt workout.

Around eight in the evening Daniel came home and reported a good workout, providing a satisfying coda to a fine day.

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