When mowing the meadow I spend a lot of time standing up on the tractor foot rests so I can see down into the tall vegetation. This helps me to spot things I don't want to mow (butterfly weed, box turtles, etc), and holes or mounds I don't want to roll over. Every once in a while the wheels roll over and anthill or tree stump or rock and the tractor lurches up into the air. This is how farmers (and weekend farmers like me) get hurt. So I try to stick to mowing parts of the farm I know well and I often do a walk around before mowing to mark areas to protect or to avoid.
At some point in every mowing session, the tractor stops and I have to figure out what's wrong and try to fix it. Living as we do in a remote, rural area, I can't run down the street to the parts store or call up the neighborhood tractor mechanic. Well, I can, but it's about $100 just to get someone to drive out for a look-see. Most of the problems I am able to fix, which gives me a certain amount of pride and satisfaction. After two decades of editing and writing—more of which is always waiting to be done—it's nice to get the hands greasy fixing something that, when you fix it, it's done!
I feel the same way about mowing, plowing, grading the drive, cutting and hauling wood. It's nice to do hard work that has visible, tangible results.
Appreciating the results of a big job well done is something I learned from my dad, Bill Thompson, Jr. As a boy I hung around my dad when he was working on a weekend handyman project, asking him questions, fetching tools, consulting on important decisions. I remember helping him to build an enclosed cart to haul the trash cans out our driveway to the curb. We used spare lumber, old tricycle wheels and the handle from a rolling golf bag holder. I'm sure we could have just gone out and bought a wagon, but where's the fun in that? I remember my dad asking my advice on various stages of the project and somehow I always came up with an answer that pleased him. After the cart was built, we sat back admiring our craftsmanship, Dad with a beer, me with a Frostie rootbeer. Admiring is the best part of a project.
My Saturday of meadow mowing also involved attacking and destroying some rather nasty patches of Canada thistle, raspberry canes, and multiflora rose brambles. These were in the area between the west side of our house and the orchard, and on the east side of the house, where once there grew a wildflower meadow. The multiflora rose bushes were sprawling: a dozen feet wide and almost as tall. The sparrows and cardinals were a bit bummed out initially, this was the thickest cover near to the feeding station. But they soon adjusted their flight paths to come in via the pines and birches. I was sorry to remove this bit of habitat, but it was beginning to take over the ground and make it impossible to move through or even see through.
This young sedge wren thought our shrubby meadow was the perfect place for a fall migration rest stop.
Phoebe and Chet running out the middle meadow path.
By mid-summer the wildflowers will be up and blooming, butterflies visiting the coneflower, rudbeckia, Joe Pye weed, goldenrod, and milkweed. The grass will be thick and green in the meadow. I'll let it grow all summer and through the fall. Next winter I'll be happy to see the field, tree, song, and Lincoln's sparrows, and the juncos, goldfinches and pine siskins feasting on the grass seeds that were produced by a summer of growth following an early spring mowing.
And when, on some February morning, the meadow is covered in frost and snow, I'll walk out along the middle meadow path and check for the inevitable growth of brush and saplings, and I'll start thinking about when and where I'll be mowing in the early spring.