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Saturday, 10 September 2011

When I was cutting hay in the Sandhills

You’re all alone, it’s two in the morning, a full moon is illuminating the elk’s head on the wall, and the house is echoing, periodically, to a metallic clattering, with a bit of scrabbling thrown in. I don’t mind admitting it: I was rattled. I tried burying my head under the blanket, tried getting up and hunting around with a flashlight. Nothing. Everything was still. Except that as soon as I’d got off to sleep it started up again. I think it was at the fourth attempt that I figured out what had happened. A mouse had got its tail caught and was frantically dashing around the kitchen, dragging a trap behind it, trying to take cover under the refrigerator, the stove, the cabinet beside the sink – yep, all the noisy things. Every time it dived towards the gap the trap whacked against the fridge/stove/cabinet and held it back. I let it go – not out of compassion, rather for the sake of some peace and quiet – but still have half the tail as a trophy.  
Yesterday I planned to paint. I got as far as recording the fact in the blog when Matt phoned me. ‘Since you’re up here,’ he said. ‘I got a little job you might like.’

Okay, here’s the millet crop under the center pivot.

And here it is a few hours later.

And here’s the machine I drove. Job? This was fun, fun, fun – once I’d got the hang of driving it.

When you see these things from a distance, creeping around a field, it all looks so peaceful. They seem to make steady, effortless progress in beautifully straight lines, puttering along over a surface as true as a billiard-table. I had no idea how bumpy that field was, how much it rose and fell, nor how the machine would buck and sway as I tried to steer it and cut the broadest swathe possible with the 14-foot cutter. I have to report that my swaths (we call `em swathes) varied from eight to thirteen feet in width at first, but I did, eventually, get them under control. It’s another of those ‘not as easy as it looks’ jobs. When Matt told me to hold my speed at about 5.5 mph I thought he was erring on the side of caution. I can reveal that I began at a sedate 3.6, gripping the wheel with whitened knuckles. At 6.2 mph – which I hit a time or two on the downgrade – the thing seemed to be running away with me.

I got the hang of it eventually, and only left one or two narrow strips standing. I slowly settled into a rhythm, making long semi-circular sweeps, first clockwise, then anti-clockwise, scaring up one fawn, a couple of rabbits and a lot of birds.

Matt’s playing safe, dividing the circle into two halves and taking one at a time – just in case the weather changes; so I should, in a few days’ time, get to play again. It depends on my schedule, which is suddenly looking rather crowded.

September always makes me thoughtful. Even after 45 years I associate it with packing my trunk and going back to boarding-school. Out on the range, the fall colours are starting to take over as the bunch-grass ripens a pinkish-brown, reminding me that I’ll soon be on my way. I am longing to be home, but I’m going to miss this horribly. And the more the weather settles into this glorious late summer groove, the harder it’s going to be to take off.

For the record, I finally got a picture of that aster I mentioned the other day, the one I’d call a Michaelmas Daisy.

Today I had planned to take in the Willow Tree Festival at Gordon. I’d better get my skates on.

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