Still Life. With Tractor.

It seems like half of land ownership is making do with the tools on hand. The the small lawnmower broke down the week I finally got a “Bush Hog” for the tractor so I can quit using the lawnmower for work beyond its intended purpose in the. Good used tractors are in short supply this time of year and new ones… well I am not in the impulse-buy-a-mower income bracket. Nor do I expect to be anytime soon, so saddling up the 1980s-era tractor I spend an afternoon mowing the front yard with the field gear, which about as efficient as driving screws with a hammer. I was able to make a quick run into the house for lunch which felt like a luxury after a year away and years of work.

You can of course buy a new riding mower on credit, but then it sits costing money and doing nothing most of the year, and modern mowers are flimsy, expensive to maintain and notoriously temperamental. I talk to a local mechanic who promises to take a look at mine and let me know if it can be fixed and if not use it as trade against a future mower. My neighbor is an affable and knowledgeable man who trades in used equipment, the kind of guy its good to get to know. I am a fair mechanic but have no desire to learn welding at this point in my life. His land along the freeway is a graveyard of rural dreams; balers, combines, tractors and mowers; a warning against investing to much in what is generally a break-even business in the best of times.

The day before I had contended with the bees needing robbing guards. My bees instead of settling down and making honey immediately started robbing from each other- with a possible neighboring hive thrown in for good measure. Bees are wonderful, miraculous beautiful animals- but like all of us they have greater and lesser traits, and they can be quite destructive to their neighbors. The tell tale signs of comb dust and dead bees at the entrances along with hyper aggressive defenders tell the story without needing to open the hive.

After looking online at robbing guards ($40 each) I head out to the barn after dinner for a late night of cobbling my own together. Several hours and a goodly amount of duct tape later I install the guards in darkness as the bees vacillate between fear and cold coming out of the hive to watch but not flying at me as I work. Slowly I screw the guards in place and go to bed.

This is the nicest looking one.

The next day I engage in some “hive watching”, where one stands as close to a hive as possible without getting buzzed by guard bees and observed the behavior of the bees. Finding out just-close enough tells a lot about how comfortable the bees are in their new home; the day before it was twenty feet- with the guards in place I stood four feet away and watched as the bees came and went. They found some openings I hadn’t meant, and but it seemed to be working. Some interlopers hung about the edges but with the few small openings the guard bees kept them out. Most had pollen on their legs a sign they were going after flowers not stolen honey and the activity was normal not Battle-of-Britain frenzied dog fighting.

As part of the “consumer culture” we are engaged always to buy- told what we have is not enough, that we need bigger, better things to make out life “easier”. No doubt I am as bad, or worse, than most as I thumb through screens of shiny mowers and tools. But everything most of us buy is reflected in hours away from home at work. In my case it is additional hours as my income barely covers the expenses of the land and family. A new mower is roughly 100 hours of cold lunches, long drives often ending in a cheap hotel. And the economic uncertainty of this time makes this even less appealing. I have no desire to see my tractor and mowers lined up on my neighbors yard. So the front yard will have to look patchy until whenever the gets fixed.

When first reading the news out of China in January my first thought is this is really bad. Now in April I feel the same when reading the news. The economic fallout is hard to gauge, but even those of us with jobs should avoid making promises for future payment we can avoid now, and maybe that could be the upside to a very dark year as people learn to get things done with what they have not think about what they could get today to the work faster. Because while easier can be better it can also become a Sisyphean task as we work harder for others to work less for ourselves.


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