Wednesday, December 01, 2010

mowing meanders

Yesterday I was on a mission to get the back field mowed/mulched/harrowed before the big rain rolled through - wet leaves, especially that many, take forever to dry out, so I wanted to get it done. After feeding breakfast tubs, and making sure the equines were set up in the front with a nice long hay trail, I drove the mower out of the garage and headed out back.

As usual, I got sidetracked into a quick pass around the big barnyard. Although I've already done the front field, both barnyards, and both paddocks, there are still leaves falling and blowing, so it takes a few times over the course of the season to get everything mulched down nicely.

My problem is I love doing it and for some reason the big barnyard is especially fun to do - you can see the patterns so clearly there. I often do circles and Celtic knots but yesterday did a sort of cross-hatch pattern that became very mesmerizing as I drove along, but the impending storm (and darkening skies) fortunately kept me from getting completely lost in the chore.

I tend to drive the mower at a slower than usual speed because all of our different spaces have trees, tree roots, and in a few spots, large rock outcroppings. There are also a fair number of big rocks that seem to sprout up from the ground like mushrooms, so going slowly helps me keep my eyes on the ground so I can avoid anything that won't get along well with a mower blade.

In back, I was thrilled with the prospect of an entire area full of leaves, and immediately did an entire circuit of the perimeter just to enjoy the difference between mulched/harrowed and unmulched/harrowed. I suspect I am a hay farmer in a parallel life - one of my favorite things is seeing hay fields where the farmer has mowed a path around the edge. The contrast between the mowed path and the taller grass always makes me smile. Since I don't have hay fields to mow, I do the best I can with my leaves. But I couldn't "leave" the field with that lovely clean path around it, so I stopped for a moment to enjoy the way it looked and then chugged onward.

After that first pass around the perimeter I made the decision not to continue in the part of the back field we call the "canter chute." It's a very uneven, often rocky area where the donkey boys love playing king of the hill and where my daughter used to canter her pony up and down. Lately there are more rocks emerging there, and I leave it the way it is so that they get some hoof wear on that kind of terrain. There are trees too, and grape vines dripping down, so it's a favorite spot during summer months.

But the leaves in that back area were deep and I couldn't really see what I was mowing over, so I decided to let it be - will go back later with rake if necessary. I have a couple of paths I maintain - one is a sort of natural bank that is good for conditioning and just adding some challenge into a ride.

I spent about the same amount of time sitting on the mower pondering that section as I spent here writing about it. Another reason my chores end up taking longer than anticipated, because I never remember to count the "ponder time" I always end up inserting!

But back to the mowing. After mentally cutting that back corner off the circuit, I decided to divide the field into thirds. The first third is on a slope, and has the trickiest areas to mow, so I started with that one. I immediately noted that when I'm on a slightly precarious slope with the mower, I curl my left leg a little - which seemed to be my body's way of balancing. It's no surprise that I also do this when riding - though in the saddle it doesn't seem to serve as a balance aid as much as it reflects my level of concentration. If I'm doing something tricky or new, I have to actively relax my left leg so it doesn't curl up in an expression much like the squinting of an eye, or wrinkling of a forehead.

It makes me wonder - is that why my left pelvis is the one that comes "out" and needs adjusting? Or do I curl it because I've had the joint out off and on for awhile? At this point it is pure habit and I just have to "manually" relax the leg, which immediately restores balance in the saddle, and on the mower immediately relaxed my mind.

I finished the first tricky third and moved on to the other area. That area I ended up doing as one big circuit. Half is on a slightly lesser slope and the other half is flat, but there are some tree roots and a couple of rock areas that have to be monitored. I realized that I'd spent so much time on the first third, I was going to have to speed up a little in order to get the whole thing done, so I refilled the gas tank and notched up my speed. Whoa!

Suddenly it felt like I had some impulsion! And interestingly, without even thinking about what I was doing, as I got to an area where the mower seemed to balk a little, I circled just as I would have done were I riding Keil Bay. That set me thinking that I could actually do a dressage test while mowing if I stuck to the lower part of the field instead of climbing up to the flat area, so that's exactly what I did.

There's a section of the back field that has a natural dressage arena layout - but it's on a slant. Which is pretty interesting if you're doing conditioning work - if you just ride a few dressage tests back there, you've effective worked both sides of the horse up and down in both directions. I often think of putting markers back there just to make it "official" - but even without markers it's easy enough to "enter at A" and proceed with a test.  Even on the trusty mower. Very interesting. (some might say crazy) 

I felt I was mowing at about what would be a trot in mower gait, so I did the first test that way. I got lost for a little while pondering metaphor and mowing and life, thinking the obvious things about the clean swath of ground behind me, mowing over (or around) obstacles, etc. And then suddenly it felt like I literally hit something big under the mower and we came to a very sudden stop. I backed up a little (the harrow was behind me) and inched my way around what I assumed must be a big rock. There was nothing there. I decided maybe the sudden stop was itself a metaphor - that I was woolgathering too much and needed to get back to the job at hand.

Somehow when I stopped my knee must have notched the speed gear up a few degrees, because when I put the mower into forward again I shot off like a rocket. Much like it feels to ask for trot and get a big canter - exciting, and ground covering. Wow! Why had I been going so slowly before? I flew around the circuit a time or two, and then realized there's a reason we don't do entire dressage tests in extended canter. Unlike the smooth downward transition on a horse, the mower requires some major left leg work to downshift, so I did that. And decided to finish the flat area, which had assumed a rather intriguing spiral shape that just begged to be whittled down to ... nothing.

As I got to the final area, which looked like it wouldn't take long at all to finish, rain drops began to fall. At this point I noticed that Salina and the donkeys had come to the barn shelter and were standing there watching me mow. Rafer Johnson is especially intrigued with machinery and he kept his eyes on me for a good long while as I went around and around. Sometimes when he watches me that way I wonder if he's making sure I'm okay, or if he's trying to figure out what in the world I'm doing. He always seems so deep in thought as he watches. I waved and went at the last remaining rectangle in the dressage area of the back, noticing that with each pass it seemed like I still had the exact same amount left to go. I realized that the wind was very methodically blowing leaves down the hill, so that the area I'd just covered was in fact covered over by new leaves each time I came around the path.

You'd think at this point I'd be ready to be done with all this, but I was so intrigued with the thought of going forward but making no progress, I happily went around and around, enjoying the phenomenon of what seemed like futility in action. Sometimes just going through the motions - going around and around the same path - has its charms.

When I saw the geldings come to the barn I knew the rain was getting ready to fall, so I quickly adjusted my route and finished off the final section, making some adjustments to clean up a few areas where the harrow had left clumps of leaves.

On my way back through the arena into the barnyard I couldn't resist doing a perimeter pass around the arena itself - at this point the entire herd were watching me, possibly wondering if I had completely lost my mind in this mowing frenzy. You could almost hear Cody saying to the Big Bay: is she going to keep driving that thing around and around right on through the storm? And the pony: as long as she stops to feed us, I don't care WHAT she does. Keil Bay: she has her quirks, but for the most part, she's okay. I feel sure Salina was clucking at them: you geldings just don't understand. Rafer, of course, does. I think Redford has his own little view of the world - still in formation as he gets older.

I sometimes imagine myself on a big blue tractor, making much bigger circuits and more elaborate patterns in a huge hay field. There's something to be said for finding and doing chores that have repetition and even tedium involved, where our minds can let go and wander, and where we can clearly see the results of our labor, not only at the end of the day, but inch by inch.

It's a very satisfying, and not at all boring, way to pass half a day - and to await the storm. (which fortunately didn't turn out to be as severe as had been predicted - we had a little rain and some wind but no thunder and no tornadoes)


Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Lol, preaching to the choir on this one Billie, as I spend much of April - November on a tractor...

Other than watching out for obstacles, you're free to let your mind go... "mow"ditating I call it. :)

Thanks for the fun post!

billie said...

I had a feeling this one might resonate with you. :)

Máire said...

That's fun; a nice sense of play.

ponymaid said...

Billie, I too share your love of meditative mowing (though I do but observe) - Herself is not nearly as creative as you - mostly she bumps into things and says "oops" a lot, but there is a certain calm in creating patterns that has a primal appeal. It sounds as though your summer days spin out long into December...sigh.

billie said...

Thank you, Maire. I do try to keep a sense of play in my daily life - for me it's part of what keeps me sane!

billie said...

Sheaffer, I knew you would appreciate this. Our summer days are gone, but that is relative, as you know - you would likely find our temp right now (45 degrees F) downright balmy. However, I dumped a water trough that had ice in it and discovered a cracked hose sprayer due to the freeze last night so for us, that is fairly major cold!

Matthew said...

I smile every time I think about you up there on the mower!

billie said...

At least you know what to get me for my birthday now - it's big and blue and has many attachments. :)