A few months ago, I had a slight increase in my quality of life.
We bought a pickup truck for the farm. A bright red pickup truck.
It’s not new. In fact it’s twenty years old. But I’ve never owned a truck before and because of its age, it’s a real truck with none of this fancy push button computer stuff. It’s got a manual transmission and a second gear shift for moving from two wheel to four wheel drive. And there are two kinds of four wheel drive. (I’m not sure exactly what the difference is, but I know it’s Good to have them.)
All of the neighboring farmers are impressed. Now I know how a kid feels when he takes a new iPad to school. They have all inspected it approvingly and said, “You can go anywhere in this thing.”
Well. Over the past few months I’ve been going everywhere. Picking things up, throwing tools in the back, shifting gears, refueling in the field from a jerrycan, climbing hills and generally not acting my age.
By itself, having the truck wouldn’t have been a problem, but then last week I reached a new height in innovative self-sufficiency which made me start to feel a little indestructible. I fixed a year old electric fence problem that had been eluding the experts. After extensive research and with a few well-placed hammer taps, plier twists and precision engineered jiggles, I transformed the fence into a five thousand volt cow’s worst nightmare.
Here I am, cantilevered into the cow zone to clear a minor fault while being admonished by my wife for being too lazy to turn off the juice. But, let’s face it. I’m an expert at these things! I think the cows had gathered in the hope of seeing me getting a whack from the hot wire.
So I was feeling pretty good and was driving around the perimeter gratuitously testing the voltage to make sure there were no weak spots and, figuratively speaking, getting a charge out of my new found talents.
But then, and I’m not saying that testosterone was involved, everything caught up with me.
About a year ago when we were putting in the road, we had the guy make a side access road to the perimeter fence for maintenance purposes. Because it would hardly ever be used we told him to leave it bare and not put gravel on it. So it’s basically a dirt road. I got up to that part of the fence and one part of my brain told me to park on the gravelled road and walk down to the fence to do my checking.
But then I remembered that I can go anywhere. In a compromise between my pre-frontal and basal brains, I did back down the dirt road in order to make it easier to barrel out.
I knew I had done something monumentally foolish when I stepped out of the truck and did a ski-less slalom down a dirt road that the rain had turned into a sheet of greasy mud.
I don’t know about you, but when these things happen to me, my rational thought processes pretty much shut down. I drew some comfort from the fact that the fence was buzzing away nicely. But my main concern was getting the truck back up the hill.
I got in and did a few pre-flight checks and cleared myself for takeoff. I almost made it. I got to within five feet of the gravelled road before my forward momentum stopped and gravity and a few other of Newton’s laws started to take over.
By this time I was not driving a truck. I was sitting on a hockey puck with a mind of its own. And speaking of minds, mine, having shut down long ago, suddenly activated and told me that I wasn’t getting traction because I was on the mud and if I were to get on the grass I would be just fine.
There should be a word to describe your feeling when a plan that was supposed to save the day suddenly proves to make things infinitely worse. My loss of control suddenly became three dimensional. Because instead of just rolling back down the hill, I was sliding backwards and sideways down the side of a hill that was very large and at the bottom of which was the headwater of the main stream on the property. I was pretty sure that sort of terrain was not included in the scope of “anywhere” when my neighbors told me I could go there.
Fortunately, as if purpose built for this eventuality, there was an old internal fence, probably put up years ago to prevent cows from going over the precipice. I came to rest, a term which somehow doesn’t seem to capture the moment, against it and pondered my next move.
We had a group of volunteers doing some planting and I figured that they would be able to push me out.
It didn’t work.
This picture completely fails to show what the conditions were like because you might think that the brown grass is dry. But it’s not. It’s dead grass covering ankle deep mud. You can see a fence post to the left of the truck and get an idea of the terrain.
The next issue was the complete absence of Plan B. Aside from the fact that we’re an hour from town, we’re also a long way from the real road. I didn’t think the Automobile Association would give me a gratis tow. And leaving the truck up there until things dry out in the summer didn’t seem like a good idea either.
The only logical solution was to find someone with an even more macho piece of equipment. The question was who.
That evening I called one of the neighbors who we share the fence with to tell him that the fence was now electrified. I didn’t expect him to be able to help, but when I told him about the truck issue he told me he’d bring up his tractor and, Bob would be my uncle!
The next day, we heard an ominous rumbling coming up the driveway and Andre appeared with his tractor. It’s even more vintage than my truck. I hopped on the back and away we went.
We got up to the site and Andre assessed the situation. He said he thought we might be able to do it.
He followed in my earlier tracks and backed the tractor down to the truck. We connected the vehicles with a long strap and took our positions. I felt a few jolts as the strap tightened and then watched in amazement as the tractor’s wheels spun in the mud. Well, at least the truck would have company all winter.
Andre, however, had a Plan B and we tried it again. This time we got about halfway up and the strap broke. It kicked up a stone that with astonishing accuracy took out one of the headlights on the truck. Things were getting more interesting by the minute.
Fortunately, by that time Andre had gotten the front wheels of the tractor onto the gravel road and once we reconnected the strap, after only a few more heart stopping twists, turns, bumps and jolts, I was out on a firm surface.
Later that day we had another group of youthful volunteers up and one of them was helping me deliver some plants to the planting site. I was squinting at the gravel road, focussed on keeping the truck exactly in the center. With all the tact of a Millenial, the kid sitting next to me said, “You drive this thing like an old man.”
I looked at him and said, “You bet I do.”