Back in Texas, we started our search for horses. Rachel, our daughter’s former riding instructor and an amazing horse trainer, served as our priceless mentor. While we got ready to start this next chapter in life’s adventure we realized we needed another to ask for help from another mentor, Mary Elizabeth (director of Whispers of Hope, the therapeutic riding facility at which we’d been volunteering).
You see, we’d just bought a tractor and neither of us knew how to drive one.
Mary Elizabeth, on the other hand, was born on a tractor. Actually, I think her mom was working on the tractor and the midwife was riding next to her on a horse. At one point, Mary Elizabeth was born, swaddled in Carhartts and cowboy boots, and then kissed her mom goodbye as she started driving cattle up the trail.
When we ask for tractor lessons, therefore, she answers by laughing. Who would need to learn to drive a tractor? But she obliges, and quickly settles into showing us everything about how to operate her manual-transmission diesel tractor, loader, and various accessories for the three-point hitch.
While she’s talking about how to set the proper “float” for the grader, I’m trying to explain that I’m just happy I’m not stalling the tractor out in the swap between 1st and 2nd gear. I also mistakenly mention that our tractor has a hydrostatic transmission, so this won’t be as big of a problem. I get a disdainful scowl in return – “Hmph… real tractors don’t have automatic transmissions.” I decide not to mention the cruise control.
Nevertheless, after a bit of trial and error, both of us are getting around the farm OK in the tractor, with fewer and fewer ground gears or sudden stops and starts.
At this point, Mary Elizabeth’s eyes light up (in a good way, not like when I almost put the bucket through the window of her F-350) and she announces that the best way to really learn how to work a tractor is to do real work. And the real work she needs done is for us to load up tons (literally) of old manure, and transport it to the dumpsters across the way.
No problem, we say. This sounds like fun!
And fun it is. Drive up, load up, lift, back up, drive down the road…
And then it’s time to dump. Now, this is a bit trickier, because the loader bucket is just about the same width as the dumpster, and so it takes some coordination, with my wife driving while I give her directions… forward, back, left, right… looks good… OK, dump!
Now before we talk about how the dump part works, let me digress for a bit and talk about biology, physics, and meteorology, all subjects in which I have absolutely no expertise.
We are about ready to dump manure. We are in North Texas. There is no moisture in North Texas, and so the manure dries completely and quickly. As it dries, it becomes dusty, to the point that even the slightest breeze sometimes will lift particles of manure up to mouth level. And again, we’re in North Texas, where what they call “the slightest breeze” is what the rest of us would call “gale-force winds.” Below is the result of this perfect storm of manure and wind.
Afterwards, Mary Elizabeth notices us trying to wash the manure out of our mouths, noses, eyes, and ears. Casually she says, “Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you – I normally wear a bandana over my face when I do that.”