I reached up and grabbed a hold of the steering wheel with my left hand as I stepped up and swung my right leg across the gear shift and leaned back into her seat. I felt a slight give as my full weight settled into the familiar curve.
I pulled the throttle down half way with my right hand, and with my left I reached around the cowling and turned the ignition key to the on position. I did not need to look. I felt the familiar click and new that I would have spark.
I was almost ready to fire her up, but first I pushed in the clutch with my left foot as I stood on the brake pedals with my right. I pulled the gear shifter towards me and made certain, with few flicks of my wrist, that she was in neutral, and only then did I reach down with my right hand to push solidly on the starter button.
The engine cranked over once, and then with a contented chortle, took to life. This old grey tractor never ceases to amaze me. Her paint might be chipped and faded, and a bit of rust shows through here and there. Her front grill is lopsided, the result of some ancient encounter, and her comfortable seat has a good sized tear up the middle, but her engine purrs like a kitten and her gears shift as though they were passing through butter. I could not love this old machine any more.
We sat there and idled for a while. I looked up at the blue sky overhead. I could see a few buzzards circling high over the creek valley closer to the river, and then, foot firmly on the clutch, I pushed midway down on the gear shift and slid her into second gear. I engaged the bush hog blade, set the deck at a good height, and headed out into the garden jungle.
Wisps of dill and lemon basil mingled beautifully with the hearty odors of tractor grease. Rotted pumpkin and huge zucchini, that had escaped my jungle forages, popped like small firecrackers under the tractor’s tires, and slowly, row by row, the jungle was tamed.
Pass by pass, what had been my humiliation of a once perfect garden gone wild, was laid to rest. And even when I was finished, I continued to make more passes, letting the churning bush hog blade make absolutely certain that no aberrant stalks still stood.
Finally, I pulled off to the side and stopped under the shade of the big oak tree. I put the tractor in neutral and idled her down as I disengaged the bush hog blades. We sat there, and I thought. I imagined the tractor looking with her bug eyes, out across the garden field, as I leaned forward and put my elbows on her steering wheel, my chin resting on the backs of my hands.
Surely this had been an exceptionally wet year. Cultivating had been impossible, and even weeding by hand had been a nightmare. It was simply too wet to walk out into the garden, and the weed stalks had grown as thick as my thumb while the root crops had rotted away.
But as I sat in the shade of the tree, I grew excited about my next gardening season. We will till six foot aisles, separated by grass strips that Greg can mow with the zero turn. I will ride the setter and plant two rows down each six foot isle, one aisle for tomatoes, another for dill and fennel, others for peppers, squash, potatoes, and carrots and herbs. The six foot aisles of crops will still be wide enough that if the weather and ground allow, we can run the little Cub with the cultivators up and down the rows, but if the weather and ground do not allow, I can still stand in the grassy strips and reach out to hoe and even harvest my crops.
So next year I will have the perfect garden, but no matter what the season brings, I know that I will be able to count on the old grey Ford. I know that she will always fire right up, and be ready to till, to plant, and even to bush hog.
Oh my gosh! I just realized that this old tractor could not really be all that old. She was only built in 1956, and I date back to 1954. Imagine that. Perhaps that is why we share such a special affinity.