Ode to My Tractor – A Reflection

I began writing this blog post long before the fires in California erupted and took lives, some of them families, property, and animals -so much devastation in both parts of the state.  I’m struggling with, “what’s the point,” but what I remember in my own life about devastating losses is that sometimes it was helpful to jump into someone else’s world in order to remind me that devastation wasn’t all there was in the world.  So I post this with what I hope is a humble posture regarding saying good-bye and reminiscing about a fire loss but recognizing the loss here it is nothing compared to the devastation that continues to rock the state and my past experience of my hometown area having tremendous fire losses that took property and lives too young to be taken from us.

What sixteen year old would ever admit, “My tractor grew me.” Yet, looking back, it may have.  It gave me chunks of quiet several hours long during my summer breaks when all other parts of my life were loud and chaotic.  I visited my tractor, two years ago this November.  It was a different type of quiet this time around.  Me.  Alone.  The rest of my family a half mile away at my childhood home.  I’d come back to pay homage – to the place I spent five years of my life – five to ten years old, within binocular viewing distance of my childhood home.  Those years grew me in significant ways and it wasn’t easy but there was something special about being among the early homestead houses, chicken coops, sheds and cellars that were lost once we moved to our new house.  There were hours of adventuring – exploring the half packed homestead, discarded goods in the sheds, and packaged treasures like Indian pennies, furs, and my first encounter with “naughty” – a marble statue of David, the Michelangelo replica.  Here, in this place, my first childhood adventure grounds my tractor was laid to rest.  So I came.  To acknowledge our sacred time together.  To reflect on my Western upbringing that hasn’t escaped my bones even in my Los Angeles area home, which hosts deer horns, coyote skins, and hides.  I’ll leave it at that.  What I eventually left with on this cold, scarf needed evening, was finding a piece of me that I hadn’t known I’d left – my nature stance – quiet, centered and observant.

I was about 12 when the Ford and I met.  For even though I’d seen my dad and grandpa driving around the golf course cutting the fairways hundreds of times, it was ordinary in the eyes of a young person.  Yet, when it became mine to use, we bonded like a teenager with their favorite pair of sneakers – unremarkable, yet so personal.  The tractor became a ticket to freedom, to money, to something all my own since I was the oldest and no other sibling got to drive before me.  On that first day, I showed up, Sears catalog in hand – extra height to see over the steering wheel.  My grandpa had the green velvet pillow to go on top – a pseudo-pad.  I swear that day I grew my spine closer to the clouds just so I could do the job – cut the grass on the 4th and 9th fairways.  

As I looked around, taking in the setting sun, and encountering the pieces of my tractor long put to pasture and trying to find that first vehicle love again – my eyes filled with tears of a yesterday that was long gone.  There would be no driving around the course, smelling cut grass.  Heck – the tractor no longer looked like mine with the added cage surrounding it now.  So much has changed since those days of driving around in circles, when some of the largest problems were steering clear of flying golf balls, testing my visual-spatial skills by experimenting with the exactness of “hitting the line” or driving around the small trees without turning mower into chainsaw.  Life hasn’t turned out to be an experiment.  Some decisions and situations haven’t allowed for freedoms, instead they have required nose to the grind and blinders of some sort.  When I was here, two years ago, I’d just found out my friend, Danielle, had a lump in her breast and was starting treatment.  We didn’t know she would only have one more fall in her bones.

What I didn’t realize during the hours of circling without music or headphones since they didn’t work with the ear muffs – was that this simple practice would stick with me only through the form of meditation and contemplation.  A decade plus I mowed – around and around every summer.  And it’s interesting because though sometimes boredom entered into my circles, it wasn’t the primary experience.  My mind found what it needed to find in order to observe and be engaged.  I’d set about doing certain tasks – timing my passes correctly as to impede the least amount of golfers.  This sometimes meant slowing down slightly even though I’d be a half circle away.  Or I’d watch the magpies and robins along with the occasional deer.  I imagined my life ahead of me.  What I’d do – possibly be a teacher.  Who I’d become – a wife, a mother, a professional, qualities and character traits unknown.  What I never imagined was living in Los Angeles for almost 30 years.  Going through a relational desert with my husband for 10 years before finding abundant life again.  Burying friends from cancer.  Burying friend’s children, my own.  In my adolescent mind, I didn’t imagine my life without my grandmother but I’d made room for my missing grandfather, since he’d died suddenly from a heart attack in 1989 – I’d been 19.  I hadn’t imagined that either.  I prayed on my knees every morning that fall after he died – simply to acknowledge his memory and my huge loss of his human body not sitting on a bleacher in the gymnasium while I played basketball.  It may have given me permission to leave the Puget Sound area and make my way to Southern California where I wouldn’t be trapped in overcast for 90 days straight (the clouds set a record my sophomore year – most consecutive days covering the sun).

What I didn’t know while growing up, seated on my tractor was how much I’d miss the quiet, mundane and simply way of life.  There is nothing simple about Los Angeles except the sunrises, sunsets, and the waves at the nearby beach – but not my hometown beach because it doesn’t have waves due the breaking wall built during WWII.  Around and around I drove that tractor. The sun, the wind, and grass.  Lots and lots of grass.  My path lay before me.  Simple.  A clear beginning and end. No distractions from billboards, traffic and neighbors close enough to smell their nightly dinner and hear their occasional fights.

As I enjoyed the sunset here now in Washington, I took in more of my surroundings, hoping for lighting goodness through my camera. The cellar – where I found teapots and cups from China, my great grandmothers ring, and Indian head pennies.  The stone area had been off limits because it was a storage place for dynamite.

Tanks.  The days of my parent’s guppy breeding experiment.  Also, temporary housing for a pet mouse or a frog.  We never kept them long.  That’d be cruel. Taking care of my pony and horse meant building fences – with my dad.  Official title – moral support and beverage carrier.A season of homemade root beer.  The house only smelled better on the once a month homemade glazed doughnut days.

Evidence of another lifetime – outhouse and “concealer” for friend hide and seek.  After all, what kid feels comfortable hiding in an outhouse except the kids who’ve spent hours playing games with their siblings in them.

I learned how to spot deer here.

All that’s left of my barn…

Standing on the place where the barn once were, I swear I could smell the ash even though it was at least fifteen years gone.  So many fond memories – hours of “Pageant of the Masters” – creeping up to the ground hog hold trying to catch them with a box or bucket; petting my horse, reading in the loft, catching mice, swinging on the questionably safe rope, and getting away from younger siblings to do nothing.  It too communicated – much has changed.  For forever.

As I returned on foot before the sky turned black to my childhood home, I realized that though much has changed, I’m still in there.  Somewhere that girl who drove a tractor, rode horses, spotted deer, and sat – in quiet, she’s still there.  And though I live in the huge urban sprawl, I can make my own quiet, my own mundane.  It’s harder.  The pace of this city I live in is fast.  Yet, I don’t have to be fast.  I can let people merge in front of me when I drive.  I can learn the names of the farmers and their sellers at the market.  I can meditate on my balcony, which does look at neighbors’ homes and a condominium but also has some vegetation.  I can make a way to sit, observe and be.  But let’s be real.  It will never be as cool as driving a 1956 Ford tractor the color of fall sunsets.  And the piece of me that was lost there, here, can be carried with me in memories that remind me to keep on the lookout for my next pseudo-tractor, the next flying golf ball that needs to be avoided – even if it requires leaving the city often or sitting on the balcony with pine scented candles.

I’m finding that girl again.  Slowly but faithfully, she’s bringing me back to the goodness of driving in circles.  Often.