The Toro push-lawn-mower is chugging a bit, but it's game. Whatever we're mowing down is clearly not grass, though what it is, I couldn't say. The land around me is an unknown planet, spearing upward in bizarre spines and jacks. And the broad spears and spiky knobs of seed head are utterly gobsmacking in fecundity.
Today, I appreciate the lawnmower's courage, because I need encouragement. The used John Deere riding mower we paid a thousand dollars for in April has made it through not even a single use in the four months we've owned it: it has completed neither front lawn, nor garden lawn, nor over-the-tunnel lawn, nor pine alley corridor lawn, nor field-side flats. We didn't even try it on the vicious slope down from the driveway. Last week, it died in the middle of the front lawn. For a few days, the dead Deere just sat there like a genetically modified green and yellow lawn flamingo--until GNG (Good Neighbor Geoff) helped Josh push it into the workshop and they started tinkering. I think we could officially deem it a lemon (Lord knows, I've been sour about it for months), but I'm not sure that would HELP anything.
Instead, I thrust with the baby bull mower--with all the energy and resolve that an acres-large embarrassing lawn will give a person. At the ends of the rows, hedges or flowerbeds of burdock, with wrist-thick stalks. We take a running crash at them, break and chew a few. Then, we jog in reverse for a few steps, and have another go at crash-banging it down.
We walk the acres of farm yard in 22-inch wide tracks. Behind us, the lawn looks subdued, sort of, but we don't even kid ourselves--this is clearly not the sort of land one can tame. We're just tracking it.
I'm getting on in the mowing, to the north of the driveway, almost done with the treacherous slope. The yard is so big that I fill the time with fantasies of grand gardens I will build there--great prairies of loveliness that mean I will never need to do this fearsome mowing ever again. I imagine the sight lines, like Vita Sackville West. I imagine the striped grasses, the strong perennials, imagine the town will step in, upon our deaths, and declare this imaginary garden a regional treasure of gardening. If you build it, after all, they will come.
There are these birds swooping down near the mower. Every once in a while I look up at them. I don't know what kind they are. But there's a long way to go, and I decide to look at lunch break.
I'm heading to the field side flats, when a car pulls in and two people get out. I never stop being afraid of this type of situation, because of the terrible state in which we purchased the property, because of the evidence that there were drugs grown behind blackouts in the tunnels back in the day. But the first words out of the man's mouth aree, "Did this used to be a mink ranch? Because if so, then I have been to this property and I have SLEPT IN THAT HOUSE."
He and his partner want to look around, and so, with deep embarrassment at the still-ramshackle state of the house (newly roofed and painted, outside, yes, but SO terrible still inside) and yet some nervous fear, I let them come in, see the mink tunnels, and tell them a little about the farm dream--about the pasture, about maybe not having it be corn and soy, etc.
We look out from the smelliest of the nasty upstairs rooms, where the carpet had been littered with dirty diapers, animal poop, and a raft of random belongings. Josh had taken them out to the dumpster one at a time, those carpets, those bags of poop and so forth.
You guys are heroes! he says, snapping a million pictures of the wreckage.
The pasture and cornfields from the windows are spotty with wash out--reddish sand showing through like skin through a tear in tights. It looks, well, it looks like if the field had a mother, the mother would hiss "get over here," whip out a spit-wet hand, and start scrubbing.
We, we want to help, I think.
I'm mowing the pine alley now, an almost nowhere thoroughfare--two giant lines of evergreen trees running east and west just past our driveway's dangerous slope. Between them, the non-grass thickly carpeting a massive passage between them--looooooong and seemingly useless--at least currently. By the time I get to it, I'm parched, and the wind is crazy. Toro and I hug the pines first, getting scoured by pine arms tossing me up and down before taking the seeming endless narrow track back and forth, stopping to unclog the blade again and again. I'm trying, trying to get the lawn done, and it's too much for one day--the whole lawn, I shouldn't have tried it.
My head is down, and it's like I'm dragging Toro now, when suddenly, I realize that those swooping birds, which I have now found out are a whole flight of BARN SWALLOWS, have swept in a riotous dance back and forth across the pine alley.
They swoop like over-zealous streamers pinned back and forth across the best birthday celebration in the world. They sail like a housefly of children down the stairs on christmas morning, wave like a class of fourth-graders escaping the school for summer vacation. They swing like hair let down. Their energy source is mysterious--the physics of the the movement of electrons in clouds. They are wide winged, gliding down and up, wings spread and tail spread too--the arc of the feather fringe along the tail is as wide and embracing as ballet arms 2nd position, as open as the wings. There are the flash of salmon hint bellies, and the pivoting flicker of radiant iridescent glory lit from the wings.*
They come so close. Down 18 inches from the mower deck, behind me and before me, to my left and to my right. Their swooping may be feeding, may even be annoyance at the appearance (and sound pollution) of me Toro. But at that moment, we are truly in the same place, together.
I stop the mower, and I'm watching them, even from my sadness, looking out, and I can see beyond the swallows to the wide, heaven roistering clouds, above the corn and pasture. I'd forgotten again that there was this much sky, this much anything. My head is lifted.
The generosity of swallows. The joy of the Lord.
Footnote :Someone took a video of SOMETHING like those swallows one time (but not like it was at the pine alley, exactly--they were much larger and closer).