As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.
Henry David Thoreau
We needed to kill time on this Roundrock visit until the hardware store over in the county seat opened at noon. The plan was to rent a walk-behind brush cutter and see what mayhem we could wreak on the top of the dam and maybe down among the pecans.
The grass atop the dam grows thick and tall, and wading through it can be a buggy adventure, leaving our shoelaces and socks water soaked and full of burrs. Since the dam is a north/south passage that we use regularly, we thought we could make the route more open. Of course September is late in the season and much of that tall grass has fallen on its side, leaving the way mostly clear, but we wanted to play with machinery nonetheless.
We still had more than an hour before noon, so we jumped in the truck and drove down the highway about ten miles to a crossroads community that is known for its cluster of well-regarded restaurants. The highway is being expanded here from two lanes to four, and some years back there was a great hue and cry about how this was going to destroy the little community because most of its businesses — including its restaurants — are collected right on the road. They would have to be bulldozed to make way for the wide highway that must march through. Progress was halted for several years as the unmovable object of the community met the irresistible force of the highway department. In the end, the community won and the highway is now being built in a small curve around the town.
We chose a cute restaurant that suggested in its name that there would be berries on the menu (there weren’t). There was also a sign on the door that said we were not allowed to wear spurs in the restaurant. This was right next to the sign that said they only took cash and local checks. That sent us back to the truck to dig in the upholstery for all of the change we could find since the wallet was lean. The place was clean and modern and busy with the Sunday after-church crowd. In the booth next to us sat a writer of some note from Kansas City. He has some property on the other side of the county from Roundrock, and our paths have crossed once or twice. (He recommended the man who built our road and dam.) Libby and I had burgers and fries, and I had a gallon of iced tea (unsweetened, of course). We lingered over our food, chatted with the waitress, and generally had a fine time in what was clearly the heart of the community. I think we’ll probably return here in the future (but we’ll bring plenty of cash).
Having injured eternity sufficiently, we drove back up the highway to the county seat (which does not have any open restaurants on Sunday) and to the hardware store. Inside sat a beautiful walk-behind brush cutter. It looked freshly minted and just waiting for Pablo’s grip on its handles as he steered it into the shoulder-high scrub among the pecans. First, of course, we had to get it into the back of the truck, which involved renting some de-luxe folding ramps along with the cutter. But once that was done, we were off to Roundrock and eager to do some slashing.
The operation of the brush cutter was simple. It had an on/off switch, a pull starter just as on a lawn mower, and a lever for forward, neutral, and reverse. Levers on the handles: left hand engaged the blade, right hand engaged the drive for the wheels. I was given a twenty-second lesson on these subtleties then sent on my way. What could be easier?
Our first stop was at the dam. There is nothing more than grass growing there, so I thought that I could do my shakedown there. Lever to the right for forward. Switch on. Cord tugged. And tugged. And tugged. Being its first start of the day, the motor was a bit reluctant, but once I had it going I was able to restart it with ease the rest of the afternoon.
So I stood behind the machine. I gripped the left handle and heard the blade under its cowling engage. Then I gripped the right handle to start the wheels turning.
The brush cutter nearly leaped out of my hands! It pulled me forward with a surprising jolt, and I found myself trotting behind it to keep up as I steered it across the top of the dam. (Had I let go, the wheels and the blade would have stopped turning.) I was off, and soon I was on the other side of the dam, wrestling with the machine to turn it around to make my return pass over the grass.
Libby was watching from the safety and comfort of the shade on the opposite side of the dam, but I was hustling in her direction quickly. When I reached her, I had cut two swaths, which allowed plenty of space for walking. I shut off the engine to pause and catch my breath.
“Aren’t you going to do any more?” she asked as she surveyed my work. “Make it wider,” she suggested. So I wrestled with the machine, trying to turn it around, until I realized I could set the lever in neutral and turn it with ease. So I did. Then I pushed the lever to the right, turned on the switch, tugged at the cord, grabbed the handles, and trotted off behind the machine for two more passes over the dam. (As I did so, I glanced at the acre of scrub in the pecans below the dam. That was going to be much tougher work, and there was a lot more of it than four passes atop the dam. All at a brisk pace for the operator behind the machine.)
I felt that I had mastered the operation of the machine by then and that it was time for me to head into the scrub among the pecans. Fortunately, I could disengage the blade and “drive” the cutter along our road down there. All this involved was me trotting behind first up a hill then down one. And I emerged among the scrub.
Aside from several dozen staked and fenced pecan trees, the only obstacles hidden in the scrub that I anticipated were the occasional rock or log. I had cleared most of these in past years, thinking that a mowing day would come, so I hurried boldly forward behind the mower. The tall scrub fell before me. Every winged insect in that acre rose before me. Many chose to land on my face or in my ears. Sweat began to pour as the heat of the day combined with the hustle of the mowing man, trotting along behind his noisy machine. And then I came to my first turn.
I quickly learned that this beast is not like a conventional lawn mower. The wheels on this thing continue to turn even as you think to pause and consider the route you should take. I foolishly figured out how to muscle my way through these turns (only late in the afternoon discovering that a wide turn was much more manageable than a right-angle turn). I tried to mow with some sort of order so that I could focus on continuous cutting rather than dashing back and forth across the acre to clean up patches I missed. Being a thinking man, I naturally made left turns, and after about fifteen minutes of running about and wrenching the machine through its turns, I was beginning to see some progress. I had managed to avoid cutting down any of the pecans, though I did yank out the fence around one of them and only missed one hidden in the brush because I failed to force my turn sufficiently. I also only spewed forth one large rock, and only two hidden logs were turned into wood chips.
Somewhere along the way, after I had cleared a large enuf patch, Libby drove the truck down into the pecan acre and held out a bottle of water as I approached. I should say that I took many breaks during this work. Mostly it was to catch my breath and let my heart stop racing, but occasionally it was to gulp down some water and contemplate the universe. Then I would grab the handles of the mower and have it lurch ahead of me so I could cut another swath.
This was intended to be our practice session, to see if the brush cutter was suited to our needs and if we were suited to its demands. Thus I only mowed about half of the pecan plantation. I stayed out of the chronically wet areas closer to the dam (although we had trooped through them earlier and confirmed that they were merely muddy but not wet). Plus we were racing the clock. We had to get the brush cutter back to the hardware store before it closed at 5:00 p.m. (We actually had plenty of time, I’m just rationalizing.) We talked about me driving the mower along our road atop the ridge where the grass is growing thickly upon it, but the thought of hustling along behind it as it went up the road through the trees to get to the road on the ridge was disheartening.
Here is a picture of some of the acre among the pecans that I managed to mow:
That tall plant on the extreme left is big bluestem grass that I didn’t have the heart to take down. There’s an even bigger one off camera to the right. The yellow-flowered scrub at the back of the photo marks the area of the intermittent pond, and it held some water, so I stayed away from there. Still, I managed to cut a pretty good piece of real estate before I stopped.
But Pablo wasn’t finished with the brush cutter, so come back tomorrow to hear more of this wacky adventure.
- The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.