Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Zen and the Art of Raking (or how raking is like running a marathon)

Larry and I put several years of backbreaking labor into clearing land for pasture. Forest does not become field without a major fight. The first year, 2005, we cleared what we now call Pasture A. The following year was Pasture B, and the area that was cleared in subsequent years became half Pasture C and half Pasture I Don’t Give A Damn Anymore. Altogether, we cleared about 3 acres by hand (well, with a 1952 tractor and two chainsaws) and that was enough, thank you. It’s work for younger backs than ours.

It wasn’t enough that we were clearing forest; we were also fighting the fact that there is not a speck of flat ground to be found on our 30 acres. We also have rocks of every size, shape and depth into the ground. They don’t call them Charley Hill potatoes for nothing.

Slowly, the fields have improved as we continue cleaning and cultivating. A and B are looking pretty good at this point. C and the remaining areas are still in dire need of cleaning up, stump popping and rock rolling. Fortunately our newer 21st century tractor is well equipped to help us with that.

As idiotic as it sounds, experience has taught me that one of the best ways to improve your pasture is by raking it. Tedious, endless, blister-busting raking. I did this on the pastures at my parents’ house in Corinth. In the spring, you have a winter’s worth of manure you really have to rake up. Otherwise, your pasture just becomes a trashed plot of land that your horses will never enjoy and will look like crap (pun intended).

I’m not one of those summer-long, crazy rakers. I hit the grounds around the barn and the house once a year, in the spring once the mud dries up, with occasional touch ups.

In the pastures I’ve spot-raked to get the worst of the junk up, but this weekend I raked A in earnest - the entire thing. Raking can be a very zen activity. You have lots of time to think and reflect. I realized how a raking job like this is like running a marathon. Which I’ve never done. But given enough running friends and living in a town that hosts a major marathon every year, you start to think you can make analogies:

1. You start from the farthest point. You do this because your enthusiasm and energy level is high, and you know it’s going to be a long haul, so use some psychology on yourself.

2. The ideal weather is a little cool and cloudy. Yes, it’s the beautiful sunny weather that gets you outside, but once you realize how sunburnt you’ve become and how far from water you are, you pray for some cloud cover.

3. Your feet start to hurt. But you focus on the butt muscles you’re working out, especially when pushing the wheelbarrow uphill. (Okay, you’re not pushing a wheelbarrow in a marathon, unless you’re in a seriously hicksville foot race.)

4. It becomes self-competitive. "I could quit here, but I have to do just a little more, go just a little farther..."

5. You hit that rakers/runners high. "I’m in the zone! What blisters? Look how far I’ve gone! I’m not stopping until I hit that finish line!"

And the finish line is oh-so-sweet!




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