It's dawn on the Saturday before the last week of term. Aimee is sleeping in after a week of too much work AND late nights watching Pittsburgh Penguins hockey in the Stanley Cup play-offs. Plus a large martini last night. My lovely wife has zero tolerance for alcohol, so one martini is all she wrote until about 10am, I expect.
I'm tired too, although I got a good night's sleep. It's that time of year at our day jobs. The college year comes crashing and grinding to a halt right on time every time, predictable, but messy, a flurry of last-minute grading, the usual lazy students trying to graduate when they haven't done all the assignments, the usual committee reports due, handed off to other committees who may or may not read them, and may or may not follow the recommendations, the usual administrative despair as those of us with responsibilities try to plan the impossible for the fall: budgets, adjuncts, classes, grants, reports, all with too few resources, while other faculty and of course students who do not have administrative duties can think only of the long summer break.
Sixty, seventy, eighty-hour weeks, right up to the end, then you tie a pretty bow on the whole mess the day before graduation, send it up the pike, and then take a deep breath and GET SOME PERSPECTIVE and go totter out of your tip of an office, into the sunshine and finally get some exercise and good fresh food and fresh air and go dig in the dirt and grow some spuds or lambs or a pig or two and do something real with what short few decades are left of your life.
For this I got a PhD? Oy veh. Roll on retirement!
After a long week of probably futile office work and certainly no exercise, I'm looking forward to a weekend of farm activity. Although the weather is not likely to be great, it's not so bad either. My main concern this weekend, now that lambing is done, spring fencing is done, and the green grass is growing well, is to fix up all our various bits of farm equipment, to get it ready for the summer's work.
We own two compact tractors with various associated implements, a rototiller, a collection of chainsaws, and a small utility trailer. And a gas-powered lawnmower, I guess, if all else fails. (We try to do 95% or more of our grass and weed control with sheep.) There are also a couple of generators, but those don't count as farm equipment.
These machines are all very old and require quite a bit of TLC to keep them operating.
I get a ridiculous amount of pleasure out of this tinkering. I really need to get a life, I know. But if my whole life was just this farmhouse, farm and animals and this sorry collection of farm equipment and maybe a couple of old Land Rovers, and of course my lovely wifie (still snoring!), and all I had to do was look after all of the above and sell or give away food, I'd be well pleased.
The big job this year is to replace all the leaky, busted, and worn-out tires. I happened upon a large pile of assorted small equipment tires outside a small engine shop on Wednesday afternoon, as I was returning from a wind power site visit. I've been limping along with busted and slow-leaking tires for way too long.
I plan to return to the shop and strike a deal for an assortment of wheels and tires that we badly need.
We need, at minimum:
A tire and tube for the ancient Troy-Bilt rototiller. This beast, which won't die, a franken-tiller, has one completely busted tire that I tried to keep using by filling with spray foam, but I've given up. I saw the exact right tire on the pile at the small engine shop and the guy said he would save it for me. Half the price of a new one on the Internet. A new tire for this tiller will give it an entire new lease of life, and since I have a spare motor for it too, salvaged from a dying chipper/shredder, I expect to keep it running as long as I keep running.
Actually, I expect to keep most of this equipment running as long as we need it. We can't afford to waste money on equipment around here, so this collection is it for the duration. Policy decree. Read my lips: no new equipment. The only exceptions are the chainsaws. I just bought a brand new heavy duty chainsaw with what was left of our tax rebate. There's no cheap substitute for a safe reliable chainsaw, so I buy new ones.
I kept all the old ones though, one that works, another that can be fixed, and one for parts, all identical models, which we'll use for roots and brush and the kind of stuff that will help wreck my nice new saw, so I expect we'll at least one and maybe two of them running for a few more decades too.
Then we need a front wheel for the equally decrepit Bolens lawn tractor, which we use with the farm trailer to haul loads of hay and logs and just about anything else from one part of the farm to the other. I couldn't believe it when I went out to start this thing this year, after it had been under the snow for four months, and it started immediately, didn't even need a battery charge. But it has three leaky tires, two of which hold enough air to get work done, but one of which needs to be replaced. I need it ready for firewood season, which might start any day now as the leaves are finally coming out on the trees.
Sheep love ash tree leaves, so it's better to cut ash for firewood in the spring and early summer around here so the sheep can feed on the leaves.
A two-fer, that: sheep forage and firewood all in one. One good 12-inch DBH, 40-foot tall ash tree in bloom is half a cord of firewood, twenty to fifty pea-sticks and small diameter roundwood fence material, and a day's feed for around five sheep. All that is left is a bunch of tiny twigs.
Who knew sheep would eat trees?
(Only all our British isles and German peasant ancestors, that's who. How do we forget things like this and still maintain civilization?)
Then we need a tire or wheel, plus a spare tire or wheel, for the utility trailer. This also needs to be done in time for firewood time. I also will need this trailer for my day job this summer, along with the four-wheel drive Kubota, to retrieve wind assessment equipment from remote sites. It has a completely bald tire where the tube is bulging through the sidewall.
All of which I should be able to get at at least half price out of the pile of tires outside this guy's shop. There's nothing quite like side-of-the-road bargains in Maine. Might be a few garage sales along the way, and there'll certainly be Car Talk on the radio.
Before I go get this tire bonanza, I'll put the sheep in the back paddock, where the grass and clover are already lush and green. Today will be the first day that they get to eat green grass all day.
Happy sheep. That's what we need in this world. More happy sheep. And old equipment that still works when you need it. And Saturday morning drives in the Maine countryside.
That's my idea of perspective.