Mrs. Ed and I have a son. Matt, a recent college graduate, is in Washington, D.C. pursuing his dream of a career in journalism. He is pretty good at it and makes his parents proud.
Matthew was always pretty sharp, even as a kid. For a brief time, I could get him to do things by saying stuff like, “I bet you can’t do that,” or, “If I were you, I wouldn’t do that.” He caught onto the reverse psychology technique pretty fast. He wasn’t real old when his analytical wisdom was revealed to me.
It was spring, the snow recently melted and frost coming out of the ground. There was a part of the pasture that was flooded, the water held from draining by a 20-foot strip of high ground. I thought if I dig a trench from one side to the other I would improve the pasture. I considered my options. I could use the tractor and scoop the dirt out with the loader. I dismissed that idea based on previous experience of driving the tractor on soft ground particularly when the frost breaks up. Trust me, it wasn’t pretty.
Ah ha! I thought, I’ll use the horses. I had just finished planting the potatoes and had used a tool called a hiller to create a mound of dirt for the potatoes to grow in. The hiller made a nice trench in the sandy garden, why wouldn’t it work in the swamp? Surely the horses wouldn’t get stuck. I shared my plan with Matt. “I bet you could drive the horses while I steered the hiller.” “No thanks Dad, you’re on your own on this one.”
I harnessed my A team, Patsy and Kate, put the hiller on a little sled and started off down the driveway. As I was leaving Matt, who noticed I had put on my high water boots, offered some advice. “Dad, be careful. You know that swamp can suck the boots off a man.” I laughed to myself, what could possibly go wrong?
I headed down Foss Road to the swamp, unloaded the hiller, attached the evener and proceeded to drive the horses into position. A wiser teamster my have aborted the mission right there, but not me. The horses, facing a pool of muddy ice water, started doing the “dance” otherwise known as “happy feet.”
“Easy girls, easy,” I said in my “stay calm” voice. They settled down, allowing me to tie the ends of the lines together.
I probably need to explain this. Using any implement like a walking plow or tiller requires at least three or four hands. When getting started it usually works best to have two people, one on the lines, the other on the handles. The next best thing is to tie the lines together and loop them behind your back. Properly adjusted, the teamster can drive the horses by leaning back or forward. Improperly adjusted, bad things can happen especially if the horses get excited.
I secured the lines behind my back and steadied the hiller with my arms. Feeling the lines tighten, the girls began the happy dance. I think they even turned their heads to look at me as if saying “Are you sure about this”? I was ready. Soon the water would be rushing towards the nearby creek and the swamp reclaimed.
I sent the girls a kiss, followed by a firm “Giddy up.” The obedient horses lurched forward. The lines tightened across my back. “Too tight,” I thought as the hiller’s shovel dove into the soft earth. I tightened my grip on the handles, trying desperately to level it out. About that time I became acutely aware of my boots. I had not realized how far they had sunk into the mud while I was getting set. Forward motion against suction. Something had to give.
In hindsight, it was like slow motion. The shovel went straight down sending me straight up and out of my boots. Then she shifted, slowly over on its side taking me down, down into the mud. I had to make a split second decision. Holler whoa and get the girls stopped or keep my mouth shut and the mud out. Swamp mud tastes as bad as it smells, trust me.
Swinging sharply to the right, the horses stopped when they reached solid ground. They turned and looked at me. I’m glad horses don’t express opinions or say “I told you so.” I struggled to right myself and the hiller. There was an eerie silence, until the clump of mud fell out of my ear. I looked back at the swamp. The only change was a 12-foot imprint that looked a lot like me. My boots had disappeared, swallowed up by the mire.
Usually I follow the old adage, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. Not this time. The horses and I headed home. Wouldn’t you know it, as I was limping down Foss road, covered in thick black mud, my neighbor comes by. “Hey Ed, what the heck happened to you?”
I unharnessed the horses and sent them out to pasture. Heading up to the house, Mrs. Ed came out of the house. “So how did that go?”
“Ha ha,” I said, “I need to take a shower.”
“Don’t think so,” she said, and proceeded to hose me off with the garden hose.
Matt is a long way from the Range, but we rest easy knowing he has down to earth wisdom and will avoid mud as he navigates the nation’s capital.