My dream tractor would plow me in

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The sun on the snow outside the window beckons me to ski or snowshoe to the top of the hill behind the house, but the wind whipping up little flurries in front of the garage tempers my drive to get outside.

Wind-swept snow has erased my ski trail across the field, so I will have to imagine where it was, remembering how it aligned with certain trees on the landscape. Sometimes I can see a hint of the packed trail in the wake of the wind, and I know when my foot leaves it because I sink six or eight inches into the snow.

Before I ski, I should scoop the drifts away from the garage door and push them as far down the driveway as I can. Otherwise, the man who plows my drive with his pickup has no place to put the snow. If I clear a passage for him by hand, he can back up to the garage door and push the snow away from the house.

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He told me last week that it was time to call someone with a front-end loader to come in and push back the banks to enlarge the space to turn around in the driveway. The plow on his truck can build them only so high. "One or two more storms," he warned, "and I won't have space for the snow."

So I called the two local people he suggested. Neither could help me, but both said I should call a family in nearby Woodland. They can come out to my home when their rigs are done working other jobs. I think they'll make it before the driveway closes in.

Early last spring, I decided it was time to strengthen my independence. This was the year I'd buy a tractor with a bush hog for mowing fields and trails and a snowblower to eliminate the snowbanks.

"I want to be able to mow and blow," I announced firmly to various equipment dealers in Caribou and Presque Isle, Maine. "I want a diesel-powered four-wheel drive with at least 20 horsepower and a cab for winter snowblowing."

I coveted my neighbor's Belarus and told her so. She praised the independence it gave her, explained how easy it was to operate summer and winter, and told me who to call. Her tractor was too big for my garage, but the dealer had a smaller one, complete with bush hog and blower. I took pictures of it and sent them to my friends. This was it. I couldn't wait.

Another neighbor across the road said I could house it in her garage if it didn't fit in mine, and we could share the use of it. But I couldn't make a decision until I had considered all the options.

The Belarus dealer thought I would prefer a Steiner and sent me to visit a man who is happy he owns one. The mechanic who maintains my car suggested I talk to the New Holland (Ford) dealer, who might have a used Kubota I could look at.

My neighbor two doors away said the John Deere dealer had just gotten a used compact as a trade-in, so I went over and drove that around the dealer's parking lot for a while. The New Holland dealer even lent me a new compact tractor to try out.

I have become conversant on the merits of the three-point hitch, power takeoff mechanisms, hydrostatic transmission versus gear shifts, agricultural versus turf versus industrial tires, and front-mounted versus rear-mounted implements.

I went from the Belarus to the Steiner to the New Holland to the John Deere, back to the New Holland, then back to the Belarus and back to the New Holland again. Each time a decision was near, another friend would introduce new ideas, and I would gladly delay the commitment.

I tell myself it is the cost or my indecisiveness that has prolonged the purchase of my tractor, but I think it is something else. When I know I cannot get out of my driveway in the morning, life slows down. Expectations lift. I am free.

As the snow falls, the world grows quiet. One life stops and another kicks in. I hear the cancellations, and I get happy. I change my schedule, and the revision is always appealing: reading, writing, skiing, snowshoeing, cooking, even housework seems attractive. Things that have been put off get done, one at a time.

If a blizzard starts when I am in town and I wonder if I will be able to get in when I return home, I let out a whoop as I roll right into the garage because someone else has opened up my driveway. I grab an armload of firewood and, once I am in, I feel safe, cozy, content. Let it snow.

I build a fire, select a book or magazine, prepare a nice meal, and settle in, turning on the yard lights from time to time to watch the flakes blow in front of them. Silence is broken only by the sound of the wind, the fire, and the cat purring. Peace.

But what if the plow breaks down and I am truly snowbound? Won't I wish I had that tractor with the enclosed, heated cab with front and rear windshield wipers, hydrostatic transmission, and power takeoff to blow the snow into the treetops?

Sometimes it's hard to say yes.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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