Boatless, waterless, I paddle through hay

When Charlie mows hay, he generally cuts the outer perimeter first and then spirals inward until the field sports a Mohawk haircut. As that last strip of tall, green, flowery growth topples - a wistful moment - we both relax: he from the heat and vibration of the tractor and I from my processional wading in shoulder-high grass to warn fawns out of harm's way.

Our draft horses have long since retired from heavy work and leisurely neigh the praises of the Farmall. But when they pulled the mower, we didn't have to worry about the wildlife. Some sort of message went from animal to animal. Even wee and clueless fawns had the sense and time to gather themselves up and wobble away when Doc and Jim approached, mower in tow. A tractor's wheels, though, don't speak the slow, patient language of a Belgian's hooves. The roar of the machine tends to panic and immobilize fawns bedded in the grass. The only way to spare them is to wade through the field ahead of the mower and shoo them away, or, that failing, scoop them up and carry them to safety.

I've done this year after year, and believe me, you don't exactly glide through an unmown hayfield unless you're a snake.

Ah, but it's not the only way. As Charlie attached the mower to the Farmall by the hayshed the other day, I sat nearby and let my mind and eyes wander, taking in the swallows, the wrens nesting in the eaves, the lazy, erratic passage of a swallowtail, the various implements and tools, and the wooden oars leaning against one wall. Oars. Why hadn't I thought of them before? I would only need one, in fact.

Once I had waded ahead of the tractor's first cut, I could walk unencumbered on the mown surface while sweeping and parting the grass along the next swath with the oar. If the paddle didn't startle nesting fawns into flight, I would feel or see the little things. It worked like a charm, and one newborn that had called the hayfield home is now awaiting its mother's evening arrival and mealtime in a small patch of brush along the edge.

Never mind what passersby thought as I paddled, boatless and waterless, up and down that field in full view of the road. We already have a local reputation as a bit touched when it comes to animals. Who puts up hay for a handful of retired dairy cows they have no intention of selling anyway? And who buys premium grain for horses that no longer work?

And yes, I'll be out with my oar when Charlie cuts the next field, paddling serenely up and down, seeking no shore beyond my own quirky peace of mind.

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