Auto Pilot/Ready Alert

Watching, in a state of near hypnosis, a steady stream of fragrant, bright green haylege, unloading from the wagon onto the conveyor belt on the Ag-Bagger, or into the blower for the silo. The roar of the tractor, the rocking motion of the seat as the power take off runs at top speed. On and on and on, the steady flow of green, mesmerizing; alertness dulls, 5:00 am was long ago, and last night was late, looking for a newborn calf out in the back pasture. Finally the flow slows, another load finished, and off to the field for another. Repeat, times ten, today.

Tomorrow will be clear and misty, at  first. Full of dew. But when it burns off, there’ll be hay to ted, the same sea of fragrant green spread over the land. Around and around and around on the tractor, the same high pitched drone of the engine revved to turn the pto, the same hot late summer sun. Always glad for the heat in September, glad for the days before the cold sets in. Looking back over my shoulder, a perpetual state of watching, ever watching to see that no green wad of hay has clogged the tedder tines, dragging a snowball of green, unable to be thrown out far and wide. The drying hay is a sea of green, and the machinery leaves little sign of passing, save for a fluffed up pattern, just barely discernible. A somnolent state, around and around and around the field.

Another season, this time quiet, long evenings stretching into nights in the sugarhouse. Filled with steam, the rolling boil, on and on and on. Interrupted only by the screech of the arch door, opened to fill the roaring fire again, the lighting of the scoop to let the syrup run off into an “apron”, the heavy, sweet steam settling over all. The rolling boil, on and on and on.

Today I stand in front of the maple candy machine. Watching, again in a state of near hypnosis, a steady stream of fragrant maple syrup running from the tilted pan above, into the trough with the turning auger, out the valve, and into the molds. On it comes, ready or not, a steady flow to keep pace with. I cannot look up, no time now for fetching more molds, welcoming visitors, or answering questions. The unending flow of candy hardens almost instantly. Mesmerizing, today, yesterday, tomorrow. On and on and on it flows.

Rooted in monotony, lulled into a dreamy state so often, the repeated motion and sound and smell. But wait. There is always, always, in the back of the mind, an alertness. A watching, listening for a plugged blower pipe, an almost imperceptible change in sound announcing impending calamity. A clogged gutter cleaner, the smell of scorching syrup, a teat cup sucking air. A sudden shutting off, running to make things right.

Auto pilot/ready alert.

Featured in Vermont Almanac, Volume II

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