Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Yes, You Can

"The only rules that really matter," said Captain Jack Sparrow, "are these: what a man can do and what a man can't do."

Until recently, I would have thought that one of the things a man can do is drive an ATV pretty much anywhere through mud and brush. Surely, I thought, one of the things a man can't do is get a 40-hp, six-wheel-drive Polaris Ranger stuck. Turns out I was wrong about that.

I had learned from the hard soils lesson with my brother's Jeep (see previous post!). We waited several days after the rains to give the place a chance to dry out. There was just one little creek-bed to cross, through a bramble of brush and vines, to get to the place I've started calling the Lost Acre. There was some water in the creek, but not much. It was steep, and steepest at the very bottom, so that the Polaris pitched forward at a thrilling angle as I drove down. I stopped to check for hidden holes or logs, and to check my exit route on the other side of the creek. Confident that this was doable, I drove powerfully through the ditch. No problem!

The Lost Acre isn't really lost and it actually measures 1.77 acres. It's bounded by two steep, densely brush-filled drainage creeks and a tight, gateless barbed wire fence between The Farm and our neighbor's manicured pasture. The steep, tricky spot where I drove the Polaris through the creek is the only way to get any kind of vehicle in or out of this particular patch of tall grass and volunteer cedars. It's not part of our CRP contract, so I dream of ways to make it productive. But if we can't drive the ATV in and out, it's going to be hard to put the Lost Acre to good use.

So, as I said, driving in was not such a problem. Driving out of the Lost Acre was another story. The alarming angles were just a little different coming from the other side. The trail took a turn to the right on the way out of the creek. Maybe I hesitated just slightly at just the wrong moment. Whatever it was, the game was over. Six wheels spinning in the muddy, wet weeds were suddenly but definitely worthless. The Polaris spent that night in the creek-bed, sheltered with a blue plastic tarp in case it rained. We pulled it out the next day with a borrowed 4wd pickup.

Captain Jack Sparrow was right. What a man can do, and what a man can't do are rules that matter. You certainly can get that 6x6 40hp Polaris stuck. We don't move at will through the world. Even on our own small patch of ground, the land itself sets boundaries and limits which we cannot cross, even when we wield all our horsepower and technology. Living with and caring for this land means accepting limits rather than fighting against them. Wendell Berry, a wise man who knows a thing or two about living with the land, said "A man with a machine and inadequate culture . . . is a pestilence. He shakes more than he can hold."

No comments:

Post a Comment