Passing fancy

Last week on a downtown expressway, I was passed by a New Holland farm tractor at about sixty miles an hour. I’m pretty sure it was a New Holland – their blue is pretty distinctive. I had a good view of the hydraulics, the major frame pieces, and the tires, which were equally-sized, since it was a four- wheel-drive tractor. (It was on a big flat-bed when it passed me, by the way. I was going to wait ’til the end to mention that, but some of you tend to worry about stuff like that, so you can relax now.)

Seeing that tractor got me thinking about a past decision. I suppose it’s my engineering personality, but I don’t regret many decisions. I collect the facts, and, when the time is right, I combine the facts with my experience, skills, understanding of the situation to make the best decision I can. Then I move ahead.

In this case, the decision I’m referring to is my choice of vocation. Not long after I graduated from college, around the time I met and married my lovely bride, I was leaning toward agriculture. I actually subscribed to Progressive Farmer magazine for a couple of years. As a child, I had always loved trips to the Georgia farm country where my Dad grew up. I even liked the smells of farming, rich dirt, even the fertilizer, pesticide and animal aromas. I liked the idea of producing output that was clearly and directly useful, yea, even necessary to life. I knew the tractors and combines – not only John Deere’s famous green, but Allis Chalmers, International Harvester, Ford, Massey-Ferguson, and even the foreign newcomers such as Kubota. I marvelled at huge midwestern rigs, disc harrows that spanned scores of crop rows, pulled by all-wheel-drive tractors with eight giant tires. I revered agricultural innovation, such as 4-wheel hydraulic steering that allowed the farmer, with the touch of a button, to choose front wheel steering on the road, back wheel steering while hooking up implements, or both: axles in opposite directions for tight turns, in parallel for sloping land. Brilliant. I read about new ideas, such as organic and no-till farming, hybrids and genetically engineered crops. I read doom-and-gloom articles about the death of the small family farm, the growth of big conglomerates, and the impact of land use decisions. I even had some understanding of the economics, the number of acres required to sustain a family, and the cost of leasing land.

But the missus and I were in love with humanity and full of evangelical fervor, so we chose to live in the big city. It meant that my innovations would not be agricultural, but academic, industrial, computer, and communications oriented. It meant that our kids would learn to drive on multi-lane interstate highways in city traffic, instead of small town dirt roads, and that they would grow up playing in suburban back yards instead of roaming pastures and fields.

Obviously our lives would have been very different if we had made a different decision. But here we are. mower1With apologies to my millions of twitter followers (what can we call them? twollowers? iideacolytes?) who have already heard this, my current approach to agriculture is what I refer to as “Darwinian lawn care.” Anything that can survive being hacked to an inch high every week or two is fit to be part of the lawn. I’m not even gardening or composting at present (although I have done both in the past, and look forward to the opportunity again.) And I don’t even have a garden tractor.

As I said, I rarely revisit old decisions. Unless I am passed by a New Holland 4-wheel drive tractor at sixty miles per hour. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen very often.

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