Spending Time In My Mobile Temple

This was my view last weekend as I sat in the cab of the windrower, my mobile temple.

If I had to pick one reason to go back to the family farm and work, it would be to windrow alfalfa.
What is that, you ask?
When you’re out driving in the countryside, do you ever notice the rows and rows of alfalfa? A windrower is the machine used to cut the hay and place it in those rows, or windrows.
I’ve been operating what they call a self-propelled windrower for more than half my life.
It’s always been like a mobile temple for me.
It’s where I’ve spent hours contemplating religion and politics. It’s where I’ve wrestled with the process of getting over a girlfriend. And this past weekend, it’s where I attempted to come to terms with the fact that my grandfather is making a slow, painful journey into his eternal rest.
Just as the windrower cuts the alfalfa, collects it and places it in an orderly row, time in that machine allows me to sort through my thoughts, grab the important ones and attempt to make sense of them.
The rows of alfalfa the windrower leaves behind could just as well be my thoughts unspooling.
And, yes, that analogy did indeed occur to me while sitting in the windrower.
It’s difficult to explain why I prefer spending hours in a windrower versus a tractor or a truck — though I’m content to operate those machines, as well.
Perhaps it’s the smell that makes all the difference. One of my favorite aromas (besides lilacs) is the smell of fresh-cut alfalfa. Encountering that smell on a cool night can create shivers that then give way to familiar comfort. It provokes a desire to be still and absorb the moment.
Or maybe it is the very action of placing that alfalfa into orderly rows that is so important. Something about the experience of being in a windrower makes my mind operate differently than if I was on a walk or a drive in my car.
At this time, I should probably mention that time in the windrower isn’t necessarily always a peaceful experience.
Gopher mounds can clog up the header and require me to sweep away the cached mud and alfalfa. It can be a frustrating struggle, especially if the alfalfa is packed so tight in the conditioner that you can only pull a few stems out at a time. Also, a single rock can break off some of the knives and create the headache of trying to replace them.
It’s also unpleasant when an animal accidentally gets swept up into the header. You never know what is residing beneath that green blanket of hay, and there have been times when I’ve looked back to find that bird or rabbit parts are strewn along with the alfalfa.

No hands!

I even once turned my head back to find that — horrifyingly — an entire fawn had literally been sawed in half by the knives. The alfalfa was tall enough that I never had a clue it was lying there. That doesn’t leave you with a good feeling, I can tell you.
Fortunately, I’ve never had a similar run-in with a skunk. However, my uncle did. That experience stinks, I can tell you.

The only time I ever used the windrower as a weapon was one late morning when I ran across a very strange badger. I had never before, nor have I since, seen a badger at mid-day, and he was not behaving as a badger typically does. To put him out of what I imagined was his misery, I ran him over with a tire. The fact that I was able to do so tells you this badger was not well.
As silly as it may sound to admit it, one thing that has always registered with me when contemplating a move to supposedly greener pastures is that I might not be able to get back to the farm and enjoy those precious days spent in the windrower, cutting a swath through that green ocean and delving into all those thoughts I don’t get to visit during the course of a regular day.
I would no longer have access to my seasonal mobile temple. I’m not sure if my mind would be able to cope with the permanent loss of such a comforting and yet provocative sacred space, however unconventional it may be.

3 thoughts on “Spending Time In My Mobile Temple

  1. Ah yes! I love every moment of it! I am old enough that it was a sickle mower and rake, but the smell is the same. Plowing is great because of the straight lines of fresh, damp, black earth. Chopping silage smells wonderful too, and leaves behind uniformly cut off rows of short stalks. Things like discing or dragging are not nearly as satisfying to me. Too messy and dusty.

    Field work is great for thinking, imagining, creativity. I live in St. Paul now, but sure loved farm work. Thanks for writing this. Happy windrowing!

  2. HMB, thanks for sharing your memories. We’ve always used a disk, so I never got to use a plow. I can imagine that smells quite good.
    Silage is good stuff, too. But usually it’s so dry that time of year that I’m preoccupied with all the dust I’m eating. 🙂

  3. Walking beans, throwing bales, de-tasseling corn, unloading bales in the hayloft, pulling calves, running cows in and out of milk parlor 2 times a day…

    …man I miss that some days.

    Great memory inducing article Nathan.


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