Mine Alone

I scheduled my road-trip so that I could return the day before the first day of summer, my father’s 60th birthday. I also needed to be back in Maine to do the haying on my grandfather’s land that I’ve done for the last five years. I’ve made it clear how I feel about possessions. I do feel, though, that we have things that are ours alone, our experiences, our perspectives, our dreams. I feel this way about my time with words, my time in the car, my work—it’s mine alone.

In Oxford, Mississippi, someone told me I was a liar when I told them about what I did every year, about haying 200 acres of field alone. I don’t ever know how to respond to things like this. It’s a bit creepy that someone has been following me around in secret, making note of everything I do while living on another side of the country and maintaining their own life as well. I suppose I’m a liar, too, when I say that I wrote this or that I drove 15,000 miles or that I built this:

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Or this:

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And did this:

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Alone.

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This summer is a bit different. A few days after I returned, the haying started. I watched the old man I’ve worked for during the past five years, the man who expects to be willed my grandfather’s farm, mow a section of field. A few hours later, I watched other people move into the field and do the work I’ve done before.

I didn’t really know how to feel about this until a few days later when the same thing happened. And a few days after that, the same thing.

I’ve been thinking about it for the past couple weeks. I have more time to write. I’ve been going on 20-mile bike rides. I’ve been reading, organizing, trashing old horrible writings that I saved in some drunk, desperate hope something could be salvaged from them. I’ve been cutting up the lumber from one of the barns I tore down so I can burn it.

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I’ve been trying to spend more time, my time, alone.

There’s something about the work, about the labor that I did here, something I’ve loved like nothing else: the guttural belch of the tractor when it first starts in the late morning, the vibration in the seat, the clang and drop of the heavy steel in the baler, the smell of diesel, the heat from the tractor’s engine rising like a wide grip around my throat; there’s the dry crunch of dead grass under my feet as I walk to another bale, my breathing growing raspier as more and more hay dust clings to the inside of my nose and throat, the rawness in the crooks of my fingers from the twine when I heft another bale, the scrapes and injections and cuts against the backs of my hands and shins, the sting and itch over my entire body from sweating, the sheet of dust and grass and hay particles that cling to my forearms and face and below my jaw and in the crooks of my elbows, how the smell of hay changes from the field to the barn; the heat, the sun burning down on the back of my neck for an entire day, the pain in the small of my back from hurrying, from not bending my knees enough, from bending over too much, the shaky tiredness that I feel as the sun sets, when I almost need headlights to finish picking up the remainder of the bales; and there’s the sound of my grandfather’s voice, his slight chuckle that I remember from my childhood, the sound that’s always just over my shoulder when I’m alone in these fields; all of these things are no longer mine.

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