If I said I had counted 20 monarchs this year, I’d be exaggerating. Not one flutters near the shrub I planted for them. The goldenrod that blooms in the ditch row, the butterflies’ thoroughfare, is without their orange-and-black traffic.Perhaps they are just late. Perhaps I just missed them, these first days of October, as my gaze was drawn down again, searching for tomatoes, because the drought and high temperatures had coaxed another fruit set to ripen. Normally at this time of year, my horizon shifts up again, where I am looking at flat-bottomed clouds and migratory species.
When you are driving a tractor, your horizon is equally in front of and behind you. In front, you must find something straight ahead to establish your path, so that when you glance behind, you can return to center easily. There are sometimes mirrors, but more often you must swivel in the seat, looking back, to see and adjust what is happening. There is no question that tractor driving, both its slow pace and enduring impact, can be mocked as if it were a self-help book.
Sagaponack is home to a legendary organism called the golden nematode. The worm gleams the color of money when viewed under a powerful microscope. There are good and bad nematodes; the golden are the latter, because they feed on the roots of potatoes. They are doubly bad because back in the heyday of potatoes on Long Island, the USDA developed a program to combat the pest. That heyday has passed, but there is still a small army of ready men, waiting to come and power wash your equipment.
They clean like most people clean, best in the places easily seen. They might leave dirt on the belly of the tractor, but they scour to brilliancy the disc it tows. And, unfortunately, the disc is home to many bearings.
Sometimes you don’t want to look behind you. For now, it’s dusty, too dry and I see a tire, one that helps carry and control the depth of the disc—it makes not a clean revolution but the telltale wobble of a blown bearing. Not two days earlier, the same was true on another disk harrow. Both had been recently power washed.
Agricultural implements need routine maintenance, but that generally implies pumping grease into its joints. What the agents do, perhaps unwittingly, is blast those very places clean. The hot water and the high-pressure compromise the way the moving parts, in their alloyed slurry of grease and wear, had come to ride.
And here we have not the text of a self-help book but rather a heads-up for something policy-makers are calling the Food Safety and Modernization Act. It will be hot water and high pressure for farms all around.