It could be March or April, spring anyway, and it's time to go out and prepare and plant for the harvest. Reluctantly I wake, its early morning and the weather looks good. Always last minute, so breakfast is on the run; coffee, toast, and through the back door I step out in to the stillness of the forming morning. “See ya later” I say. Sleepily I cross the paddock, into the silence of the yard. Yawning, I check the oil and water in the tractor, top up and start up; hydraulics are working, everything seems ok.
I head for the fields. Birds’ scatter, leaving the hedges as I drive by, a quick flash of morning sun on the sea, glimpsed through the corner of my left eye. Down the lane to ‘Greenlands’, the potholes shake me up. Through the gateway to the empty field and in my mind I mark out the field, engage the hydraulics, fire up the engine and off I go.
Over and over, up and down, hedge to hedge, dyke to dyke. The morning moves towards the middle of the day. Seabirds arrive, in their tens, then more. Before long hundreds are following me, their forceful wings circle the cab, crashing cries as they plunge to the ground behind the tractor; sharp black eyes, greedily and accurately the birds compete for food. Studying this through the glass windows of the tractor cab it seems a cruel ending. The worms are found, stretched and tugged form the warm earth, then eaten.
My eyes are drawn away from this feeding frenzy towards the horizon, by a gathering cloud of dust. I see four wheels rolling and rocking through the potholes coming my way. Lunch is arriving and a flask of coffee, that’s great. The tractor engine idles; I jump out onto the soil, and wander over to the van; pleased to see another person, its dad this time. I take the lunch that’s handed to me through the window. A quick exchange of words, some heard, some unheard, as the breeze plays with the warming air. Above the noise of the idling engine, I can hear the cries of the birds as they move away, their sharp-eyed attention now on us, no longer on worms from the warm soil. “Everything OK?” dad asks, ‘yes’ I nod, “alright then see you later…” That’s the gist of it.
The van leaves, and the birds are now gone. I am on my own in the middle of the field. I cut the engine. The silence rings in my ears. Looking out from my inner world of thoughts my mind stretches out, aided by the aromatic insistent wind, which pulls at my senses, and I feel alive.
After some thought I choose to eat outside, and sit, leaning against the tractor wheel, on the straw stubbled earth. As I eat my lunch, the tractor engine pings, creaks, and cracks as it cools, I enjoy my isolation. No breakdowns so far, let’s hope there are none this afternoon. Slightly dozily I go back to work. The engine roars into the silence and I continue on into the afternoon. The seabirds return and remain with me going up and down the field, until about four o’clock and then on mass mysteriously begin to disappear. “Where do they go? I always wonder”. Now I am really on my own, and looking forward to the day ending, no breakdowns but the solitude is no longer fun.
Thoughts, strange and repetitive circle in my head, I feel trapped. I would like not to be alone now. But there's no choice I have to keep going. Tea arrives and with it my hope that someone else is coming to take over. Hmmm no such luck, “see you later” is offered, and so I settle in to the remainder of the day. Darkness is with me now; the headlights of the tractor beam into the black; flecks of dust, hedges and fleeting glimpses of birds all seem ghostly. Weariness has set in, it’s late.
Fantastic, I can see headlights on the horizon, and the welcome sight of the four wheels rolling and rocking towards me. Relieved? Yes. Is every day the same? More or less, yet cutting the engine, creakily stepping out into the spring evening air and shutting the tractor door behind me, I breathe in the spring evening air and I know that by tomorrow the madness of my thoughts will be forgotten. It’s been a good day and tomorrow if we are lucky, it will be the same.
© FMC 2004
Website design and imagery © Fiona Caley 2021
I wrote this short piece from memories of working the land as a teenager. It was easy to look back, recall and cunjure up the sense of isolation and beauty of being out there on your own. Emotions hard to forget.
The field I refer to, 'greenlands' is no longer green; it's now owned by SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy) and is home to salt caverns that store gas for our consumption.
When the land was sold for development, archeological work was undertaken revealing evidence of roundhouses from a much earlier time.
I knew nothing of what lay beneath the surface as I drove up and down the field all those years ago....